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NAR Top Articles - Molecular Biology

Molecular Biology

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January 2015

Programmable repression and activation of bacterial gene expression using an engineered CRISPR-Cas system
D. Bikard, W. Jiang, P. Samai, A. Hochschild, F. Zhang and L. A. Marraffini
Nucleic Acids Res. (2013) 41 (15): 7429-7437
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The ability to artificially control transcription is essential both to the study of gene function and to the construction of synthetic gene networks with desired properties. Cas9 is an RNA-guided double-stranded DNA nuclease that participates in the CRISPR-Cas immune defense against prokaryotic viruses. We describe the use of a Cas9 nuclease mutant that retains DNA-binding activity and can be engineered as a programmable transcription repressor by preventing the binding of the RNA polymerase (RNAP) to promoter sequences or as a transcription terminator by blocking the running RNAP. In addition, a fusion between the omega subunit of the RNAP and a Cas9 nuclease mutant directed to bind upstream promoter regions can achieve programmable transcription activation. The simple and efficient modulation of gene expression achieved by this technology is a useful asset for the study of gene networks and for the development of synthetic biology and biotechnological applications.

Landscape of target:guide homology effects on Cas9-mediated cleavage
B. X. Fu, L. L. Hansen, K. L. Artiles, M. L. Nonet and A. Z. Fire
Nucleic Acids Res. (2014) 42 (22): 13778-13787
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To study target sequence specificity, selectivity, and reaction kinetics of Streptococcus pyogenes Cas9 activity, we challenged libraries of random variant targets with purified Cas9::guide RNA complexes in vitro. Cleavage kinetics were nonlinear, with a burst of initial activity followed by slower sustained cleavage. Consistent with other recent analyses of Cas9 sequence specificity, we observe considerable (albeit incomplete) impairment of cleavage for targets mutated in the PAM sequence or in 'seed' sequences matching the proximal 8 bp of the guide. A second target region requiring close homology was located at the other end of the guide::target duplex (positions 13-18 relative to the PAM). Sequences flanking the guide+PAM region had measurable (albeit modest) effects on cleavage. In addition, the first-base Guanine constraint commonly imposed by gRNA expression systems has little effect on overall cleavage efficiency. Taken together, these studies provide an in vitro understanding of the complexities of Cas9-gRNA interaction and cleavage beyond the general paradigm of site determination based on the 'seed' sequence and PAM.

The H19/let-7 double-negative feedback loop contributes to glucose metabolism in muscle cells
Y. Gao, F. Wu, J. Zhou, L. Yan, M. J. Jurczak, H. Y. Lee, L. Yang, M. Mueller, X. B. Zhou, L. Dandolo, J. Szendroedi, M. Roden, C. Flannery, H. Taylor, G. G. Carmichael, G. I. Shulman and Y. Huang
Nucleic Acids Res. (2014) 42 (22): 13799-13811
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The H19 lncRNA has been implicated in development and growth control and is associated with human genetic disorders and cancer. Acting as a molecular sponge, H19 inhibits microRNA (miRNA) let-7. Here we report that H19 is significantly decreased in muscle of human subjects with type-2 diabetes and insulin resistant rodents. This decrease leads to increased bioavailability of let-7, causing diminished expression of let-7 targets, which is recapitulated in vitro where H19 depletion results in impaired insulin signaling and decreased glucose uptake. Furthermore, acute hyperinsulinemia downregulates H19, a phenomenon that occurs through PI3K/AKT-dependent phosphorylation of the miRNA processing factor KSRP, which promotes biogenesis of let-7 and its mediated H19 destabilization. Our results reveal a previously undescribed double-negative feedback loop between sponge lncRNA and target miRNA that contributes to glucose regulation in muscle cells.

Rolling circle replication requires single-stranded DNA binding protein to avoid termination and production of double-stranded DNA
C. Ducani, G. Bernardinelli and B. Hogberg
Nucleic Acids Res. (2014) 42 (16): 10596-10604
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In rolling circle replication, a circular template of DNA is replicated as a long single-stranded DNA concatamer that spools off when a strand displacing polymerase traverses the circular template. The current view is that this type of replication can only produce single-stranded DNA, because the only 3'-ends available are the ones being replicated along the circular templates. In contrast to this view, we find that rolling circle replication in vitro generates large amounts of double stranded DNA and that the production of single-stranded DNA terminates after some time. These properties can be suppressed by adding single-stranded DNA-binding proteins to the reaction. We conclude that a model in which the polymerase switches templates to the already produced single-stranded DNA, with an exponential distribution of template switching, can explain the observed data. From this, we also provide an estimate value of the switching rate constant.

LncRNA loc285194 is a p53-regulated tumor suppressor
Q. Liu, J. Huang, N. Zhou, Z. Zhang, A. Zhang, Z. Lu, F. Wu and Y. Y. Mo
Nucleic Acids Res. (2013) 41 (9): 4976-4987
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Protein-coding genes account for only a small part of the human genome, whereas the vast majority of transcripts make up the non-coding RNAs including long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs). Accumulating evidence indicates that lncRNAs could play a critical role in regulation of cellular processes such as cell growth and apoptosis as well as cancer progression and metastasis. LncRNA loc285194 was previously shown to be within a tumor suppressor unit in osteosarcoma and to suppress tumor cell growth. However, it is unknown regarding the regulation of loc285194. Moreover, the underlying mechanism by which loc285194 functions as a potential tumor suppressor is elusive. In this study, we show that loc285194 is a p53 transcription target; ectopic expression of loc285194 inhibits tumor cell growth both in vitro and in vivo. Through deletion analysis, we identify an active region responsible for tumor cell growth inhibition within exon 4, which harbors two miR-211 binding sites. Importantly, this loc285194-mediated growth inhibition is in part due to specific suppression of miR-211. We further demonstrate a reciprocal repression between loc285194 and miR-211; in contrast to loc285194, miR-211 promotes cell growth...

Phosphorylation of the alternative mRNA splicing factor 45 (SPF45) by Clk1 regulates its splice site utilization, cell migration and invasion
Y. Liu, L. Conaway, J. Rutherford Bethard, A. M. Al-Ayoubi, A. Thompson Bradley, H. Zheng, S. A. Weed and S. T. Eblen
Nucleic Acids Res. (2013) 41 (9): 4949-4962
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Alternative mRNA splicing is a mechanism to regulate protein isoform expression and is regulated by alternative splicing factors. The alternative splicing factor 45 (SPF45) is overexpressed in cancer, although few biological effects of SPF45 are known, and few splicing targets have been identified. We previously showed that Extracellular Regulated Kinase 2 (ERK2) phosphorylation of SPF45 regulates cell proliferation and adhesion to fibronectin. In this work, we show that Cdc2-like kinase 1 (Clk1) phosphorylates SPF45 on eight serine residues. Clk1 expression enhanced, whereas Clk1 inhibition reduced, SPF45-induced exon 6 exclusion from Fas mRNA. Mutational analysis of the Clk1 phosphorylation sites on SPF45 showed both positive and negative regulation of splicing, with a net effect of inhibiting SPF45-induced exon 6 exclusion, correlating with reduced Fas mRNA binding. However, Clk1 enhanced SPF45 protein expression, but not mRNA expression, whereas inhibition of Clk1 increased SPF45 degradation through a proteasome-dependent pathway...

The centrosomal kinase NEK2 is a novel splicing factor kinase involved in cell survival
C. Naro, F. Barbagallo, P. Chieffi, C. F. Bourgeois, M. P. Paronetto and C. Sette
Nucleic Acids Res. (2014) 42 (5): 3218-3227
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NEK2 is a serine/threonine kinase that promotes centrosome splitting and ensures correct chromosome segregation during the G2/M phase of the cell cycle, through phosphorylation of specific substrates. Aberrant expression and activity of NEK2 in cancer cells lead to dysregulation of the centrosome cycle and aneuploidy. Thus, a tight regulation of NEK2 function is needed during cell cycle progression. In this study, we found that NEK2 localizes in the nucleus of cancer cells derived from several tissues. In particular, NEK2 co-localizes in splicing speckles with SRSF1 and SRSF2. Moreover, NEK2 interacts with several splicing factors and phosphorylates some of them, including the oncogenic SRSF1 protein. Overexpression of NEK2 induces phosphorylation of endogenous SR proteins and affects the splicing activity of SRSF1 toward reporter minigenes and endogenous targets, independently of SRPK1. Conversely, knockdown of NEK2, like that of SRSF1, induces expression of pro-apoptotic variants from SRSF1-target genes and sensitizes cells to apoptosis. Our results identify NEK2 as a novel splicing factor kinase...

A dimeric state for PRC2
C. Davidovich, K. J. Goodrich, A. R. Gooding and T. R. Cech
Nucleic Acids Res. (2014) 42 (14): 9236-9248
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Polycomb repressive complex-2 (PRC2) is a histone methyltransferase required for epigenetic silencing during development and cancer. Long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) can recruit PRC2 to chromatin. Previous studies identified PRC2 subunits in a complex with the apparent molecular weight of a dimer, which might be accounted for by the incorporation of additional protein subunits or RNA rather than PRC2 dimerization. Here we show that reconstituted human PRC2 is in fact a dimer, using multiple independent approaches including analytical size exclusion chromatography (SEC), SEC combined with multi-angle light scattering and co-immunoprecipitation of differentially tagged subunits. Even though it contains at least two RNA-binding subunits, each PRC2 dimer binds only one RNA molecule. Yet, multiple PRC2 dimers bind a single RNA molecule cooperatively. These observations suggest a model in which the first RNA binding event promotes the recruitment of multiple PRC2 complexes to chromatin, thereby nucleating repression.

Selective recognition of parallel and anti-parallel thrombin-binding aptamer G-quadruplexes by different fluorescent dyes
D. Zhao, X. Dong, N. Jiang, D. Zhang and C. Liu
Nucleic Acids Res. (2014) 42 (18): 11612-11621
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G-quadruplexes (G4) have been found increasing potential in applications, such as molecular therapeutics, diagnostics and sensing. Both Thio fl avin T (ThT) and N-Methyl mesoporphyrin IX (NMM) become fluorescent in the presence of most G4, but thrombin-binding aptamer (TBA) has been reported as the only exception of the known G4-forming oligonucleotides when ThT is used as a high-throughput assay to identify G4 formation. Here, we investigate the interactions between ThT/NMM and TBA through fluorescence spectroscopy, circular dichroism and molecular docking simulation experiments in the absence or presence of cations. The results display that a large ThT fl uorescence enhancement can be observed only when ThT bind to the parallel TBA quadruplex, which is induced to form by ThT in the absence of cations. On the other hand, great promotion in NMM fluorescence can be obtained only in the presence of anti-parallel TBA quadruplex, which is induced to fold by K+ or thrombin...

A transcriptional regulator linking quorum sensing and chitin induction to render Vibrio cholerae naturally transformable
M. Lo Scrudato and M. Blokesch
Nucleic Acids Res. (2013) 41 (6): 3644-3658
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The human pathogen Vibrio cholerae is an aquatic bacterium associated with zooplankton and their chitinous exoskeletons. On chitinous surfaces, V. cholerae initiates a developmental programme, known as natural competence, to mediate transformation, which is a mode of horizontal gene transfer. Competence facilitates the uptake of free DNA and recombination into the bacterial genome. Recent studies have indicated that chitin surfaces are required, but not sufficient to induce competence. Two additional regulatory pathways, i.e. catabolite repression and quorum sensing (QS), are components of the regulatory network that controls natural competence in V. cholerae. In this study, we investigated the link between chitin induction and QS. We show that the major regulators of these two pathways, TfoX and HapR, are both involved in the activation of a gene encoding a transcriptional regulator of the LuxR-type family, which we named QS and TfoX-dependent regulator (QstR). We demonstrate that HapR binds the promoter of qstR in a site-specific manner, indicating a role for HapR as an activator of qstR. In addition, epistasis experiments indicate that QstR compensates for the absence of HapR.

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