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NAR Top Articles - Surveys and Summaries

Surveys and Summaries

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April 2015


Single-cell RNA-seq: advances and future challenges
Saliba, AE; Westermann, AJ; Gorski, SA; Vogel, J
Nucleic Acids Res. 2014, 42, 8845-8860
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Phenotypically identical cells can dramatically vary with respect to behavior during their lifespan and this variation is reflected in their molecular composition such as the transcriptomic landscape. Single-cell transcriptomics using next-generation transcript sequencing (RNA-seq) is now emerging as a powerful tool to profile cell-to-cell variability on a genomic scale. Its application has already greatly impacted our conceptual understanding of diverse biological processes with broad implications for both basic and clinical research. Different single-cell RNA-seq protocols have been introduced and are reviewed here--each one with its own strengths and current limitations. We further provide an overview of the biological questions single-cell RNA-seq has been used to address, the major findings obtained from such studies, and current challenges and expected future developments in this booming field.

Classification and evolution of type II CRISPR-Cas systems
Chylinski, K; Makarova, KS; Charpentier, E; Koonin, EV
Nucleic Acids Res. 2014, 42, 6091-6105
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The CRISPR-Cas systems of archaeal and bacterial adaptive immunity are classified into three types that differ by the repertoires of CRISPR-associated (cas) genes, the organization of cas operons and the structure of repeats in the CRISPR arrays. The simplest among the CRISPR-Cas systems is type II in which the endonuclease activities required for the interference with foreign deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) are concentrated in a single multidomain protein, Cas9, and are guided by a co-processed dual-tracrRNA: crRNA molecule. This compact enzymatic machinery and readily programmable site-specific DNA targeting make type II systems top candidates for a new generation of powerful tools for genomic engineering. Here we report an updated census of CRISPR-Cas systems in bacterial and archaeal genomes. Type II systems are the rarest, missing in archaea, and represented in similar to 5% of bacterial genomes, with an over-representation among pathogens and commensals. Phylogenomic analysis suggests that at least three cas genes, cas1, cas2 and cas4, and the CRISPR repeats of the type II-B system were acquired via recombination with a type I CRISPR-Cas locus...

Highlights of the DNA cutters: a short history of the restriction enzymes
Loenen, WAM; Dryden, DTF; Raleigh, EA; Wilson, GG; Murray, NE
Nucleic Acids Res. 2014, 42, 3-19
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In the early 1950's, 'host-controlled variation in bacterial viruses' was reported as a non-hereditary phenomenon: one cycle of viral growth on certain bacterial hosts affected the ability of progeny virus to grow on other hosts by either restricting or enlarging their host range. Unlike mutation, this change was reversible, and one cycle of growth in the previous host returned the virus to its original form. These simple observations heralded the discovery of the endonuclease and methyltransferase activities of what are now termed Type I, II, III and IV DNA restriction-modification systems. The Type II restriction enzymes (e. g. EcoRI) gave rise to recombinant DNA technology that has transformed molecular biology and medicine. This review traces the discovery of restriction enzymes and their continuing impact on molecular biology and medicine.

H1 histones: current perspectives and challenges
Harshman, SW; Young, NL; Parthun, MR; Freitas, MA
Nucleic Acids Res. 2013, 41, 9593-9609
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H1 and related linker histones are important both for maintenance of higher-order chromatin structure and for the regulation of gene expression. The biology of the linker histones is complex, as they are evolutionarily variable, exist in multiple isoforms and undergo a large variety of posttranslational modifications in their long, unstructured, NH2- and COOH-terminal tails. We review recent progress in understanding the structure, genetics and posttranslational modifications of linker histones, with an emphasis on the dynamic interactions of these proteins with DNA and transcriptional regulators. We also discuss various experimental challenges to the study of H1 and related proteins, including limitations of immunological reagents and practical difficulties in the analysis of posttranslational modifications by mass spectrometry.

VEGF-A mRNA processing, stability and translation: a paradigm for intricate regulation of gene expression at the post-transcriptional level
Arcondeguy, T; Lacazette, E; Millevoi, S; Prats, H; Touriol, C
Nucleic Acids Res. 2013, 41, 7997-8010
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Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A (VEGF-A) is a potent secreted mitogen crucial for physiological and pathological angiogenesis. Post-transcriptional regulation of VEGF-A occurs at multiple levels. Firstly, alternative splicing gives rise to different transcript variants encoding diverse isoforms that exhibit distinct biological properties with regard to receptor binding and extra-cellular localization. Secondly, VEGF-A mRNA stability is regulated by effectors such as hypoxia or growth factors through the binding of stabilizing and destabilizing proteins at AU-rich elements located in the 3'-untranslated region. Thirdly, translation of VEGF-A mRNA is a controlled process involving alternative initiation codons, internal ribosome entry sites (IRESs), an upstream open reading frame (uORF), miRNA targeting and a riboswitch in the 3' untranslated region. These different levels of regulation cooperate for the crucial fine-tuning of the expression of VEGF-A variants. This review will be focused on our current knowledge of the complex post-transcriptional regulatory switches that modulate the cellular VEGF-A level...

Type II restriction endonucleases--a historical perspective and more
Pingoud, A; Wilson, GG; Wende, W
Nucleic Acids Res. 2014, 42, 7489-7527
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This article continues the series of Surveys and Summaries on restriction endonucleases (REases) begun this year in Nucleic Acids Research. Here we discuss 'Type II' REases, the kind used for DNA analysis and cloning. We focus on their biochemistry: what they are, what they do, and how they do it. Type II REases are produced by prokaryotes to combat bacteriophages. With extreme accuracy, each recognizes a particular sequence in double-stranded DNA and cleaves at a fixed position within or nearby. The discoveries of these enzymes in the 1970s, and of the uses to which they could be put, have since impacted every corner of the life sciences. They became the enabling tools of molecular biology, genetics and biotechnology, and made analysis at the most fundamental levels routine. Hundreds of different REases have been discovered and are available commercially. Their genes have been cloned, sequenced and overexpressed. Most have been characterized to some extent, but few have been studied in depth. Here, we describe the original discoveries in this field, and the properties of the first Type II REases investigated. We discuss the mechanisms of sequence recognition and catalysis, and the varied oligomeric modes in which Type II REases act.

Biases in small RNA deep sequencing data
Raabe, CA; Tang, TH; Brosius, J; Rozhdestvensky, TS
Nucleic Acids Res. 2014, 42, 1414-1426
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High-throughput RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) is considered a powerful tool for novel gene discovery and fine-tuned transcriptional profiling. The digital nature of RNA-seq is also believed to simplify meta-analysis and to reduce background noise associated with hybridization-based approaches. The development of multiplex sequencing enables efficient and economic parallel analysis of gene expression. In addition, RNA-seq is of particular value when low RNA expression or modest changes between samples are monitored. However, recent data uncovered severe bias in the sequencing of small non-protein coding RNA (small RNA-seq or sRNA-seq), such that the expression levels of some RNAs appeared to be artificially enhanced and others diminished or even undetectable. The use of different adapters and barcodes during ligation as well as complex RNA structures and modifications drastically influence cDNA synthesis efficacies and exemplify sources of bias in deep sequencing. In addition, variable specific RNA G/C-content is associated with unequal polymerase chain reaction amplification efficiencies...

Structure, stability and behaviour of nucleic acids in ionic liquids
Tateishi-Karimata, H; Sugimoto, N
Nucleic Acids Res. 2014, 42, 8831-8844
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Nucleic acids have become a powerful tool in nanotechnology because of their conformational polymorphism. However, lack of a medium in which nucleic acid structures exhibit long-term stability has been a bottleneck. Ionic liquids (ILs) are potential solvents in the nanotechnology field. Hydrated ILs, such as choline dihydrogen phosphate (choline dhp) and deep eutectic solvent (DES) prepared from choline chloride and urea, are `green' solvents that ensure long-term stability of biomolecules. An understanding of the behaviour of nucleic acids in hydrated ILs is necessary for developing DNA materials. We here review current knowledge about the structures and stabilities of nucleic acids in choline dhp and DES. Interestingly, in choline dhp, A-T base pairs are more stable than G-C base pairs, the reverse of the situation in buffered NaCl solution. Moreover, DNA triplex formation is markedly stabilized in hydrated ILs compared with aqueous solution. In choline dhp, the stability of Hoogsteen base pairs is comparable to that of Watson-Crick base pairs. Moreover, the parallel form of the G-quadruplex is stabilized in DES compared with aqueous solution...

Histone H4 Lysine 20 methylation: key player in epigenetic regulation of genomic integrity
Jorgensen, S; Schotta, G; Sorensen, CS
Nucleic Acids Res. 2013, 41, 2797-2806
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Maintenance of genomic integrity is essential to ensure normal organismal development and to prevent diseases such as cancer. Nuclear DNA is packaged into chromatin, and thus genome maintenance can be influenced by distinct chromatin environments. In particular, post-translational modifications of histones have emerged as key regulators of genomic integrity. Intense research during the past few years has revealed histone H4 lysine 20 methylation (H4K20me) as critically important for the biological processes that ensure genome integrity, such as DNA damage repair, DNA replication and chromatin compaction. The distinct H4K20 methylation states are mediated by SET8/PR-Set7 that catalyses monomethylation of H4K20, whereas SUV4-20H1 and SUV4-20H2 enzymes mediate further H4K20 methylation to H4K20me2 and H4K20me3. Disruption of these H4K20-specific histone methyltransferases leads to genomic instability, demonstrating the important functions of H4K20 methylation in genome maintenance. In this review, we explain molecular mechanisms underlying these defects and discuss novel ideas for furthering our understanding of genome maintenance in higher eukaryotes.

A fine-scale dissection of the DNA double-strand break repair machinery and its implications for breast cancer therapy
Liu, C; Srihari, S; Cao, KAL; Chenevix-Trench, G; Simpson, PT; Ragan, MA; Khanna, KK
Nucleic Acids Res. 2014, 42, 6106-6127
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DNA-damage response machinery is crucial to maintain the genomic integrity of cells, by enabling effective repair of even highly lethal lesions such as DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs). Defects in specific genes acquired through mutations, copy-number alterations or epigenetic changes can alter the balance of these pathways, triggering cancerous potential in cells. Selective killing of cancer cells by sensitizing them to further DNA damage, especially by induction of DSBs, therefore requires careful modulation of DSB-repair pathways. Here, we review the latest knowledge on the two DSB-repair pathways, homologous recombination and non-homologous end joining in human, describing in detail the functions of their components and the key mechanisms contributing to the repair. Such an in-depth characterization of these pathways enables a more mechanistic understanding of how cells respond to therapies, and suggests molecules and processes that can be explored as potential therapeutic targets. One such avenue that has shown immense promise is via the exploitation of synthetic lethal relationships...

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