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NAR Top Articles - Surveys and Summaries

Surveys and Summaries

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May 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...

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.

Regulation of alternative splicing by local histone modifications: potential roles for RNA-guided mechanisms
Zhou, HL; Luo, GB; Wise, JA; Lou, H
Nucleic Acids Res. 2014, 42, 701-713
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The molecular mechanisms through which alternative splicing and histone modifications regulate gene expression are now understood in considerable detail. Here, we discuss recent studies that connect these two previously separate avenues of investigation, beginning with the unexpected discoveries that nucleosomes are preferentially positioned over exons and DNA methylation and certain histone modifications also show exonic enrichment. These findings have profound implications linking chromatin structure, histone modification and splicing regulation. Complementary single gene studies provided insight into the mechanisms through which DNA methylation and histones modifications modulate alternative splicing patterns. Here, we review an emerging theme resulting from these studies: RNA-guided mechanisms integrating chromatin modification and splicing. Several groundbreaking papers reported that small noncoding RNAs affect alternative exon usage by targeting histone methyltransferase complexes to form localized facultative heterochromatin...

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.

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.

RAN translation and frameshifting as translational challenges at simple repeats of human neurodegenerative disorders
Wojciechowska, M; Olejniczak, M; Galka-Marciniak, P; Jazurek, M; Krzyzosiak, WJ
Nucleic Acids Res. 2014, 42, 11849-11864
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Repeat-associated disorders caused by expansions of short sequences have been classified as coding and noncoding and are thought to be caused by protein gain-of-function and RNA gain-of-function mechanisms, respectively. The boundary between such classifications has recently been blurred by the discovery of repeat-associated non-AUG (RAN) translation reported in spinocerebellar ataxia type 8, myotonic dystrophy type 1, fragile X tremor/ataxia syndrome and C9ORF72 amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal dementia. This noncanonical translation requires no AUG start codon and can initiate in multiple frames of CAG, CGG and GGGGCC repeats of the sense and antisense strands of disease-relevant transcripts. RNA structures formed by the repeats have been suggested as possible triggers; however, the precise mechanism of the translation initiation remains elusive. Templates containing expansions of microsatellites have also been shown to challenge translation elongation, as frameshifting has been recognized across CAG repeats in spinocerebellar ataxia type 3 and Huntington's disease...

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...

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...

Transcriptional regulation of human DNA repair genes following genotoxic stress: trigger mechanisms, inducible responses and genotoxic adaptation
Christmann, M; Kaina, B
Nucleic Acids Res. 2013, 41, 8403-8420
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DNA repair is the first barrier in the defense against genotoxic stress. In recent years, mechanisms that recognize DNA damage and activate DNA repair functions through transcriptional upregulation and post-translational modification were the focus of intensive research. Most DNA repair pathways are complex, involving many proteins working in discrete consecutive steps. Therefore, their balanced expression is important for avoiding erroneous repair that might result from excessive base removal and DNA cleavage. Amelioration of DNA repair requires both a fine-tuned system of lesion recognition and transcription factors that regulate repair genes in a balanced way. Transcriptional upregulation of DNA repair genes by genotoxic stress is counteracted by DNA damage that blocks transcription. Therefore, induction of DNA repair resulting in an adaptive response is only visible through a narrow window of dose. Here, we review transcriptional regulation of DNA repair genes in normal and cancer cells and describe mechanisms of promoter activation following genotoxic exposures through environmental carcinogens and anticancer drugs...

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