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NAR Top Articles - Surveys and Summaries

Surveys and Summaries

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January 2015

Single-cell RNA-seq: advances and future challenges
A. E. Saliba, A. J. Westermann, S. A. Gorski and J. Vogel
Nucleic Acids Res. (2014) 42 (14): 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.

Regulation of alternative splicing by local histone modifications: potential roles for RNA-guided mechanisms
H. L. Zhou, G. Luo, J. A. Wise and H. Lou
Nucleic Acids Res. (2014) 42 (2): 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. More recent studies provided evidence that pre-messenger RNA itself can serve as a guide to enable precise alternative splicing regulation...

Classification and evolution of type II CRISPR-Cas systems
K. Chylinski, K. S. Makarova, E. Charpentier and E. V. Koonin
Nucleic Acids Res. (2014) 42 (10): 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 approximately 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...

A fine-scale dissection of the DNA double-strand break repair machinery and its implications for breast cancer therapy
C. Liu, S. Srihari, K. A. Cao, G. Chenevix-Trench, P. T. Simpson, M. A. Ragan and K. K. Khanna
Nucleic Acids Res. (2014) 42 (10): 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...

Highlights of the DNA cutters: a short history of the restriction enzymes
W. A. Loenen, D. T. Dryden, E. A. Raleigh, G. G. Wilson and N. E. Murray
Nucleic Acids Res. (2014) 42 (1): 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.

Survey and Summary
Histone H4 Lysine 20 methylation: key player in epigenetic regulation of genomic integrity
S. Jorgensen, G. Schotta and C. S. Sorensen
Nucleic Acids Res. (2013) 41 (5): 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.

Molecular mechanisms of retroviral integration site selection
M. Kvaratskhelia, A. Sharma, R. C. Larue, E. Serrao and A. Engelman
Nucleic Acids Res. (2014) 42 (16): 10209-10225
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Retroviral replication proceeds through an obligate integrated DNA provirus, making retroviral vectors attractive vehicles for human gene-therapy. Though most of the host cell genome is available for integration, the process of integration site selection is not random. Retroviruses differ in their choice of chromatin-associated features and also prefer particular nucleotide sequences at the point of insertion. Lentiviruses including HIV-1 preferentially integrate within the bodies of active genes, whereas the prototypical gammaretrovirus Moloney murine leukemia virus (MoMLV) favors strong enhancers and active gene promoter regions. Integration is catalyzed by the viral integrase protein, and recent research has demonstrated that HIV-1 and MoMLV targeting preferences are in large part guided by integrase-interacting host factors (LEDGF/p75 for HIV-1 and BET proteins for MoMLV) that tether viral intasomes to chromatin. In each case, the selectivity of epigenetic marks on histones recognized by the protein tether helps to determine the integration distribution...

H1 histones: current perspectives and challenges
S. W. Harshman, N. L. Young, M. R. Parthun and M. A. Freitas
Nucleic Acids Res. (2013) 41 (21): 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.

How the misincorporation of ribonucleotides into genomic DNA can be both harmful and helpful to cells
C. J. Potenski and H. L. Klein
Nucleic Acids Res. (2014) 42 (16): 10226-10234
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Ribonucleotides are misincorporated into replicating DNA due to the similarity of deoxyribonucleotides and ribonucleotides, the high concentration of ribonucleotides in the nucleus and the imperfect accuracy of replicative DNA polymerases in choosing the base with the correct sugar. Embedded ribonucleotides change certain properties of the DNA and can interfere with normal DNA transactions. Therefore, misincorporated ribonucleotides are targeted by the cell for removal. Failure to remove ribonucleotides from DNA results in an increase in genome instability, a phenomenon that has been characterized in various systems using multiple assays. Recently, however, another side to ribonucleotide misincorporation has emerged, where there is evidence for a functional role of misinserted ribonucleotides in DNA, leading to beneficial consequences for the cell. This review examines examples of both positive and negative effects of genomic ribonucleotide misincorporation in various organisms, aiming to highlight the diversity and the utility of this common replication variation.

Biases in small RNA deep sequencing data
C. A. Raabe, T. H. Tang, J. Brosius and T. S. Rozhdestvensky
Nucleic Acids Res. (2014) 42 (3): 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...

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