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Sleep-Active Neurons: Conserved Motors of Sleep [Review]

April 4, 2018 - 9:30am

Sleep is crucial for survival and well-being. This behavioral and physiological state has been studied in all major genetically accessible model animals, including rodents, fish, flies, and worms. Genetic and optogenetic studies have identified several neurons that control sleep, making it now possible to compare circuit mechanisms across species. The "motor" of sleep across animal species is formed by neurons that depolarize at the onset of sleep to actively induce this state by directly inhibiting wakefulness. These sleep-inducing neurons are themselves controlled by inhibitory or activating upstream pathways, which act as the "drivers" of the sleep motor: arousal inhibits "sleep-active" neurons whereas various sleep-promoting "tiredness" pathways converge onto sleep-active neurons to depolarize them. This review provides the first overview of sleep-active neurons across the major model animals. The occurrence of sleep-active neurons and their regulation by upstream pathways in both vertebrate and invertebrate species suggests that these neurons are general and ancient components that evolved early in the history of nervous systems.

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Functional Imaging and Optogenetics in Drosophila [Methods]

April 4, 2018 - 9:30am

Understanding how activity patterns in specific neural circuits coordinate an animal’s behavior remains a key area of neuroscience research. Genetic tools and a brain of tractable complexity make Drosophila a premier model organism for these studies. Here, we review the wealth of reagents available to map and manipulate neuronal activity with light.

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Wingless Signaling: A Genetic Journey from Morphogenesis to Metastasis [Cell Signaling]

April 4, 2018 - 9:30am

This FlyBook chapter summarizes the history and the current state of our understanding of the Wingless signaling pathway. Wingless, the fly homolog of the mammalian Wnt oncoproteins, plays a central role in pattern generation during development. Much of what we know about the pathway was learned from genetic and molecular experiments in Drosophila melanogaster, and the core pathway works the same way in vertebrates. Like most growth factor pathways, extracellular Wingless/Wnt binds to a cell surface complex to transduce signal across the plasma membrane, triggering a series of intracellular events that lead to transcriptional changes in the nucleus. Unlike most growth factor pathways, the intracellular events regulate the protein stability of a key effector molecule, in this case Armadillo/β-catenin. A number of mysteries remain about how the "destruction complex" destabilizes β-catenin and how this process is inactivated by the ligand-bound receptor complex, so this review of the field can only serve as a snapshot of the work in progress.

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Biology in Bloom: A Primer on the Arabidopsis thaliana Model System [Primer]

April 4, 2018 - 9:30am

Arabidopsis thaliana could have easily escaped human scrutiny. Instead, Arabidopsis has become the most widely studied plant in modern biology despite its absence from the dinner table. Pairing diminutive stature and genome with prodigious resources and tools, Arabidopsis offers a window into the molecular, cellular, and developmental mechanisms underlying life as a multicellular photoautotroph. Many basic discoveries made using this plant have spawned new research areas, even beyond the verdant fields of plant biology. With a suite of resources and tools unmatched among plants and rivaling other model systems, Arabidopsis research continues to offer novel insights and deepen our understanding of fundamental biological processes.

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Multiple Applications of a Transient CRISPR-Cas9 Coupled with Electroporation (TRACE) System in the Cryptococcus neoformans Species Complex [Methods, Technology, and Resources]

April 4, 2018 - 9:30am

Cryptococcus neoformans is a fungal pathogen that claims hundreds of thousands of lives annually. Targeted genetic manipulation through biolistic transformation in C. neoformans drove the investigation of this clinically important pathogen at the molecular level. Although costly and inefficient, biolistic transformation remains the major method for editing the Cryptococcus genome as foreign DNAs introduced by other methods such as electroporation are predominantly not integrated into the genome. Although the majority of DNAs introduced by biolistic transformation are stably inherited, the transformation efficiency and the homologous integration rate (~1–10%) are low. Here, we developed a Transient CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat)-Cas9 coupled with Electroporation (TRACE) system for targeted genetic manipulations in the C. neoformans species complex. This method took advantages of efficient genome integration due to double-strand breaks created at specific sites by the transient CRISPR-Cas9 system and the high transformation efficiency of electroporation. We demonstrated that TRACE can efficiently generate precise single-gene deletion mutants using the ADE2 locus as an example. This system can also effectively delete multiple genes in a single transformation, as evident by the successful generation of quadruple mfα1234 mutants. In addition to generating gene deletion mutants, we complemented the ade2 mutant by integrating a wild-type ADE2 allele at the "safe haven" region (SH2) via homologous recombination using TRACE. Interestingly, introduced DNAs can be inserted at a designated genetic site without any homologous sequences, opening up numerous other applications. We expect that TRACE, an efficient, versatile, and cost-effective gene editing approach, will greatly accelerate research in this field.

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Beyond Genomic Prediction: Combining Different Types of omics Data Can Improve Prediction of Hybrid Performance in Maize [Genomic Selection]

April 4, 2018 - 9:30am

The ability to predict the agronomic performance of single-crosses with high precision is essential for selecting superior candidates for hybrid breeding. With recent technological advances, thousands of new parent lines, and, consequently, millions of new hybrid combinations are possible in each breeding cycle, yet only a few hundred can be produced and phenotyped in multi-environment yield trials. Well established prediction approaches such as best linear unbiased prediction (BLUP) using pedigree data and whole-genome prediction using genomic data are limited in capturing epistasis and interactions occurring within and among downstream biological strata such as transcriptome and metabolome. Because mRNA and small RNA (sRNA) sequences are involved in transcriptional, translational and post-translational processes, we expect them to provide information influencing several biological strata. However, using sRNA data of parent lines to predict hybrid performance has not yet been addressed. Here, we gathered genomic, transcriptomic (mRNA and sRNA) and metabolomic data of parent lines to evaluate the ability of the data to predict the performance of untested hybrids for important agronomic traits in grain maize. We found a considerable interaction for predictive ability between predictor and trait, with mRNA data being a superior predictor for grain yield and genomic data for grain dry matter content, while sRNA performed relatively poorly for both traits. Combining mRNA and genomic data as predictors resulted in high predictive abilities across both traits and combining other predictors improved prediction over that of the individual predictors alone. We conclude that downstream "omics" can complement genomics for hybrid prediction, and, thereby, contribute to more efficient selection of hybrid candidates.

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Beyond Thermodynamic Constraints: Evolutionary Sampling Generates Realistic Protein Sequence Variation [Statistical Genetics and Genomics]

April 4, 2018 - 9:30am

Biological evolution generates a surprising amount of site-specific variability in protein sequences. Yet, attempts at modeling this process have been only moderately successful, and current models based on protein structural metrics explain, at best, 60% of the observed variation. Surprisingly, simple measures of protein structure, such as solvent accessibility, are often better predictors of site-specific variability than more complex models employing all-atom energy functions and detailed structural modeling. We suggest here that these more complex models perform poorly because they lack consideration of the evolutionary process, which is, in part, captured by the simpler metrics. We compare protein sequences that are computationally designed to sequences that are computationally evolved using the same protein-design energy function and to homologous natural sequences. We find that, by a wide variety of metrics, evolved sequences are much more similar to natural sequences than are designed sequences. In particular, designed sequences are too conserved on the protein surface relative to natural sequences, whereas evolved sequences are not. Our results suggest that evolutionary simulation produces a realistic sampling of sequence space. By contrast, protein design—at least as currently implemented—does not. Existing energy functions seem to be sufficiently accurate to correctly describe the key thermodynamic constraints acting on protein sequences, but they need to be paired with realistic sampling schemes to generate realistic sequence alignments.

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Transformation of Summary Statistics from Linear Mixed Model Association on All-or-None Traits to Odds Ratio [Statistical Genetics and Genomics]

April 4, 2018 - 9:30am

Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified thousands of loci that are robustly associated with complex diseases. The use of linear mixed model (LMM) methodology for GWAS is becoming more prevalent due to its ability to control for population structure and cryptic relatedness and to increase power. The odds ratio (OR) is a common measure of the association of a disease with an exposure (e.g., a genetic variant) and is readably available from logistic regression. However, when the LMM is applied to all-or-none traits it provides estimates of genetic effects on the observed 0–1 scale, a different scale to that in logistic regression. This limits the comparability of results across studies, for example in a meta-analysis, and makes the interpretation of the magnitude of an effect from an LMM GWAS difficult. In this study, we derived transformations from the genetic effects estimated under the LMM to the OR that only rely on summary statistics. To test the proposed transformations, we used real genotypes from two large, publicly available data sets to simulate all-or-none phenotypes for a set of scenarios that differ in underlying model, disease prevalence, and heritability. Furthermore, we applied these transformations to GWAS summary statistics for type 2 diabetes generated from 108,042 individuals in the UK Biobank. In both simulation and real-data application, we observed very high concordance between the transformed OR from the LMM and either the simulated truth or estimates from logistic regression. The transformations derived and validated in this study improve the comparability of results from prospective and already performed LMM GWAS on complex diseases by providing a reliable transformation to a common comparative scale for the genetic effects.

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Plasticity of Meiotic Recombination Rates in Response to Temperature in Arabidopsis [Genome Integrity and Transmission]

April 4, 2018 - 9:30am

Meiotic recombination shuffles genetic information from sexual species into gametes to create novel combinations in offspring. Thus, recombination is an important factor in inheritance, adaptation, and responses to selection. However, recombination is not a static parameter; meiotic recombination rate is sensitive to variation in the environment, especially temperature. That recombination rates change in response to both increases and decreases in temperature was reported in Drosophila a century ago, and since then in several other species. But it is still unclear what the underlying mechanism is, and whether low- and high-temperature effects are mechanistically equivalent. Here, we show that, as in Drosophila, both high and low temperatures increase meiotic crossovers in Arabidopsis thaliana. We show that, from a nadir at 18°, both lower and higher temperatures increase recombination through additional class I (interfering) crossovers. However, the increase in crossovers at high and low temperatures appears to be mechanistically at least somewhat distinct, as they differ in their association with the DNA repair protein MLH1. We also find that, in contrast to what has been reported in barley, synaptonemal complex length is negatively correlated with temperature; thus, an increase in chromosome axis length may account for increased crossovers at low temperature in A. thaliana, but cannot explain the increased crossovers observed at high temperature. The plasticity of recombination has important implications for evolution and breeding, and also for the interpretation of observations of recombination rate variation among natural populations.

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Mitotic and Meiotic Functions for the SUMOylation Pathway in the Caenorhabditis elegans Germline [Genome Integrity and Transmission]

April 4, 2018 - 9:30am

Meiosis is a highly regulated process, partly due to the need to break and then repair DNA as part of the meiotic program. Post-translational modifications are widely used during meiotic events to regulate steps such as protein complex formation, checkpoint activation, and protein attenuation. In this paper, we investigate how proteins that are obligatory components of the SUMO (small ubiquitin-like modifier) pathway, one such post-translational modification, affect the Caenorhabditis elegans germline. We show that UBC-9, the E2 conjugation enzyme, and the C. elegans homolog of SUMO, SMO-1, localize to germline nuclei throughout prophase I. Mutant analysis of smo-1 and ubc-9 revealed increased recombination intermediates throughout the germline, originating during the mitotic divisions. SUMOylation mutants also showed late meiotic defects including defects in the restructuring of oocyte bivalents and endomitotic oocytes. Increased rates of noninterfering crossovers were observed in ubc-9 heterozygotes, even though interfering crossovers were unaffected. We have also identified a physical interaction between UBC-9 and DNA repair protein MRE-11. ubc-9 and mre-11 null mutants exhibited similar phenotypes at germline mitotic nuclei and were synthetically sick. These phenotypes and genetic interactions were specific to MRE-11 null mutants as opposed to RAD-50 or resection-defective MRE-11. We propose that the SUMOylation pathway acts redundantly with MRE-11, and in this process MRE-11 likely plays a structural role.

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Control of Maize Vegetative and Reproductive Development, Fertility, and rRNAs Silencing by HISTONE DEACETYLASE 108 [Gene Expression]

April 4, 2018 - 9:30am

Histone deacetylases (HDACs) catalyze the removal of acetyl groups from acetylated histone tails that consequently interact more closely with DNA, leading to chromatin state refractory to transcription. Zea mays HDA108 belongs to the Rpd3/HDA1 HDAC family and is ubiquitously expressed during development. The newly isolated hda108/hda108 insertional mutant exhibited many developmental defects: significant reduction in plant height, alterations of shoot and leaf development, and alterations of inflorescence patterning and fertility. Western blot analyses and immunolocalization experiments revealed an evident increase in histone acetylation, accompanied by a marked reduction in H3K9 dimethylation, in mutant nuclei. The DNA methylation status, in the CHG sequence context, and the transcript level of ribosomal sequences were also affected in hda108 mutants, while enrichment in H3 and H4 acetylation characterizes both repetitive and nonrepetitive transcriptional up-regulated loci. RNA-Seq of both young leaf and anthers indicated that transcription factor expression is highly affected and that the pollen developmental program is disrupted in hda108 mutants. Crosses between hda108/hda108 and epiregulator mutants did not produce any double mutant progeny indicating possible genetic interactions of HDA108 with distinct epigenetic pathways. Our findings indicate that HDA108 is directly involved in regulation of maize development, fertility, and epigenetic regulation of genome activity.

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A Damage Sensor Associated with the Cuticle Coordinates Three Core Environmental Stress Responses in Caenorhabditis elegans [Gene Expression]

April 4, 2018 - 9:30am

Extracellular matrix barriers and inducible cytoprotective genes form successive lines of defense against chemical and microbial environmental stressors. The barrier in nematodes is a collagenous extracellular matrix called the cuticle. In Caenorhabditis elegans, disruption of some cuticle collagen genes activates osmolyte and antimicrobial response genes. Physical damage to the epidermis also activates antimicrobial responses. Here, we assayed the effect of knocking down genes required for cuticle and epidermal integrity on diverse cellular stress responses. We found that disruption of specific bands of collagen, called annular furrows, coactivates detoxification, hyperosmotic, and antimicrobial response genes, but not other stress responses. Disruption of other cuticle structures and epidermal integrity does not have the same effect. Several transcription factors act downstream of furrow loss. SKN-1/Nrf and ELT-3/GATA are required for detoxification, SKN-1/Nrf is partially required for the osmolyte response, and STA-2/Stat and ELT-3/GATA for antimicrobial gene expression. Our results are consistent with a cuticle-associated damage sensor that coordinates detoxification, hyperosmotic, and antimicrobial responses through overlapping, but distinct, downstream signaling.

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The Functional Specialization of Exomer as a Cargo Adaptor During the Evolution of Fungi [Cellular Genetics]

April 4, 2018 - 9:30am

Yeast exomer is a heterotetrameric complex that is assembled at the trans-Golgi network, which is required for the delivery of a distinct set of proteins to the plasma membrane using ChAPs (Chs5-Arf1 binding proteins) Chs6 and Bch2 as dedicated cargo adaptors. However, our results show a significant functional divergence between them, suggesting an evolutionary specialization among the ChAPs. Moreover, the characterization of exomer mutants in several fungi indicates that exomer’s function as a cargo adaptor is a late evolutionary acquisition associated with several gene duplications of the fungal ChAPs ancestor. Initial gene duplication led to the formation of the two ChAPs families, Chs6 and Bch1, in the Saccaromycotina group, which have remained functionally redundant based on the characterization of Kluyveromyces lactis mutants. The whole-genome duplication that occurred within the Saccharomyces genus facilitated a further divergence, which allowed Chs6/Bch2 and Bch1/Bud7 pairs to become specialized for specific cellular functions. We also show that the behavior of S. cerevisiae Chs3 as an exomer cargo is associated with the presence of specific cytosolic domains in this protein, which favor its interaction with exomer and AP-1 complexes. However, these domains are not conserved in the Chs3 proteins of other fungi, suggesting that they arose late in the evolution of fungi associated with the specialization of ChAPs as cargo adaptors.

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Genetic Suppression of Basement Membrane Defects in Caenorhabditis elegans by Gain of Function in Extracellular Matrix and Cell-Matrix Attachment Genes [Developmental and Behavioral Genetics]

April 4, 2018 - 9:30am

Basement membranes are extracellular matrices essential for embryonic development in animals. Peroxidasins are extracellular peroxidases implicated in the unique sulfilimine cross-links between type IV basement membrane collagens. Loss of function in the Caenorhabditis elegans peroxidasin PXN-2 results in fully penetrant embryonic or larval lethality. Using genetic suppressor screening, we find that the requirement for PXN-2 in development can be bypassed by gain of function in multiple genes encoding other basement membrane components, or proteins implicated in cell-matrix attachment. We identify multiple alleles of let-805, encoding the transmembrane protein myotactin, which suppress phenotypes of pxn-2 null mutants and of other basement membrane mutants such as F-spondin/spon-1. These let-805 suppressor alleles cause missense alterations in two pairs of FNIII repeats in the extracellular domain; they act dominantly and have no detectable phenotypes alone, suggesting they cause gain of function. We also identify suppressor missense mutations affecting basement membrane components type IV collagen (emb-9, let-2) and perlecan (unc-52), as well as a mutation affecting spectraplakin (vab-10), a component of the epidermal cytoskeleton. These suppressor alleles do not bypass the developmental requirement for core structural proteins of the basement membrane such as laminin or type IV collagen. In conclusion, putative gain-of-function alterations in matrix proteins or in cell-matrix receptors can overcome the requirement for certain basement membrane proteins in embryonic development, revealing previously unknown plasticity in the genetic requirements for the extracellular matrix.

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Functional Redundancy of DICER Cofactors TARBP2 and PRKRA During Murine Embryogenesis Does Not Involve miRNA Biogenesis [Developmental and Behavioral Genetics]

April 4, 2018 - 9:30am

Several in vitro studies have suggested that canonical microRNA (miRNA) biogenesis requires the DICER cofactors TARBP2 and PRKRA for processing of pre-miRNAs to mature miRNAs. To investigate the roles of TARBP2 and PRKRA in miRNA biogenesis in vivo, and to determine possible functional redundancy, we first compared the phenotypes of Tarbp2 and Prkra single and double mutants. In contrast to Dicer –/– embryos, which die by embryonic day 7.5 (E7.5), single Tarbp2 –/– and Prkra –/– mice survive beyond E7.5 and either die perinatally or survive and exhibit cranial/facial abnormalities, respectively. In contrast, only a few Tarbp2 –/–; Prkra –/– double mutants survived beyond E12.5, suggesting genetic redundancy between Tarbp2 and Prkra during embryonic development. Sequencing of miRNAs from single-mutant embryos at E15.5 revealed changes in abundance and isomiR type in Tarbp2 –/–, but not Prkra –/–, embryos, demonstrating that TARBP2, but not PRKRA, functions in miRNA biogenesis of a subclass of miRNAs, and suggesting that functional redundancy between TARBP2 and PRKRA does not involve miRNA biogenesis.

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Torso-Like Is a Component of the Hemolymph and Regulates the Insulin Signaling Pathway in Drosophila [Developmental and Behavioral Genetics]

April 4, 2018 - 9:30am

In Drosophila, key developmental transitions are governed by the steroid hormone ecdysone. A number of neuropeptide-activated signaling pathways control ecdysone production in response to environmental signals, including the insulin signaling pathway, which regulates ecdysone production in response to nutrition. Here, we find that the Membrane Attack Complex/Perforin-like protein Torso-like, best characterized for its role in activating the Torso receptor tyrosine kinase in early embryo patterning, also regulates the insulin signaling pathway in Drosophila. We previously reported that the small body size and developmental delay phenotypes of torso-like null mutants resemble those observed when insulin signaling is reduced. Here we report that, in addition to growth defects, torso-like mutants also display metabolic and nutritional plasticity phenotypes characteristic of mutants with impaired insulin signaling. We further find that in the absence of torso-like, the expression of insulin-like peptides is increased, as is their accumulation in insulin-producing cells. Finally, we show that Torso-like is a component of the hemolymph and that it is required in the prothoracic gland to control developmental timing and body size. Taken together, our data suggest that the secretion of Torso-like from the prothoracic gland influences the activity of insulin signaling throughout the body in Drosophila.

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Mito-Nuclear Interactions Affecting Lifespan and Neurodegeneration in a Drosophila Model of Leigh Syndrome [Developmental and Behavioral Genetics]

April 4, 2018 - 9:30am

Proper mitochondrial activity depends upon proteins encoded by genes in the nuclear and mitochondrial genomes that must interact functionally and physically in a precisely coordinated manner. Consequently, mito-nuclear allelic interactions are thought to be of crucial importance on an evolutionary scale, as well as for manifestation of essential biological phenotypes, including those directly relevant to human disease. Nonetheless, detailed molecular understanding of mito-nuclear interactions is still lacking, and definitive examples of such interactions in vivo are sparse. Here we describe the characterization of a mutation in Drosophila ND23, a nuclear gene encoding a highly conserved subunit of mitochondrial complex 1. This characterization led to the discovery of a mito-nuclear interaction that affects the ND23 mutant phenotype. ND23 mutants exhibit reduced lifespan, neurodegeneration, abnormal mitochondrial morphology, and decreased ATP levels. These phenotypes are similar to those observed in patients with Leigh syndrome, which is caused by mutations in a number of nuclear genes that encode mitochondrial proteins, including the human ortholog of ND23. A key feature of Leigh syndrome, and other mitochondrial disorders, is unexpected and unexplained phenotypic variability. We discovered that the phenotypic severity of ND23 mutations varies depending on the maternally inherited mitochondrial background. Sequence analysis of the relevant mitochondrial genomes identified several variants that are likely candidates for the phenotypic interaction with mutant ND23, including a variant affecting a mitochondrially encoded component of complex I. Thus, our work provides an in vivo demonstration of the phenotypic importance of mito-nuclear interactions in the context of mitochondrial disease.

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Regulation of Glutamate Signaling in the Sensorimotor Circuit by CASY-1A/Calsyntenin in Caenorhabditis elegans [Developmental and Behavioral Genetics]

April 4, 2018 - 9:30am

Locomotion is one of the most prominent behaviors in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Neuronal circuits that ultimately produce coordinated dorso-ventral sinusoidal bends mediate this behavior. Synchronized locomotion requires an intricate balance between excitation and inhibition at the neuromuscular junctions (NMJ), the complex cellular and molecular mechanisms of which are not fully understood. Here, we describe the role of a cell adhesion molecule CASY-1, which functions to maintain this balance at the NMJ. In this study, we dissect out mechanisms by which the longer CASY-1A isoform could be affecting the excitatory cholinergic signaling at the NMJ by modulating the activity of sensory neurons. Mutants in casy-1 appear to have hyperactive sensory neurons, resulting in accelerated locomotion and motor circuit activity. These sensory neurons mediate increased motor activity via enhanced glutamate release. Using genetic, pharmacological, and optogenetic manipulations, we establish that CASY-1A is required to monitor the activity of these neurons. Our study illustrates a novel neuromodulatory role of CASY-1-mediated signaling in regulating the excitation-inhibition balance of the motor circuit.

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