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- Junctional neurulation: a unique developmental program shaping a discrete region of the spinal cord highly susceptible to neural tube defects. [Journal Article]
- J Neurosci 2014 Sep 24; 34(39):13208-21.
In higher vertebrates, the primordium of the nervous system, the neural tube, is shaped along the rostrocaudal axis through two consecutive, radically different processes referred to as primary and secondary neurulation. Failures in neurulation lead to severe anomalies of the nervous system, called neural tube defects (NTDs), which are among the most common congenital malformations in humans. Mechanisms causing NTDs in humans remain ill-defined. Of particular interest, the thoracolumbar region, which encompasses many NTD cases in the spine, corresponds to the junction between primary and secondary neurulations. Elucidating which developmental processes operate during neurulation in this region is therefore pivotal to unraveling the etiology of NTDs. Here, using the chick embryo as a model, we show that, at the junction, the neural tube is elaborated by a unique developmental program involving concerted movements of elevation and folding combined with local cell ingression and accretion. This process ensures the topological continuity between the primary and secondary neural tubes while supplying all neural progenitors of both the junctional and secondary neural tubes. Because it is distinct from the other neurulation events, we term this phenomenon junctional neurulation. Moreover, the planar-cell-polarity member, Prickle-1, is recruited specifically during junctional neurulation and its misexpression within a limited time period suffices to cause anomalies that phenocopy lower spine NTDs in human. Our study thus provides a molecular and cellular basis for understanding the causality of NTD prevalence in humans and ascribes to Prickle-1 a critical role in lower spinal cord formation.
- Xenopus mutant reveals necessity of rax for specifying the eye field which otherwise forms tissue with telencephalic and diencephalic character. [JOURNAL ARTICLE]
- Dev Biol 2014 Sep 16.
The retinal anterior homeobox (rax) gene encodes a transcription factor necessary for vertebrate eye development. rax transcription is initiated at the end of gastrulation in Xenopus, and is a key part of the regulatory network specifying anterior neural plate and retina. We describe here a Xenopus tropicalis rax mutant, the first mutant analyzed in detail from a reverse genetic screen. As in other vertebrates, this nonsense mutation results in eyeless animals, and is lethal peri-metamorphosis. Tissue normally fated to form retina in these mutants instead forms tissue with characteristics of diencephalon and telencephalon. This implies that a key role of rax, in addition to defining the eye field, is in preventing alternative forebrain identities. Our data highlight that brain and retina regions are not determined by the mid-gastrula stage but are by the neural plate stage. An RNA-Seq analysis and in situ hybridization assays for early gene expression in the mutant revealed that several key eye field transcription factors (e.g. pax6, lhx2 and six6) are not dependent on rax activity through neurulation. However, these analyses identified other genes either up- or down-regulated in mutant presumptive retinal tissue. Two neural patterning genes of particular interest that appear up-regulated in the rax mutant RNA-seq analysis are hesx1 and fezf2. These genes were not previously known to be regulated by rax. The normal function of rax is to partially repress their expression by an indirect mechanism in the presumptive retina region in wildtype embryos, thus accounting for the apparent up-regulation in the rax mutant. Knock-down experiments using antisense morpholino oligonucleotides directed against hesx1 and fezf2 show that failure to repress these two genes contributes to transformation of presumptive retinal tissue into non-retinal forebrain identities in the rax mutant.
- Genetic studies of ANKRD6 as a molecular switch between Wnt signaling pathways in human neural tube defects. [JOURNAL ARTICLE]
- Birth Defects Res A Clin Mol Teratol 2014 Sep 8.
Planar cell polarity (PCP) is a major branch of Wnt signaling that controls the process of convergent extension in gastrulation and neurulation. PCP defects were associated with neural tube defects (NTDs) that are the most common central nervous system anomalies. PCP signaling is highly dosage sensitive and exhibits an antagonistic relationship with the canonical Wnt/β-catenin pathway. Diversin, encoded by Ankrd6, is an ankyrin repeat protein that activates the non canonical PCP signaling and simultaneously inhibits the canonical pathway.In this study, we analyzed this dual role of ANKRD6 in NTDs. We sequenced its coding region in 473 NTD patients and 150 controls, and we validated the effect of the identified variants on Wnt signaling using reporter assays in mammalian cells.We identified four rare missense mutations in 0.8% of the NTD patients and two rare missense mutations in 1.3% of the controls. Notably, when all six mutations were validated, only two mutations identified in NTD patients, p.Pro548Leu, p.Arg632His, significantly altered DIVERSIN activity in Wnt signaling assays in a hypomorphic manner.Rare missense mutations in ANKRD6 could affect a balanced reciprocal antagonism between both Wnt pathways in neurulation and act as predisposing factors to NTDs in a subset of patients. Birth Defects Research (Part A), 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
- Germ cell nuclear factor regulates gametogenesis in developing gonads. [Journal Article]
- PLoS One 2014; 9(8):e103985.
Expression of germ cell nuclear factor (GCNF; Nr6a1), an orphan member of the nuclear receptor gene family of transcription factors, during gastrulation and neurulation is critical for normal embryogenesis in mice. Gcnf represses the expression of the POU-domain transcription factor Oct4 (Pou5f1) during mouse post-implantation development. Although Gcnf expression is not critical for the embryonic segregation of the germ cell lineage, we found that sexually dimorphic expression of Gcnf in germ cells correlates with the expression of pluripotency-associated genes, such as Oct4, Sox2, and Nanog, as well as the early meiotic marker gene Stra8. To elucidate the role of Gcnf during mouse germ cell differentiation, we generated an ex vivo Gcnf-knockdown model in combination with a regulated CreLox mutation of Gcnf. Lack of Gcnf impairs normal spermatogenesis and oogenesis in vivo, as well as the derivation of germ cells from embryonic stem cells (ESCs) in vitro. Inactivation of the Gcnf gene in vivo leads to loss of repression of Oct4 expression in both male and female gonads.
- In vivo assessment of guided neural stem cell differentiation in growth factor immobilized chitosan-based hydrogel scaffolds. [JOURNAL ARTICLE]
- Biomaterials 2014 Aug 8.
In this study, we demonstrate that a unique growth factor-biomaterial system can offer spatial control of growth factors with sustained signaling to guide the specific lineage commitment of neural stem/progenitor cells (NSPCs) in vivo. First, recombinant fusion proteins incorporating an N-terminal biotin tag and interferon-γ (IFN-γ), platelet derived growth factor-AA (PDGF-AA), or bone morphogenic protein-2 (BMP-2) were immobilized to a methacrylamide chitosan (MAC) based biopolymer via a streptavidin linker to specify NSPC differentiation into neurons, oligodendrocytes, or astrocytes, respectively. MAC was mixed with growth factors (immobilized or adsorbed), acrylated laminin, NSPCs, and crosslinked within chitosan conduits. This system mimics regenerative aspects of the central nervous system ECM, which is largely composed of a crosslinked polysaccharide matrix with cell-adhesive regions, and adds the new functionality of protein sequestration. We demonstrated that these growth factors are maintained at functionally significant levels for 28 d in vitro. In the main study, immobilized treatments were compared to absorbed and control treatments after 28 d in vivo (rat subcutaneous). Masson's Trichrome staining revealed that small collagen capsules formed around the chitosan conduits with an average acceptable thickness of 153.07 ± 6.02 μm for all groups. ED-1 staining showed mild macrophage clustering around the outside of chitosan conduits in all treatments with no macrophage invasion into hydrogel portions. Importantly, NSPC differentiation staining demonstrated that immobilized growth factors induced the majority of cells to differentiate into the desired cell types as compared with adsorbed growth factor treatments and controls by day 28. Interestingly, immobilized IFN-γ resulted in neural rosette-like arrangements and even structures resembling neural tubes, suggesting this treatment can lead to guided dedifferentiation and subsequent neurulation.
- LTR retroelements are intrinsic components of transcriptional networks in frogs. [Journal Article, Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't]
- BMC Genomics 2014.:626.
LTR retroelements (LTR REs) constitute a major group of transposable elements widely distributed in eukaryotic genomes. Through their own mechanism of retrotranscription LTR REs enrich the genomic landscape by providing genetic variability, thus contributing to genome structure and organization. Nonetheless, transcriptomic activity of LTR REs still remains an obscure domain within cell, developmental, and organism biology.Here we present a first comparative analysis of LTR REs for anuran amphibians based on a full depth coverage transcriptome of the European pool frog, Pelophylax lessonae, the genome of the African clawed frog, Silurana tropicalis (release v7.1), and additional transcriptomes of S. tropicalis and Cyclorana alboguttata. We identified over 1000 copies of LTR REs from all four families (Bel/Pao, Ty1/Copia, Ty3/Gypsy, Retroviridae) in the genome of S. tropicalis and discovered transcripts of several of these elements in all RNA-seq datasets analyzed. Elements of the Ty3/Gypsy family were most active, especially Amn-san elements, which accounted for approximately 0.27% of the genome in Silurana. Some elements exhibited tissue specific expression patterns, for example Hydra1.1 and MuERV-like elements in Pelophylax. In S. tropicalis considerable transcription of LTR REs was observed during embryogenesis as soon as the embryonic genome became activated, i.e. at midblastula transition. In the course of embryonic development the spectrum of transcribed LTR REs changed; during gastrulation and neurulation MuERV-like and SnRV like retroviruses were abundantly transcribed while during organogenesis transcripts of the XEN1 retroviruses became much more active.The differential expression of LTR REs during embryogenesis in concert with their tissue-specificity and the protein domains they encode are evidence for the functional roles these elements play as integrative parts of complex regulatory networks. Our results support the meanwhile widely accepted concept that retroelements are not simple "junk DNA" or "harmful genomic parasites" but essential components of the transcriptomic machinery in vertebrates.
- Geminin loss causes neural tube defects through disrupted progenitor specification and neuronal differentiation. [JOURNAL ARTICLE]
- Dev Biol 2014 Jul 1.
Geminin is a nucleoprotein that can directly bind chromatin regulatory complexes to modulate gene expression during development. Geminin knockout mouse embryos are preimplantation lethal by the 32-cell stage, precluding in vivo study of Geminin's role in neural development. Therefore, here we used a conditional Geminin allele in combination with several Cre-driver lines to define an essential role for Geminin during mammalian neural tube (NT) formation and patterning. Geminin was required in the NT within a critical developmental time window (embryonic day 8.5-10.5), when NT patterning and closure occurs. Geminin excision at these stages resulted in strongly diminished expression of genes that mark and promote dorsal NT identities and decreased differentiation of ventral motor neurons, resulting in completely penetrant NT defects, while excision after embryonic day 10.5 did not result in NT defects. When Geminin was deleted specifically in the spinal NT, both NT defects and axial skeleton defects were observed, but neither defect occurred when Geminin was excised in paraxial mesenchyme, indicating a tissue autonomous requirement for Geminin in developing neuroectoderm. Despite a potential role for Geminin in cell cycle control, we found no evidence of proliferation defects or altered apoptosis. Comparisons of gene expression in the NT of Geminin mutant versus wild-type siblings at embryonic day 10.5 revealed decreased expression of key regulators of neurogenesis, including neurogenic bHLH transcription factors and dorsal interneuron progenitor markers. Together, these data demonstrate a requirement for Geminin for NT patterning and neuronal differentiation during mammalian neurulation in vivo.
- A rat toxicogenomics study with the Calcium Sensitizer EMD82571 reveals a pleiotropic cause of teratogenicity. [JOURNAL ARTICLE]
- Reprod Toxicol 2014 Jun 27.
The calcium sensitizer and PDEIII inhibitor EMD82571 caused exencephaly, micrognathia, agnathia and facial cleft in 58% of fetuses. In pursue of mechanisms and to define adverse outcome pathways pregnant Wistar rats were dosed daily with either EMD82571 (50 or 150mg/kg/day) or retinoic acid (12mg/kg/day) on gestational days 6-11 and 6-17, respectively. Hypothesis driven and whole genome microarray experiments with whole embryo, maternal liver, embryonic liver and malformed bone at gestational days 12 and 20 revealed regulation of genes critically involved in osteogenesis, odontogenesis, differentiation and development and extracellular matrix. Importantly, repression of osteocalcin and members of TGF-β/BMP signaling hampered osteo- and odontogenesis. Furthermore, EMD82571 ability to impair neurulation by inhibiting mid hinge point formation resulting in neural tube defects. Taken collectively, a molecular rationale for the observed teratogenicity induced by EMD82571 is presented that links molecular initiating events with AOPs.
- Molecular and morphological changes in zebrafish following transient ethanol exposure during defined developmental stages. [JOURNAL ARTICLE]
- Neurotoxicol Teratol 2014 Jun 11.
Alcohol is a teratogen that has diverse effects on brain and craniofacial development, leading to a constellation of developmental disorders referred to as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). The molecular basis of ethanol insult remains poorly understood, as does the relationship between molecular and behavioral changes as a consequence of prenatal ethanol exposure. Zebrafish embryos were exposed to a range of ethanol concentrations (0.5-5.0%) during defined developmental stages, and examined for morphological phenotypes characteristic of FASD. Embryos were also analyzed by in situ hybridization for changes in expression of defined cell markers for neural cell types that are sonic hedgehog-dependent. We show that transient binge-like ethanol exposures during defined developmental stages, such as early gastrulation and early neurulation, result in a range of phenotypes and changes in expression of Shh-dependent genes. The severity of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) morphological phenotypes, such as microphthalmia, depends on the embryonic stage and concentration of alcohol exposure, as does diminution of retinal Pax6a or forebrain and hindbrain GAD1 gene expression. We also show that changes in eye and brain morphology correlate with changes in Pax6a and GAD1 gene expression. Our results therefore show that transient binge-like ethanol exposures in zebrafish embryos produce the stereotypical morphological phenotypes of FAS, with the severity of phenotypes depending on the developmental stage and alcohol concentration of exposure.
- Fetal surgery for myelomeningocele is effective: a critical look at the whys. [JOURNAL ARTICLE]
- Pediatr Surg Int 2014 Jun 8.
Formerly, the disastrous cluster of neurologic deficits and associated neurogenic problems in patients with myelomeningocele (MMC) was generally thought to solely result from the primary malformation, i.e., failure of neurulation. Today, however, there is no doubt that a dimensional additional pathogenic mechanism exists. Most likely, it contributes much more to loss of neurologic function than non-neurulation does. Today, there is a large body of compelling experimental and clinical evidence confirming that the exposed part of the non-neurulated spinal cord is progressively destroyed during gestation, particularly so in the third trimester. These considerations gave rise to the two-hit-pathogenesis of MMC with non-neurulation being the first and consecutive in utero acquired neural tissue destruction being the second hit. This novel pathophysiologic understanding has obviously triggered the question whether the serious and irreversible functional loss caused by the second hit could not be prevented or, at least, significantly alleviated by timely protecting the exposed spinal cord segments, i.e., by early in utero repair of the MMC lesion. Based on this intriguing hypothesis and the above-mentioned data, human fetal surgery for MMC was born in the late nineties of the last century and has made its way to become a novel standard of care, particularly after the so-called "MOMS Trial". This trial, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, has indisputably shown that overall, open prenatal repair is distinctly better than postnatal care alone. Finally, a number of important other topics deserve being mentioned, including the necessity to work on the up till now immature endoscopic fetal repair technique and the need for concentration of these extremely challenging cases to a small number of really qualified fetal surgery centers worldwide. In conclusion, despite the fact that in utero repair of MMC is not a complete cure and not free of risk for both mother and fetus, current data clearly demonstrate that open fetal-maternal surgery is to be recommended as novel standard of care when pregnancy is to be continued and when respective criteria for the intervention before birth are met. Undoubtedly, it is imperative to inform expecting mothers about the option of prenatal surgery once their fetus is diagnosed with open spina bifida.