Prof Tudor A Fulga

Research Area: Cell and Molecular Biology
Technology Exchange: In situ hybridisation, In vivo imaging, Microscopy (Confocal), Transcript profiling and Transgenesis
Scientific Themes: Genes, Genetics, Epigenetics & Genomics and Molecular, Cell & Systems Biology
Keywords: microRNA, Synthetic biology, Genome engineering, CRISPR-Cas9 and lincRNA
Web Links:
Sagittal bisection through the Drosophila adult thorax showing the indirect flight muscles (IFM) stained for F-actin (left panels). High resolution structure of IFM myofibrils stained for F-actin (green) and myosin (red) (right panels). Silencing the activity of a single microRNA causes pronounced muscle fiber degeneration.

Sagittal bisection through the Drosophila adult thorax showing the indirect flight muscles (IFM) ...

TALEN and CRISPR-Cas9 mediated genome engineering of MREs in Zebrafish, Drosophila and human cells.

TALEN and CRISPR-Cas9 mediated genome engineering of MREs in Zebrafish, Drosophila and human cells.

Conditional axon injury paradigm in larval segmental nerves

Conditional axon injury paradigm in larval segmental nerves

Harvard Medical School Focus news article on transgenic microRNA inhibition

Harvard Medical School Focus news article on transgenic microRNA inhibition

NON-CODING RNAs IN DEVELOPMENT AND DISEASE

Every cell within our body carries the same genetic information, yet following iterative developmental transitions hundreds of morphologically and functionally distinct cell types are generated. At the foundation of this fascinating cellular diversification, lies a milieu of finely orchestrated and sophisticated regulatory programmes, which act to turn on or off thousands of genes (~20,000 in humans) with minute spatial and temporal precision. Errors in these programmes can give rise to developmental defects and many human diseases including cancer. For many years, it was thought that RNAs only function as structural scaffolds and messengers transferring genetic information from DNA to proteins. This view was drastically changed following the seminal discovery of RNA interference and endogenous non-coding regulatory RNAs. This discovery revolutionized our view on the regulation of gene expression networks, setting an important milestone in molecular, developmental and disease biology. While tremendous progress has been made in understanding the complexity and importance of non-coding RNAs, it is clear that the most significant insights still lie ahead. Our research programme aims to decipher the role of non-coding regulatory RNAs in development and human diseases, and engineer innovative RNA-based synthetic devices for diagnostic and therapeutic applications. The projects pursued in the lab can be divided in three interconnected directions:

1. miRNA BIOLOGY

During the last decade, microRNAs (miRNAs) have emerged as critical regulators of gene expression programs in development and disease. miRNAs are ~22 nucleotide endogenous non-coding RNAs that bind to specific miRNA response elements (MREs) in target RNAs, and post-transcriptionally silence gene expression primarily via RNA decay or translational inhibition. Hundreds of miRNAs have been identified in various species, and it is estimated that they collectively have the potential to target more than half of all mRNAs in vertebrates. Despite rapid progress in understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying miRNA biogenesis and mechanisms of action, the biological functions of most miRNAs remain elusive at an organismal level. Our goal is to elucidate the function of miRNAs in animal development, understand their contribution to certain human pathological conditions, and uncover the molecular mechanisms governing miRNA target recognition and silencing. These studies take advantage of a multi-disciplinary experimental platform combining versatile transgenic technologies, RNA biochemistry, molecular biology, bioinformatics, advanced imaging, high-throughput genomic tools, and cutting-edge genome engineering technologies.

 2. SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY

Cellular reprogramming using synthetic gene networks offers much promise as a novel therapeutic tool. Underpinning this idea is the need to generate versatile synthetic devices capable of precise assessment of cellular state and regulation of therapeutic actuation. A central theme in our group is to repurpose the functionality contained within RNA molecules to develop molecular devices capable of rewiring cellular behavior. Attaining this goal requires a rational design process and in vitro evolution strategies, to assemble RNA-based logic gates into biological computers activated by endogenous triggers. miRNA expression profiles can serve as unique signatures differentiating cells based on type as well as physiological state (i.e. disease state), and could form an ideal input for such systems. The resulting synthetic devices have potential for widespread applications ranging from basic tools for miRNA research, to components in targeted diagnostic and therapeutic strategies. This work falls under the broad spectrum of synthetic biology, encompassing fields as diverse as biomedical sciences, engineering and computer sciences.

3. GENOME ENGINEERING

The recent advent of sophisticated genome engineering technologies including transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs) and programmable RNA-guided endonucleases (CRISPR/Cas9), revolutionized biomedical research and created an unprecedented exploratory landscape for basic research, disease studies and therapeutic applications. We have recently developed a powerful experimental platform, which takes advantage of genome engineering to enable rapid interrogation of physiologically relevant MREs and assess their activity in intact biological systems. Using this approach we showed that the activity of MREs is influenced by miRNA : target stoichiometry, and loss of MREs can result in dramatic phenotypes during development. We are currently expanding this experimental framework to multiplex high-throughput analysis of MRE activity in cultured cells. These studies promise to engender unprecedented insight into the principles and rules governing miRNA target selection in the context of a regulatory cellular network. In parallel, we continue to develop new dimensions of genome engineering technologies aimed to advance their in vivo versatility.

Name Department Institution Country
Prof Tatjana Sauka-Spengler Nuffield Division of Clinical Laboratory Sciences Oxford University, Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine United Kingdom
Prof Thomas Milne Nuffield Division of Clinical Laboratory Sciences Oxford University, Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine United Kingdom
Dr Anton Enright EMBL-EBI United Kingdom
Dr Andrew R Bassett Dunn School of Pathology University of Oxford United Kingdom
Prof Andrew OM Wilkie FRS FMedSci FRCP Nuffield Division of Clinical Laboratory Sciences Oxford University, Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine United Kingdom
Prof Ilan Davis Biochemistry University of Oxford United Kingdom
Prof David Van Vactor Harvard Medical School United States
Prof Norbert Perrimon Harvard Medical School United States
Dr Eric Lai Sloan-Kettering Institute United States
Phillips TJ, Scott H, Menassa DA, Bignell AL, Sood A, Morton JS, Akagi T, Azuma K, Rogers MF, Gilmore CE et al. 2017. Treating the placenta to prevent adverse effects of gestational hypoxia on fetal brain development. Sci Rep, 7 (1), pp. 9079. | Show Abstract | Read more

Some neuropsychiatric disease, including schizophrenia, may originate during prenatal development, following periods of gestational hypoxia and placental oxidative stress. Here we investigated if gestational hypoxia promotes damaging secretions from the placenta that affect fetal development and whether a mitochondria-targeted antioxidant MitoQ might prevent this. Gestational hypoxia caused low birth-weight and changes in young adult offspring brain, mimicking those in human neuropsychiatric disease. Exposure of cultured neurons to fetal plasma or to secretions from the placenta or from model trophoblast barriers that had been exposed to altered oxygenation caused similar morphological changes. The secretions and plasma contained altered microRNAs whose targets were linked with changes in gene expression in the fetal brain and with human schizophrenia loci. Molecular and morphological changes in vivo and in vitro were prevented by a single dose of MitoQ bound to nanoparticles, which were shown to localise and prevent oxidative stress in the placenta but not in the fetus. We suggest the possibility of developing preventative treatments that target the placenta and not the fetus to reduce risk of psychiatric disease in later life.

Reilly SN, Liu X, Carnicer R, Recalde A, Muszkiewicz A, Jayaram R, Carena MC, Wijesurendra R, Stefanini M, Surdo NC et al. 2016. Up-regulation of miR-31 in human atrial fibrillation begets the arrhythmia by depleting dystrophin and neuronal nitric oxide synthase. Sci Transl Med, 8 (340), pp. 340ra74. | Show Abstract | Read more

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a growing public health burden, and its treatment remains a challenge. AF leads to electrical remodeling of the atria, which in turn promotes AF maintenance and resistance to treatment. Although remodeling has long been a therapeutic target in AF, its causes remain poorly understood. We show that atrial-specific up-regulation of microRNA-31 (miR-31) in goat and human AF depletes neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) by accelerating mRNA decay and alters nNOS subcellular localization by repressing dystrophin translation. By shortening action potential duration and abolishing rate-dependent adaptation of the action potential duration, miR-31 overexpression and/or disruption of nNOS signaling recapitulates features of AF-induced remodeling and significantly increases AF inducibility in mice in vivo. By contrast, silencing miR-31 in atrial myocytes from patients with AF restores dystrophin and nNOS and normalizes action potential duration and its rate dependency. These findings identify atrial-specific up-regulation of miR-31 in human AF as a key mechanism causing atrial dystrophin and nNOS depletion, which in turn contributes to the atrial phenotype begetting this arrhythmia. miR-31 may therefore represent a potential therapeutic target in AF.

Ferry QR, Lyutova R, Fulga TA. 2017. Rational design of inducible CRISPR guide RNAs for de novo assembly of transcriptional programs. Nat Commun, 8 pp. 14633. | Show Abstract | Read more

CRISPR-based transcription regulators (CRISPR-TRs) have transformed the current synthetic biology landscape by allowing specific activation or repression of any target gene. Here we report a modular and versatile framework enabling rapid implementation of inducible CRISPR-TRs in mammalian cells. This strategy relies on the design of a spacer-blocking hairpin (SBH) structure at the 5' end of the single guide RNA (sgRNA), which abrogates the function of CRISPR-transcriptional activators. By replacing the SBH loop with ligand-controlled RNA-cleaving units, we demonstrate conditional activation of quiescent sgRNAs programmed to respond to genetically encoded or externally delivered triggers. We use this system to couple multiple synthetic and endogenous target genes with specific inducers, and assemble gene regulatory modules demonstrating parallel and orthogonal transcriptional programs. We anticipate that this 'plug and play' approach will be a valuable addition to the synthetic biology toolkit, facilitating the understanding of natural gene circuits and the design of cell-based therapeutic strategies.

Michaels YS, Wu Q, Fulga TA. 2017. Interrogation of Functional miRNA-Target Interactions by CRISPR/Cas9 Genome Engineering. Methods Mol Biol, 1580 pp. 79-97. | Show Abstract | Read more

Post-transcriptional silencing by microRNAs (miRNAs) is a critical constituent of eukaryotic gene regulation. miRNAs are short (~22nt) noncoding RNAs capable of specifically targeting the miRNA-induced-silencing-complex (miRISC) to transcripts bearing a complementary miRNA response element (MRE). Although recent methodological advances have greatly improved our understanding of miRNA biogenesis and the mechanisms by which miRNAs repress their cognate targets, exploring the physiological relevance of direct miRNA-target interactions in vivo has remained an outstanding challenge. Here we describe the experimental protocol underlying a novel approach, which allows direct interrogation of specific miRNA-MRE interactions by CRISPR/Cas9-mediated genome engineering. In this instance, the CRISPR/Cas9 system is first used to catalyze homology-directed replacement of candidate MREs with molecular barcodes at endogenous loci. Subsequently, the effect of MRE mutation on transcript abundance (i.e., MRE activity) can be rapidly evaluated by routine quantitative PCR. This strategy enables functional investigation of a putative miRNA-target pair in a pool of transiently transfected cells, obviating the need for generation of clonal cell lines or transgenic animals. This protocol can be implemented in any cell line in less than 2 weeks, and can readily be scaled up for multiplex studies. To facilitate the conceptual workflow underlying this strategy, we also describe a genome-wide resource for automated design and computational evaluation of CRISPR/Cas9 guide RNAs targeting all predicted MREs in various species (miR-CRISPR).

Alexopoulou Z, Lang J, Perrett RM, Elschami M, Hurry ME, Kim HT, Mazaraki D, Szabo A, Kessler BM, Goldberg AL et al. 2016. Deubiquitinase Usp8 regulates α-synuclein clearance and modifies its toxicity in Lewy body disease. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 113 (32), pp. E4688-E4697. | Show Abstract | Read more

In Parkinson's disease, misfolded α-synuclein accumulates, often in a ubiquitinated form, in neuronal inclusions termed Lewy bodies. An important outstanding question is whether ubiquitination in Lewy bodies is directly relevant to α-synuclein trafficking or turnover and Parkinson's pathogenesis. By comparative analysis in human postmortem brains, we found that ubiquitin immunoreactivity in Lewy bodies is largely due to K63-linked ubiquitin chains and markedly reduced in the substantia nigra compared with the neocortex. The ubiquitin staining in cells with Lewy bodies inversely correlated with the content and pathological localization of the deubiquitinase Usp8. Usp8 interacted and partly colocalized with α-synuclein in endosomal membranes and, both in cells and after purification, it deubiquitinated K63-linked chains on α-synuclein. Knockdown of Usp8 in the Drosophila eye reduced α-synuclein levels and α-synuclein-induced eye toxicity. Accordingly, in human cells, Usp8 knockdown increased the lysosomal degradation of α-synuclein. In the dopaminergic neurons of the Drosophila model, unlike knockdown of other deubiquitinases, Usp8 protected from α-synuclein-induced locomotor deficits and cell loss. These findings strongly suggest that removal of K63-linked ubiquitin chains on α-synuclein by Usp8 is a critical mechanism that reduces its lysosomal degradation in dopaminergic neurons and may contribute to α-synuclein accumulation in Lewy body disease.

Steinkraus BR, Toegel M, Fulga TA. 2016. Tiny giants of gene regulation: experimental strategies for microRNA functional studies. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Dev Biol, 5 (3), pp. 311-362. | Show Abstract | Read more

The discovery over two decades ago of short regulatory microRNAs (miRNAs) has led to the inception of a vast biomedical research field dedicated to understanding these powerful orchestrators of gene expression. Here we aim to provide a comprehensive overview of the methods and techniques underpinning the experimental pipeline employed for exploratory miRNA studies in animals. Some of the greatest challenges in this field have been uncovering the identity of miRNA-target interactions and deciphering their significance with regard to particular physiological or pathological processes. These endeavors relied almost exclusively on the development of powerful research tools encompassing novel bioinformatics pipelines, high-throughput target identification platforms, and functional target validation methodologies. Thus, in an unparalleled manner, the biomedical technology revolution unceasingly enhanced and refined our ability to dissect miRNA regulatory networks and understand their roles in vivo in the context of cells and organisms. Recurring motifs of target recognition have led to the creation of a large number of multifactorial bioinformatics analysis platforms, which have proved instrumental in guiding experimental miRNA studies. Subsequently, the need for discovery of miRNA-target binding events in vivo drove the emergence of a slew of high-throughput multiplex strategies, which now provide a viable prospect for elucidating genome-wide miRNA-target binding maps in a variety of cell types and tissues. Finally, deciphering the functional relevance of miRNA post-transcriptional gene silencing under physiological conditions, prompted the evolution of a host of technologies enabling systemic manipulation of miRNA homeostasis as well as high-precision interference with their direct, endogenous targets. For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.

Sharifkhodaei Z, Padash-Barmchi M, Gilbert MM, Samarasekera G, Fulga TA, Van Vactor D, Auld VJ. 2016. The Drosophila tricellular junction protein Gliotactin regulates its own mRNA levels through BMP-mediated induction of miR-184. J Cell Sci, 129 (7), pp. 1477-1489. | Show Abstract | Read more

Epithelial bicellular and tricellular junctions are essential for establishing and maintaining permeability barriers. Tricellular junctions are formed by the convergence of three bicellular junctions at the corners of neighbouring epithelia. Gliotactin, a member of the Neuroligin family, is located at theDrosophilatricellular junction, and is crucial for the formation of tricellular and septate junctions, as well as permeability barrier function. Gliotactin protein levels are tightly controlled by phosphorylation at tyrosine residues and endocytosis. Blocking endocytosis or overexpressing Gliotactin results in the spread of Gliotactin from the tricellular junction, resulting in apoptosis, delamination and migration of epithelial cells. We show that Gliotactin levels are also regulated at the mRNA level by micro (mi)RNA-mediated degradation and that miRNAs are targeted to a short region in the 3'UTR that includes a conserved miR-184 target site. miR-184 also targets a suite of septate junction proteins, including NrxIV, coracle and Mcr. miR-184 expression is triggered when Gliotactin is overexpressed, leading to activation of the BMP signalling pathway. Gliotactin specifically interferes with Dad, an inhibitory SMAD, leading to activation of the Tkv type-I receptor and activation of Mad to elevate the biogenesis and expression of miR-184.

Busto GU, Guven-Ozkan T, Fulga TA, Van Vactor D, Davis RL. 2015. microRNAs That Promote or Inhibit Memory Formation in Drosophila melanogaster. Genetics, 200 (2), pp. 569-580. | Show Abstract | Read more

microRNAs (miRNAs) are small noncoding RNAs that regulate gene expression post-transcriptionally. Prior studies have shown that they regulate numerous physiological processes critical for normal development, cellular growth control, and organismal behavior. Here, we systematically surveyed 134 different miRNAs for roles in olfactory learning and memory formation using "sponge" technology to titrate their activity broadly in the Drosophila melanogaster central nervous system. We identified at least five different miRNAs involved in memory formation or retention from this large screen, including miR-9c, miR-31a, miR-305, miR-974, and miR-980. Surprisingly, the titration of some miRNAs increased memory, while the titration of others decreased memory. We performed more detailed experiments on two miRNAs, miR-974 and miR-31a, by mapping their roles to subpopulations of brain neurons and testing the functional involvement in memory of potential mRNA targets through bioinformatics and a RNA interference knockdown approach. This screen offers an important first step toward the comprehensive identification of all miRNAs and their potential targets that serve in gene regulatory networks important for normal learning and memory.

Mugat B, Akkouche A, Serrano V, Armenise C, Li B, Brun C, Fulga TA, Van Vactor D, Pélisson A, Chambeyron S. 2015. MicroRNA-Dependent Transcriptional Silencing of Transposable Elements in Drosophila Follicle Cells. PLoS Genet, 11 (5), pp. e1005194. | Show Abstract | Read more

RNA interference-related silencing mechanisms concern very diverse and distinct biological processes, from gene regulation (via the microRNA pathway) to defense against molecular parasites (through the small interfering RNA and the Piwi-interacting RNA pathways). Small non-coding RNAs serve as specificity factors that guide effector proteins to ribonucleic acid targets via base-pairing interactions, to achieve transcriptional or post-transcriptional regulation. Because of the small sequence complementarity required for microRNA-dependent post-transcriptional regulation, thousands of microRNA (miRNA) putative targets have been annotated in Drosophila. In Drosophila somatic ovarian cells, genomic parasites, such as transposable elements (TEs), are transcriptionally repressed by chromatin changes induced by Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) that prevent them from invading the germinal genome. Here we show, for the first time, that a functional miRNA pathway is required for the piRNA-mediated transcriptional silencing of TEs in this tissue. Global miRNA depletion, caused by tissue- and stage-specific knock down of drosha (involved in miRNA biogenesis), AGO1 or gawky (both responsible for miRNA activity), resulted in loss of TE-derived piRNAs and chromatin-mediated transcriptional de-silencing of TEs. This specific TE de-repression was also observed upon individual titration (by expression of the complementary miRNA sponge) of two miRNAs (miR-14 and miR-34) as well as in a miR-14 loss-of-function mutant background. Interestingly, the miRNA defects differentially affected TE- and 3' UTR-derived piRNAs. To our knowledge, this is the first indication of possible differences in the biogenesis or stability of TE- and 3' UTR-derived piRNAs. This work is one of the examples of detectable phenotypes caused by loss of individual miRNAs in Drosophila and the first genetic evidence that miRNAs have a role in the maintenance of genome stability via piRNA-mediated TE repression.

Santa-Maria I, Alaniz ME, Renwick N, Cela C, Fulga TA, Van Vactor D, Tuschl T, Clark LN, Shelanski ML, McCabe BD, Crary JF. 2015. Dysregulation of microRNA-219 promotes neurodegeneration through post-transcriptional regulation of tau. J Clin Invest, 125 (2), pp. 681-686. | Show Abstract | Read more

Tau is a highly abundant and multifunctional brain protein that accumulates in neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs), most commonly in Alzheimer's disease (AD) and primary age-related tauopathy. Recently, microRNAs (miRNAs) have been linked to neurodegeneration; however, it is not clear whether miRNA dysregulation contributes to tau neurotoxicity. Here, we determined that the highly conserved brain miRNA miR-219 is downregulated in brain tissue taken at autopsy from patients with AD and from those with severe primary age-related tauopathy. In a Drosophila model that produces human tau, reduction of miR-219 exacerbated tau toxicity, while overexpression of miR-219 partially abrogated toxic effects. Moreover, we observed a bidirectional modulation of tau levels in the Drosophila model that was dependent on miR-219 expression or neutralization, demonstrating that miR-219 regulates tau in vivo. In mammalian cellular models, we found that miR-219 binds directly to the 3'-UTR of the tau mRNA and represses tau synthesis at the post-transcriptional level. Together, our data indicate that silencing of tau by miR-219 is an ancient regulatory mechanism that may become perturbed during neurofibrillary degeneration and suggest that this regulatory pathway may be useful for developing therapeutics for tauopathies.

Fulga TA, McNeill EM, Binari R, Yelick J, Blanche A, Booker M, Steinkraus BR, Schnall-Levin M, Zhao Y, DeLuca T et al. 2015. A transgenic resource for conditional competitive inhibition of conserved Drosophila microRNAs. Nat Commun, 6 pp. 7279. | Show Abstract | Read more

Although the impact of microRNAs (miRNAs) in development and disease is well established, understanding the function of individual miRNAs remains challenging. Development of competitive inhibitor molecules such as miRNA sponges has allowed the community to address individual miRNA function in vivo. However, the application of these loss-of-function strategies has been limited. Here we offer a comprehensive library of 141 conditional miRNA sponges targeting well-conserved miRNAs in Drosophila. Ubiquitous miRNA sponge delivery and consequent systemic miRNA inhibition uncovers a relatively small number of miRNA families underlying viability and gross morphogenesis, with false discovery rates in the 4-8% range. In contrast, tissue-specific silencing of muscle-enriched miRNAs reveals a surprisingly large number of novel miRNA contributions to the maintenance of adult indirect flight muscle structure and function. A strong correlation between miRNA abundance and physiological relevance is not observed, underscoring the importance of unbiased screens when assessing the contributions of miRNAs to complex biological processes.

Tan JY, Vance KW, Varela MA, Sirey T, Watson LM, Curtis HJ, Marinello M, Alves S, Steinkraus B, Cooper S et al. 2014. Cross-talking noncoding RNAs contribute to cell-specific neurodegeneration in SCA7. Nat Struct Mol Biol, 21 (11), pp. 955-961. | Show Abstract | Read more

What causes the tissue-specific pathology of diseases resulting from mutations in housekeeping genes? Specifically, in spinocerebellar ataxia type 7 (SCA7), a neurodegenerative disorder caused by a CAG-repeat expansion in ATXN7 (which encodes an essential component of the mammalian transcription coactivation complex, STAGA), the factors underlying the characteristic progressive cerebellar and retinal degeneration in patients were unknown. We found that STAGA is required for the transcription initiation of miR-124, which in turn mediates the post-transcriptional cross-talk between lnc-SCA7, a conserved long noncoding RNA, and ATXN7 mRNA. In SCA7, mutations in ATXN7 disrupt these regulatory interactions and result in a neuron-specific increase in ATXN7 expression. Strikingly, in mice this increase is most prominent in the SCA7 disease-relevant tissues, namely the retina and cerebellum. Our results illustrate how noncoding RNA-mediated feedback regulation of a ubiquitously expressed housekeeping gene may contribute to specific neurodegeneration.

Marler KJ, Suetterlin P, Dopplapudi A, Rubikaite A, Adnan J, Maiorano NA, Lowe AS, Thompson ID, Pathania M, Bordey A et al. 2014. BDNF promotes axon branching of retinal ganglion cells via miRNA-132 and p250GAP. J Neurosci, 34 (3), pp. 969-979. | Show Abstract | Read more

A crucial step in the development of the vertebrate visual system is the branching of retinal ganglion cell (RGC) axons within their target, the superior colliculus/tectum. A major player in this process is the neurotrophin brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). However, the molecular basis for the signaling pathways mediating BDNF action is less well understood. As BDNF exerts some of its functions by controlling the expression of microRNAs (miRNAs), we investigated whether miRNAs are also involved in BDNF-mediated retinal axon branching. Here, we demonstrate that the expression pattern of miRNA-132 in the retina is consistent with its involvement in this process, and that BDNF induces the upregulation of miRNA-132 in retinal cultures. Furthermore, in vitro gain-of-function and loss-of-function approaches in retinal cultures reveal that miRNA-132 mediates axon branching downstream of BDNF. A known target of miRNA-132 is the Rho family GTPase-activating protein, p250GAP. We find that p250GAP is expressed in RGC axons and mediates the effects of miRNA-132 in BDNF-induced branching. BDNF treatment or overexpression of miRNA-132 leads to a reduction in p250GAP protein levels in retinal cultures, whereas the overexpression of p250GAP abolishes BDNF-induced branching. Finally, we used a loss-of-function approach to show that miRNA-132 affects the maturation of RGC termination zones in the mouse superior colliculus in vivo, while their topographic targeting remains intact. Together, our data indicate that BDNF promotes RGC axon branching during retinocollicular/tectal map formation via upregulation of miRNA-132, which in turn downregulates p250GAP.

Bassett AR, Azzam G, Wheatley L, Tibbit C, Rajakumar T, McGowan S, Stanger N, Ewels PA, Taylor S, Ponting CP et al. 2014. Understanding functional miRNA-target interactions in vivo by site-specific genome engineering. Nat Commun, 5 pp. 4640. | Show Abstract | Read more

MicroRNA (miRNA) target recognition is largely dictated by short 'seed' sequences, and single miRNAs therefore have the potential to regulate a large number of genes. Understanding the contribution of specific miRNA-target interactions to the regulation of biological processes in vivo remains challenging. Here we use transcription activator-like effector nuclease (TALEN) and clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR)/Cas9 technologies to interrogate the functional relevance of predicted miRNA response elements (MREs) to post-transcriptional silencing in zebrafish and Drosophila. We also demonstrate an effective strategy that uses CRISPR-mediated homology-directed repair with short oligonucleotide donors for the assessment of MRE activity in human cells. These methods facilitate analysis of the direct phenotypic consequences resulting from blocking specific miRNA-MRE interactions at any point during development.

Li W, Cressy M, Qin H, Fulga T, Van Vactor D, Dubnau J. 2013. MicroRNA-276a functions in ellipsoid body and mushroom body neurons for naive and conditioned olfactory avoidance in Drosophila. J Neurosci, 33 (13), pp. 5821-5833. | Show Abstract | Read more

MicroRNA (miRNA)-mediated gene regulation plays a key role in brain development and function. But there are few cases in which the roles of individual miRNAs have been elucidated in behaving animals. We report a miR-276a::DopR regulatory module in Drosophila that functions in distinct circuits for naive odor responses and conditioned odor memory. Drosophila olfactory aversive memory involves convergence of the odors (conditioned stimulus) and the electric shock (unconditioned stimulus) in mushroom body (MB) neurons. Dopamine receptor DopR mediates the unconditioned stimulus inputs onto MB. Distinct dopaminergic neurons also innervate ellipsoid body (EB), where DopR function modulates arousal to external stimuli. We demonstrate that miR-276a is required in MB neurons for memory formation and in EB for naive responses to odors. Both roles of miR-276a are mediated by tuning DopR expression. The dual role of this miR-276a::DopR genetic module in these two neural circuits highlights the importance of miRNA-mediated gene regulation within distinct circuits underlying both naive behavioral responses and memory.

Bejarano F, Bortolamiol-Becet D, Dai Q, Sun K, Saj A, Chou YT, Raleigh DR, Kim K, Ni JQ, Duan H et al. 2012. A genome-wide transgenic resource for conditional expression of Drosophila microRNAs. Development, 139 (15), pp. 2821-2831. | Show Abstract | Read more

microRNAs (miRNAs) are endogenous short RNAs that mediate vast networks of post-transcriptional gene regulation. Although computational searches and experimental profiling provide evidence for hundreds of functional targets for individual miRNAs, such data rarely provide clear insight into the phenotypic consequences of manipulating miRNAs in vivo. We describe a genome-wide collection of 165 Drosophila miRNA transgenes and find that a majority induced specific developmental defects, including phenocopies of mutants in myriad cell-signaling and patterning genes. Such connections allowed us to validate several likely targets for miRNA-induced phenotypes. Importantly, few of these phenotypes could be predicted from computationally predicted target lists, thus highlighting the value of whole-animal readouts of miRNA activities. Finally, we provide an example of the relevance of these data to miRNA loss-of-function conditions. Whereas misexpression of several K box miRNAs inhibited Notch pathway activity, reciprocal genetic interaction tests with miRNA sponges demonstrated endogenous roles of the K box miRNA family in restricting Notch signaling. In summary, we provide extensive evidence that misexpression of individual miRNAs often induces specific mutant phenotypes that can guide their functional study. By extension, these data suggest that the deregulation of individual miRNAs in other animals may frequently yield relatively specific phenotypes during disease conditions.

Khurana V, Merlo P, Duboff B, Fulga TA, Sharp KA, Campbell SD, Götz J, Feany MB. 2012. A neuroprotective role for the DNA damage checkpoint in tauopathy Aging Cell, 11 (2), pp. 360-362. | Show Abstract | Read more

ATM and p53, effectors of the DNA damage checkpoint, are generally considered pro-apoptotic in neurons. We show that DNA damage and checkpoint activation occurs inpostmitotic neurons in animal models of tauopathy, neurodegenerative disorders that include Alzheimer's disease. Surprisingly, checkpoint attenuation potently increases neurodegeneration through aberrant cell cycle re-entry of postmitotic neurons. These data suggest an unexpected neuroprotective role for the DNA damage checkpoint in tauopathies. © 2011 The Authors. Aging Cell © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd/Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland.

Pathania M, Torres-Reveron J, Yan L, Kimura T, Lin TV, Gordon V, Teng ZQ, Zhao X, Fulga TA, Van Vactor D, Bordey A. 2012. miR-132 enhances dendritic morphogenesis, spine density, synaptic integration, and survival of newborn olfactory bulb neurons. PLoS One, 7 (5), pp. e38174. | Show Abstract | Read more

An array of signals regulating the early stages of postnatal subventricular zone (SVZ) neurogenesis has been identified, but much less is known regarding the molecules controlling late stages. Here, we investigated the function of the activity-dependent and morphogenic microRNA miR-132 on the synaptic integration and survival of olfactory bulb (OB) neurons born in the neonatal SVZ. In situ hybridization revealed that miR-132 expression occurs at the onset of synaptic integration in the OB. Using in vivo electroporation we found that sequestration of miR-132 using a sponge-based strategy led to a reduced dendritic complexity and spine density while overexpression had the opposite effects. These effects were mirrored with respective changes in the frequency of GABAergic and glutamatergic synaptic inputs reflecting altered synaptic integration. In addition, timely directed overexpression of miR-132 at the onset of synaptic integration using an inducible approach led to a significant increase in the survival of newborn neurons. These data suggest that miR-132 forms the basis of a structural plasticity program seen in SVZ-OB postnatal neurogenesis. miR-132 overexpression in transplanted neurons may thus hold promise for enhancing neuronal survival and improving the outcome of transplant therapies.

Loya CM, Van Vactor D, Fulga TA. 2010. Understanding neuronal connectivity through the post-transcriptional toolkit. Genes Dev, 24 (7), pp. 625-635. | Show Abstract | Read more

Post-transcriptional regulatory mechanisms have emerged as a critical component underlying the diversification and spatiotemporal control of the proteome during the establishment of precise neuronal connectivity. These mechanisms have been shown to be important for virtually all stages of assembling a neural network, from neurite guidance, branching, and growth to synapse morphogenesis and function. From the moment a gene is transcribed, it undergoes a series of post-transcriptional regulatory modifications in the nucleus and cytoplasm until its final deployment as a functional protein. Initially, a message is subjected to extensive structural regulation through alternative splicing, which is capable of greatly expanding the protein repertoire by generating, in some cases, thousands of functionally distinct isoforms from a single gene locus. Then, RNA packaging into neuronal transport granules and recognition by RNA-binding proteins and/or microRNAs is capable of restricting protein synthesis to selective locations and under specific input conditions. This ability of the post-transcriptional apparatus to expand the informational content of a cell and control the deployment of proteins in both spatial and temporal dimensions is a feature well adapted for the extreme morphological properties of neural cells. In this review, we describe recent advances in understanding how post-transcriptional regulatory mechanisms refine the proteomic complexity required for the assembly of intricate and specific neural networks.

Cited:

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Scopus

Khurana V, Elson-Schwab I, Fulga TA, Sharp KA, Loewen CA, Mulkearns E, Tyynelä J, Scherzer CR, Feany MB. 2010. Lysosomal dysfunction promotes cleavage and neurotoxicity of tau in vivo PLoS Genetics, 6 (7), pp. 1-11. | Show Abstract | Read more

Expansion of the lysosomal system, including cathepsin D upregulation, is an early and prominent finding in Alzheimer's disease brain. Cell culture studies, however, have provided differing perspectives on the lysosomal connection to Alzheimer's disease, including both protective and detrimental influences. We sought to clarify and molecularly define the connection in vivo in a genetically tractable model organism. Cathepsin D is upregulated with age in a Drosophila model of Alzheimer's disease and related tauopathies. Genetic analysis reveals that cathepsin D plays a neuroprotective role because genetic ablation of cathepsin D markedly potentiates tau-induced neurotoxicity. Further, generation of a C-terminally truncated form of tau found in Alzheimer's disease patients is significantly increased in the absence of cathepsin D. We show that truncated tau has markedly increased neurotoxicity, while solubility of truncated tau is decreased. Importantly, the toxicity of truncated tau is not affected by removal of cathepsin D, providing genetic evidence that modulation of neurotoxicity by cathepsin D is mediated through C-terminal cleavage of tau. We demonstrate that removing cathepsin D in adult postmitotic neurons leads to aberrant lysosomal expansion and caspase activation in vivo, suggesting a mechanism for C-terminal truncation of tau. We also demonstrate that both cathepsin D knockout mice and cathepsin D-deficient sheep show abnormal C-terminal truncation of tau and accompanying caspase activation. Thus, caspase cleavage of tau may be a molecular mechanism through which lysosomal dysfunction and neurodegeneration are causally linked in Alzheimer's disease. © 2010 Khurana et al.

Loya CM, Lu CS, Van Vactor D, Fulga TA. 2009. Transgenic microRNA inhibition with spatiotemporal specificity in intact organisms. Nat Methods, 6 (12), pp. 897-903. | Show Abstract | Read more

MicroRNAs are important regulators of gene expression, yet the functional outputs of most microRNA-target interactions remain elusive. Here we introduce the Drosophila melanogaster microRNA sponge (miR-SP) as a powerful transgenic technology to dissect the function of every microRNA with precise spatiotemporal resolution. miR-SPs can be used to characterize tissue-specific microRNA loss-of-function phenotypes, define the spatial regulation of their effectors and uncover interactions between microRNAs and other genes. Using themiR-SP system, we identified an essential role of the conserved microRNA miR-8, in neuromuscular junction formation. Tissue-specific silencing revealed that postsynaptic activity of miR-8 is important for normal neuromuscular junction morphogenesis. Given that miR-SPs rely on a bipartite modular expression system, they could be used to elucidate the endogenous function of microRNAs in any species in which conditional expression can be achieved.

Fulga TA, Van Vactor D. 2008. Synapses and growth cones on two sides of a highwire. Neuron, 57 (3), pp. 339-344. | Show Abstract | Read more

The formation of the nervous system during embryonic development is controlled by a complex network of signaling pathways which ensure proper migration and targeting of neuronal projections. Likewise, the function of the adult nervous system relies on complex dynamic interactions between the presynaptic and postsynaptic terminals. Here, we review recent advances in understanding the molecular pathways underlying these seemingly distinct processes. These studies reveal that the conserved E3 ubiquitin ligase PHR (PAM, highwire Rpm-1) controls a regulatory protein degradation pathway essential both for axonal targeting during embryonic development as well as for the proper formation and function of neuron muscular junctions (NMJ).

Chang HC, Dimlich DN, Yokokura T, Mukherjee A, Kankel MW, Sen A, Sridhar V, Fulga TA, Hart AC, Van Vactor D, Artavanis-Tsakonas S. 2008. Modeling spinal muscular atrophy in Drosophila. PLoS One, 3 (9), pp. e3209. | Show Abstract | Read more

Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a recessive hereditary neurodegenerative disease in humans, has been linked to mutations in the survival motor neuron (SMN) gene. SMA patients display early onset lethality coupled with motor neuron loss and skeletal muscle atrophy. We used Drosophila, which encodes a single SMN ortholog, survival motor neuron (Smn), to model SMA, since reduction of Smn function leads to defects that mimic the SMA pathology in humans. Here we show that a normal neuromuscular junction (NMJ) structure depends on SMN expression and that SMN concentrates in the post-synaptic NMJ regions. We conducted a screen for genetic modifiers of an Smn phenotype using the Exelixis collection of transposon-induced mutations, which affects approximately 50% of the Drosophila genome. This screen resulted in the recovery of 27 modifiers, thereby expanding the genetic circuitry of Smn to include several genes not previously known to be associated with this locus. Among the identified modifiers was wishful thinking (wit), a type II BMP receptor, which was shown to alter the Smn NMJ phenotype. Further characterization of two additional members of the BMP signaling pathway, Mothers against dpp (Mad) and Daughters against dpp (Dad), also modify the Smn NMJ phenotype. The NMJ defects caused by loss of Smn function can be ameliorated by increasing BMP signals, suggesting that increased BMP activity in SMA patients may help to alleviate symptoms of the disease. These results confirm that our genetic approach is likely to identify bona fide modulators of SMN activity, especially regarding its role at the neuromuscular junction, and as a consequence, may identify putative SMA therapeutic targets.

Steinhilb ML, Dias-Santagata D, Fulga TA, Felch DL, Feany MB. 2007. Tau phosphorylation sites work in concert to promote neurotoxicity in vivo. Mol Biol Cell, 18 (12), pp. 5060-5068. | Show Abstract | Read more

Tau is a microtubule binding protein implicated in a number of human neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer's disease. Phosphorylation of serine-proline/threonine-proline sites, targeted by proline-directed kinases, coincides temporally with neurodegeneration in the human diseases. Recently, we demonstrated that this unique group of serines and threonines has a critical role in controlling tau toxicity in a Drosophila model of tauopathy. Here, we use a combination of genetic and biochemical approaches to examine these sites individually and to determine which of them is primarily responsible for controlling tau neurotoxicity. Despite the importance placed on individual phosphoepitopes and their contributions to disease pathogenesis, our results indicate that no single phosphorylation residue plays a dominant role in controlling tau toxicity. These findings suggest that serine-proline/threonine-proline sites cooperate to mediate neurodegeneration in vivo.

Bianco A, Poukkula M, Cliffe A, Mathieu J, Luque CM, Fulga TA, Rørth P. 2007. Two distinct modes of guidance signalling during collective migration of border cells. Nature, 448 (7151), pp. 362-365. | Show Abstract | Read more

Although directed migration is a feature of both individual cells and cell groups, guided migration has been studied most extensively for single cells in simple environments. Collective guidance of cell groups remains poorly understood, despite its relevance for development and metastasis. Neural crest cells and neuronal precursors migrate as loosely organized streams of individual cells, whereas cells of the fish lateral line, Drosophila tracheal tubes and border-cell clusters migrate as more coherent groups. Here we use Drosophila border cells to examine how collective guidance is performed. We report that border cells migrate in two phases using distinct mechanisms. Genetic analysis combined with live imaging shows that polarized cell behaviour is critical for the initial phase of migration, whereas dynamic collective behaviour dominates later. PDGF- and VEGF-related receptor and epidermal growth factor receptor act in both phases, but use different effector pathways in each. The myoblast city (Mbc, also known as DOCK180) and engulfment and cell motility (ELMO, also known as Ced-12) pathway is required for the early phase, in which guidance depends on subcellular localization of signalling within a leading cell. During the later phase, mitogen-activated protein kinase and phospholipase Cgamma are used redundantly, and we find that the cluster makes use of the difference in signal levels between cells to guide migration. Thus, information processing at the multicellular level is used to guide collective behaviour of a cell group.

Periquet M, Fulga T, Myllykangas L, Schlossmacher MG, Feany MB. 2007. Aggregated alpha-synuclein mediates dopaminergic neurotoxicity in vivo. J Neurosci, 27 (12), pp. 3338-3346. | Show Abstract | Read more

Mutations in the synaptic protein alpha-synuclein cause rare genetic forms of Parkinson's disease. Alpha-synuclein is thought to play a critical role in more common sporadic cases of Parkinson's disease as well because the protein aggregates in the hallmark intraneuronal inclusions of the disorder, Lewy bodies. To test the role of protein aggregation in the pathogenesis of Parkinson's disease, we expressed a form of alpha-synuclein with a deletion of amino acids 71-82 that is unable to aggregate in vitro in a transgenic Drosophila model of the disorder. We found no evidence of large aggregates or oligomeric species of alpha-synuclein in these animals and no loss of tyrosine hydroxylase-positive neurons. We also expressed a truncated form of alpha-synuclein that has enhanced ability to aggregate in vitro. This truncated form of alpha-synuclein showed increased aggregation into large inclusions bodies, increased accumulation of high molecular weight alpha-synuclein species, and demonstrated enhanced neurotoxicity in vivo. Our findings thus support a critical role for aggregation of alpha-synuclein in mediating toxicity to dopaminergic neurons in vivo, although the precise role each aggregated form of alpha-synuclein plays in neurotoxicity remains to be determined.

Fulga TA, Elson-Schwab I, Khurana V, Steinhilb ML, Spires TL, Hyman BT, Feany MB. 2007. Abnormal bundling and accumulation of F-actin mediates tau-induced neuronal degeneration in vivo. Nat Cell Biol, 9 (2), pp. 139-148. | Show Abstract | Read more

Hyperphosphorylated forms of the microtubule-associated protein (MAP) tau accumulate in Alzheimer's disease and related tauopathies and are thought to have an important role in neurodegeneration. However, the mechanisms through which phosphorylated tau induces neurodegeneration have remained elusive. Here, we show that tau-induced neurodegeneration is associated with accumulation of filamentous actin (F-actin) and the formation of actin-rich rods in Drosophila and mouse models of tauopathy. Importantly, modulating F-actin levels genetically leads to dramatic modification of tau-induced neurodegeneration. The ability of tau to interact with F-actin in vivo and in vitro provides a molecular mechanism for the observed phenotypes. Finally, we show that the Alzheimer's disease-linked human beta-amyloid protein (Abeta) synergistically enhances the ability of wild-type tau to promote alterations in the actin cytoskeleton and neurodegeneration. These findings raise the possibility that a direct interaction between tau and actin may be a critical mediator of tau-induced neurotoxicity in Alzheimer's disease and related disorders.

Dias-Santagata D, Fulga TA, Duttaroy A, Feany MB. 2007. Oxidative stress mediates tau-induced neurodegeneration in Drosophila. J Clin Invest, 117 (1), pp. 236-245. | Show Abstract | Read more

Markers of oxidative damage have been detected in brain tissue from patients with Alzheimer disease (AD) and other neurodegenerative disorders. These findings implicate oxidative injury in the neurodegenerative process, but whether oxidative stress is a cause or a consequence of neurotoxicity remains unclear. We used a Drosophila model of human tauopathies to investigate the role of oxidative stress in neurodegeneration. Genetic and pharmacological manipulation of antioxidant defense mechanisms significantly modified neurodegeneration in our model, suggesting that oxidative stress plays a causal role in neurotoxicity. We demonstrate that the JNK signaling pathway is activated in our model, which is in agreement with previous findings in AD tissue. Furthermore, we show that the extent of JNK activation correlates with the degree of tau-induced neurodegeneration. Finally, our findings suggest that oxidative stress acts not to promote tau phosphorylation, but to enhance tau-induced cell cycle activation. In summary, our study identifies oxidative stress as a causal factor in tau-induced neurodegeneration in Drosophila.

Khurana V, Fulga TA, Feany MB. 2005. Senseless makes sense for spinocerebellar ataxia-1. Nat Neurosci, 8 (11), pp. 1422-1424. | Show Abstract | Read more

Why are some neurons selectively targeted for death in neurodegenerative diseases? A recent paper combines genetics in the fruit fly and mouse to uncover mechanisms underlying the vulnerability of Purkinje cells in spinocerebellar ataxia-1. © 2005 Nature Publishing Group.

Fulga TA, Rørth P. 2002. Invasive cell migration is initiated by guided growth of long cellular extensions. Nat Cell Biol, 4 (9), pp. 715-719. | Show Abstract | Read more

The migration of border cells during Drosophila melanogaster oogenesis is a simple and powerful system for studying invasive cell migration in vivo. Border cells are somatic cells that delaminate from the follicular epithelium of an egg chamber and invade the germ line cluster. They migrate between the nurse cells to reach the oocyte, using DE-cadherin for adhesion to the substratum. Border cells take approximately 6 h to migrate a distance of 100 microm. The migration is guided by EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor) and PVR (platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF)/vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) receptor). Here, we show that a single long cellular extension (LCE), several cell diameters in length, is formed at the initiation of migration. The LCE may function as a 'pathfinder' in response to guidance cues. LCE growth requires directional guidance signals and specific adhesion to the substratum. Interference with actin-myosin interactions allows continued LCE growth while preventing translocation of the cell bodies. We discuss similarities between LCEs and axons and the use of LCE-like structures as a general mechanism for initiating invasive migration in vivo.

Pool MR, Stumm J, Fulga TA, Sinning I, Dobberstein B. 2002. Distinct modes of signal recognition particle interaction with the ribosome. Science, 297 (5585), pp. 1345-1348. | Show Abstract | Read more

Signal recognition particle (SRP), together with its receptor (SR), mediates the targeting of ribosome-nascent chain complexes to the endoplasmic reticulum. Using protein cross-linking, we detected distinct modes in the binding of SRP to the ribosome. During signal peptide recognition, SRP54 is positioned at the exit site close to ribosomal proteins L23a and L35. When SRP54 contacts SR, SRP54 is rearranged such that it is no longer close to L23a. This repositioning may allow the translocon to dock with the ribosome, leading to insertion of the signal peptide into the translocation channel.

Szedlacsek SE, Aricescu AR, Fulga TA, Renault L, Scheidig AJ. 2001. Crystal structure of PTP-SL/PTPBR7 catalytic domain: implications for MAP kinase regulation. J Mol Biol, 311 (3), pp. 557-568. | Show Abstract | Read more

Protein tyrosine phosphatases PTP-SL and PTPBR7 are isoforms belonging to cytosolic membrane-associated and to receptor-like PTPs (RPTPs), respectively. They represent a new family of PTPs with a major role in activation and translocation of MAP kinases. Specifically, the complex formation between PTP-SL and ERK2 involves an unusual interaction leading to the phosphorylation of PTP-SL by ERK2 at Thr253 and the inactivating dephosphorylation of ERK2 by PTP-SL. This interaction is strictly dependent upon a kinase interaction motif (KIM) (residues 224-239) situated at the N terminus of the PTP-SL catalytic domain. We report the first crystal structure of the catalytic domain for a member of this family (PTP-SL, residues 254-549, identical with residues 361-656 of PTPBR7), providing an example of an RPTP with single cytoplasmic domain, which is monomeric, having an unhindered catalytic site. In addition to the characteristic PTP-core structure, PTP-SL has an N-terminal helix, possibly orienting the KIM motif upon interaction with the target ERK2. An unusual residue in the catalytically important WPD loop promotes formation of a hydrophobically and electrostatically stabilised clamp. This could induce increased rigidity to the WPD loop and therefore reduced catalytic activity, in agreement with our kinetic measurements. A docking model based on the PTP-SL structure suggests that, in the complex with ERK2, the phosphorylation of PTP-SL should be accomplished first. The subsequent dephosphorylation of ERK2 seems to be possible only if a conformational rearrangement of the two interacting partners takes place.

Aricescu AR, Fulga TA, Cismasiu V, Goody RS, Szedlacsek SE. 2001. Intramolecular interactions in protein tyrosine phosphatase RPTPmu: kinetic evidence. Biochem Biophys Res Commun, 280 (1), pp. 319-327. | Show Abstract | Read more

The receptor-like protein tyrosine phosphatase RPTPmu contains three intracellular domains: the juxtamembrane (JM) and two phosphatase domains (D1 and D2). D1 is catalytically active in vitro. The functional roles of JM and D2 are still unclear. To find out whether and how they modulate the phosphatase activity of D1, we compared the enzymatic characteristics of two constructs, containing a truncated JM and either D1 or both phosphatase domains. p-Nitrophenyl phosphate and two peptide substrates were efficiently dephosphorylated by both constructs. The specificity constant of D1 alone was up to 50% higher. D2 induces (a) decreased K(m) values for peptide substrates, (b) decreased catalytic efficiency for these substrates, (c) shifting of the optimal pH to slightly lower values, and (d) looser binding of competitive inhibitors. These data suggest that the phosphatase activity of D1 is negatively modulated and its ligand binding capacity is sensibly modified by domain D2, having possible functional significance.

Cited:

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Scopus

Fulga TA, Sinning I, Dobberstein B, Pool MR. 2001. SRβ coordinates signal sequence release from SRP with ribosome binding to the translocon EMBO Journal, 20 (9), pp. 2338-2347. | Show Abstract | Read more

Protein targeting to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) membrane is regulated by three GTPases, the 54 kDa subunit of the signal recognition particle (SRP) and the α- and β-subunits of the SRP receptor (SR). Using a soluble form of SR and an XTP-binding mutant of SRβ, we show that SRβ is essential for protein translocation across the ER membrane. SRβ can be cross-linked to a 21 kDa ribosomal protein in its empty and GDP-bound state, but not when GTP is bound. GTP binding to SRβ is required to induce signal sequence release from SRP. This is achieved by the presence of the translocon, which changes the interaction between the 21 kDa ribosomal protein and SRβ and thereby allows SRβ to bind GTP. We conclude that SRβ co-ordinates the release of the signal sequence from SRP with the presence of the translocon.

Baeumler TA, Ahmed AA, Fulga TA. 2017. Engineering Synthetic Signaling Pathways with Programmable dCas9-Based Chimeric Receptors. Cell Rep, 20 (11), pp. 2639-2653. | Show Abstract | Read more

Synthetic receptors provide a powerful experimental tool for generation of designer cells capable of monitoring the environment, sensing specific input signals, and executing diverse custom response programs. To advance the promise of cellular engineering, we have developed a class of chimeric receptors that integrate a highly programmable and portable nuclease-deficient CRISPR/Cas9 (dCas9) signal transduction module. We demonstrate that the core dCas9 synthetic receptor (dCas9-synR) architecture can be readily adapted to various classes of native ectodomain scaffolds, linking their natural inputs with orthogonal output functions. Importantly, these receptors achieved stringent OFF/ON state transition characteristics, showed agonist-mediated dose-dependent activation, and could be programmed to couple specific disease markers with diverse, therapeutically relevant multi-gene expression circuits. The modular dCas9-synR platform developed here provides a generalizable blueprint for designing next generations of synthetic receptors, which will enable the implementation of highly complex combinatorial functions in cellular engineering.

Valletta S, Dolatshad H, Bartenstein M, Yip BH, Bello E, Gordon S, Yu Y, Shaw J, Roy S, Scifo L et al. 2015. ASXL1 mutation correction by CRISPR/Cas9 restores gene function in leukemia cells and increases survival in mouse xenografts. Oncotarget, 6 (42), pp. 44061-44071. | Show Abstract | Read more

Recurrent somatic mutations of the epigenetic modifier and tumor suppressor ASXL1 are common in myeloid malignancies, including chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), and are associated with poor clinical outcome. CRISPR/Cas9 has recently emerged as a powerful and versatile genome editing tool for genome engineering in various species. We have used the CRISPR/Cas9 system to correct the ASXL1 homozygous nonsense mutation present in the CML cell line KBM5, which lacks ASXL1 protein expression. CRISPR/Cas9-mediated ASXL1 homozygous correction resulted in protein re-expression with restored normal function, including down-regulation of Polycomb repressive complex 2 target genes. Significantly reduced cell growth and increased myeloid differentiation were observed in ASXL1 mutation-corrected cells, providing new insights into the role of ASXL1 in human myeloid cell differentiation. Mice xenografted with mutation-corrected KBM5 cells showed significantly longer survival than uncorrected xenografts. These results show that the sole correction of a driver mutation in leukemia cells increases survival in vivo in mice. This study provides proof-of-concept for driver gene mutation correction via CRISPR/Cas9 technology in human leukemia cells and presents a strategy to illuminate the impact of oncogenic mutations on cellular function and survival.

Busto GU, Guven-Ozkan T, Fulga TA, Van Vactor D, Davis RL. 2015. microRNAs That Promote or Inhibit Memory Formation in Drosophila melanogaster. Genetics, 200 (2), pp. 569-580. | Show Abstract | Read more

microRNAs (miRNAs) are small noncoding RNAs that regulate gene expression post-transcriptionally. Prior studies have shown that they regulate numerous physiological processes critical for normal development, cellular growth control, and organismal behavior. Here, we systematically surveyed 134 different miRNAs for roles in olfactory learning and memory formation using "sponge" technology to titrate their activity broadly in the Drosophila melanogaster central nervous system. We identified at least five different miRNAs involved in memory formation or retention from this large screen, including miR-9c, miR-31a, miR-305, miR-974, and miR-980. Surprisingly, the titration of some miRNAs increased memory, while the titration of others decreased memory. We performed more detailed experiments on two miRNAs, miR-974 and miR-31a, by mapping their roles to subpopulations of brain neurons and testing the functional involvement in memory of potential mRNA targets through bioinformatics and a RNA interference knockdown approach. This screen offers an important first step toward the comprehensive identification of all miRNAs and their potential targets that serve in gene regulatory networks important for normal learning and memory.

Mugat B, Akkouche A, Serrano V, Armenise C, Li B, Brun C, Fulga TA, Van Vactor D, Pélisson A, Chambeyron S. 2015. MicroRNA-Dependent Transcriptional Silencing of Transposable Elements in Drosophila Follicle Cells. PLoS Genet, 11 (5), pp. e1005194. | Show Abstract | Read more

RNA interference-related silencing mechanisms concern very diverse and distinct biological processes, from gene regulation (via the microRNA pathway) to defense against molecular parasites (through the small interfering RNA and the Piwi-interacting RNA pathways). Small non-coding RNAs serve as specificity factors that guide effector proteins to ribonucleic acid targets via base-pairing interactions, to achieve transcriptional or post-transcriptional regulation. Because of the small sequence complementarity required for microRNA-dependent post-transcriptional regulation, thousands of microRNA (miRNA) putative targets have been annotated in Drosophila. In Drosophila somatic ovarian cells, genomic parasites, such as transposable elements (TEs), are transcriptionally repressed by chromatin changes induced by Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) that prevent them from invading the germinal genome. Here we show, for the first time, that a functional miRNA pathway is required for the piRNA-mediated transcriptional silencing of TEs in this tissue. Global miRNA depletion, caused by tissue- and stage-specific knock down of drosha (involved in miRNA biogenesis), AGO1 or gawky (both responsible for miRNA activity), resulted in loss of TE-derived piRNAs and chromatin-mediated transcriptional de-silencing of TEs. This specific TE de-repression was also observed upon individual titration (by expression of the complementary miRNA sponge) of two miRNAs (miR-14 and miR-34) as well as in a miR-14 loss-of-function mutant background. Interestingly, the miRNA defects differentially affected TE- and 3' UTR-derived piRNAs. To our knowledge, this is the first indication of possible differences in the biogenesis or stability of TE- and 3' UTR-derived piRNAs. This work is one of the examples of detectable phenotypes caused by loss of individual miRNAs in Drosophila and the first genetic evidence that miRNAs have a role in the maintenance of genome stability via piRNA-mediated TE repression.

Santa-Maria I, Alaniz ME, Renwick N, Cela C, Fulga TA, Van Vactor D, Tuschl T, Clark LN, Shelanski ML, McCabe BD, Crary JF. 2015. Dysregulation of microRNA-219 promotes neurodegeneration through post-transcriptional regulation of tau. J Clin Invest, 125 (2), pp. 681-686. | Show Abstract | Read more

Tau is a highly abundant and multifunctional brain protein that accumulates in neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs), most commonly in Alzheimer's disease (AD) and primary age-related tauopathy. Recently, microRNAs (miRNAs) have been linked to neurodegeneration; however, it is not clear whether miRNA dysregulation contributes to tau neurotoxicity. Here, we determined that the highly conserved brain miRNA miR-219 is downregulated in brain tissue taken at autopsy from patients with AD and from those with severe primary age-related tauopathy. In a Drosophila model that produces human tau, reduction of miR-219 exacerbated tau toxicity, while overexpression of miR-219 partially abrogated toxic effects. Moreover, we observed a bidirectional modulation of tau levels in the Drosophila model that was dependent on miR-219 expression or neutralization, demonstrating that miR-219 regulates tau in vivo. In mammalian cellular models, we found that miR-219 binds directly to the 3'-UTR of the tau mRNA and represses tau synthesis at the post-transcriptional level. Together, our data indicate that silencing of tau by miR-219 is an ancient regulatory mechanism that may become perturbed during neurofibrillary degeneration and suggest that this regulatory pathway may be useful for developing therapeutics for tauopathies.

Fulga TA, McNeill EM, Binari R, Yelick J, Blanche A, Booker M, Steinkraus BR, Schnall-Levin M, Zhao Y, DeLuca T et al. 2015. A transgenic resource for conditional competitive inhibition of conserved Drosophila microRNAs. Nat Commun, 6 pp. 7279. | Show Abstract | Read more

Although the impact of microRNAs (miRNAs) in development and disease is well established, understanding the function of individual miRNAs remains challenging. Development of competitive inhibitor molecules such as miRNA sponges has allowed the community to address individual miRNA function in vivo. However, the application of these loss-of-function strategies has been limited. Here we offer a comprehensive library of 141 conditional miRNA sponges targeting well-conserved miRNAs in Drosophila. Ubiquitous miRNA sponge delivery and consequent systemic miRNA inhibition uncovers a relatively small number of miRNA families underlying viability and gross morphogenesis, with false discovery rates in the 4-8% range. In contrast, tissue-specific silencing of muscle-enriched miRNAs reveals a surprisingly large number of novel miRNA contributions to the maintenance of adult indirect flight muscle structure and function. A strong correlation between miRNA abundance and physiological relevance is not observed, underscoring the importance of unbiased screens when assessing the contributions of miRNAs to complex biological processes.

Tan JY, Vance KW, Varela MA, Sirey T, Watson LM, Curtis HJ, Marinello M, Alves S, Steinkraus B, Cooper S et al. 2014. Cross-talking noncoding RNAs contribute to cell-specific neurodegeneration in SCA7. Nat Struct Mol Biol, 21 (11), pp. 955-961. | Show Abstract | Read more

What causes the tissue-specific pathology of diseases resulting from mutations in housekeeping genes? Specifically, in spinocerebellar ataxia type 7 (SCA7), a neurodegenerative disorder caused by a CAG-repeat expansion in ATXN7 (which encodes an essential component of the mammalian transcription coactivation complex, STAGA), the factors underlying the characteristic progressive cerebellar and retinal degeneration in patients were unknown. We found that STAGA is required for the transcription initiation of miR-124, which in turn mediates the post-transcriptional cross-talk between lnc-SCA7, a conserved long noncoding RNA, and ATXN7 mRNA. In SCA7, mutations in ATXN7 disrupt these regulatory interactions and result in a neuron-specific increase in ATXN7 expression. Strikingly, in mice this increase is most prominent in the SCA7 disease-relevant tissues, namely the retina and cerebellum. Our results illustrate how noncoding RNA-mediated feedback regulation of a ubiquitously expressed housekeeping gene may contribute to specific neurodegeneration.

Marler KJ, Suetterlin P, Dopplapudi A, Rubikaite A, Adnan J, Maiorano NA, Lowe AS, Thompson ID, Pathania M, Bordey A et al. 2014. BDNF promotes axon branching of retinal ganglion cells via miRNA-132 and p250GAP. J Neurosci, 34 (3), pp. 969-979. | Show Abstract | Read more

A crucial step in the development of the vertebrate visual system is the branching of retinal ganglion cell (RGC) axons within their target, the superior colliculus/tectum. A major player in this process is the neurotrophin brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). However, the molecular basis for the signaling pathways mediating BDNF action is less well understood. As BDNF exerts some of its functions by controlling the expression of microRNAs (miRNAs), we investigated whether miRNAs are also involved in BDNF-mediated retinal axon branching. Here, we demonstrate that the expression pattern of miRNA-132 in the retina is consistent with its involvement in this process, and that BDNF induces the upregulation of miRNA-132 in retinal cultures. Furthermore, in vitro gain-of-function and loss-of-function approaches in retinal cultures reveal that miRNA-132 mediates axon branching downstream of BDNF. A known target of miRNA-132 is the Rho family GTPase-activating protein, p250GAP. We find that p250GAP is expressed in RGC axons and mediates the effects of miRNA-132 in BDNF-induced branching. BDNF treatment or overexpression of miRNA-132 leads to a reduction in p250GAP protein levels in retinal cultures, whereas the overexpression of p250GAP abolishes BDNF-induced branching. Finally, we used a loss-of-function approach to show that miRNA-132 affects the maturation of RGC termination zones in the mouse superior colliculus in vivo, while their topographic targeting remains intact. Together, our data indicate that BDNF promotes RGC axon branching during retinocollicular/tectal map formation via upregulation of miRNA-132, which in turn downregulates p250GAP.

Bassett AR, Azzam G, Wheatley L, Tibbit C, Rajakumar T, McGowan S, Stanger N, Ewels PA, Taylor S, Ponting CP et al. 2014. Understanding functional miRNA-target interactions in vivo by site-specific genome engineering. Nat Commun, 5 pp. 4640. | Show Abstract | Read more

MicroRNA (miRNA) target recognition is largely dictated by short 'seed' sequences, and single miRNAs therefore have the potential to regulate a large number of genes. Understanding the contribution of specific miRNA-target interactions to the regulation of biological processes in vivo remains challenging. Here we use transcription activator-like effector nuclease (TALEN) and clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR)/Cas9 technologies to interrogate the functional relevance of predicted miRNA response elements (MREs) to post-transcriptional silencing in zebrafish and Drosophila. We also demonstrate an effective strategy that uses CRISPR-mediated homology-directed repair with short oligonucleotide donors for the assessment of MRE activity in human cells. These methods facilitate analysis of the direct phenotypic consequences resulting from blocking specific miRNA-MRE interactions at any point during development.

Li W, Cressy M, Qin H, Fulga T, Van Vactor D, Dubnau J. 2013. MicroRNA-276a functions in ellipsoid body and mushroom body neurons for naive and conditioned olfactory avoidance in Drosophila. J Neurosci, 33 (13), pp. 5821-5833. | Show Abstract | Read more

MicroRNA (miRNA)-mediated gene regulation plays a key role in brain development and function. But there are few cases in which the roles of individual miRNAs have been elucidated in behaving animals. We report a miR-276a::DopR regulatory module in Drosophila that functions in distinct circuits for naive odor responses and conditioned odor memory. Drosophila olfactory aversive memory involves convergence of the odors (conditioned stimulus) and the electric shock (unconditioned stimulus) in mushroom body (MB) neurons. Dopamine receptor DopR mediates the unconditioned stimulus inputs onto MB. Distinct dopaminergic neurons also innervate ellipsoid body (EB), where DopR function modulates arousal to external stimuli. We demonstrate that miR-276a is required in MB neurons for memory formation and in EB for naive responses to odors. Both roles of miR-276a are mediated by tuning DopR expression. The dual role of this miR-276a::DopR genetic module in these two neural circuits highlights the importance of miRNA-mediated gene regulation within distinct circuits underlying both naive behavioral responses and memory.

Bejarano F, Bortolamiol-Becet D, Dai Q, Sun K, Saj A, Chou YT, Raleigh DR, Kim K, Ni JQ, Duan H et al. 2012. A genome-wide transgenic resource for conditional expression of Drosophila microRNAs. Development, 139 (15), pp. 2821-2831. | Show Abstract | Read more

microRNAs (miRNAs) are endogenous short RNAs that mediate vast networks of post-transcriptional gene regulation. Although computational searches and experimental profiling provide evidence for hundreds of functional targets for individual miRNAs, such data rarely provide clear insight into the phenotypic consequences of manipulating miRNAs in vivo. We describe a genome-wide collection of 165 Drosophila miRNA transgenes and find that a majority induced specific developmental defects, including phenocopies of mutants in myriad cell-signaling and patterning genes. Such connections allowed us to validate several likely targets for miRNA-induced phenotypes. Importantly, few of these phenotypes could be predicted from computationally predicted target lists, thus highlighting the value of whole-animal readouts of miRNA activities. Finally, we provide an example of the relevance of these data to miRNA loss-of-function conditions. Whereas misexpression of several K box miRNAs inhibited Notch pathway activity, reciprocal genetic interaction tests with miRNA sponges demonstrated endogenous roles of the K box miRNA family in restricting Notch signaling. In summary, we provide extensive evidence that misexpression of individual miRNAs often induces specific mutant phenotypes that can guide their functional study. By extension, these data suggest that the deregulation of individual miRNAs in other animals may frequently yield relatively specific phenotypes during disease conditions.

Loya CM, Van Vactor D, Fulga TA. 2010. Understanding neuronal connectivity through the post-transcriptional toolkit. Genes Dev, 24 (7), pp. 625-635. | Show Abstract | Read more

Post-transcriptional regulatory mechanisms have emerged as a critical component underlying the diversification and spatiotemporal control of the proteome during the establishment of precise neuronal connectivity. These mechanisms have been shown to be important for virtually all stages of assembling a neural network, from neurite guidance, branching, and growth to synapse morphogenesis and function. From the moment a gene is transcribed, it undergoes a series of post-transcriptional regulatory modifications in the nucleus and cytoplasm until its final deployment as a functional protein. Initially, a message is subjected to extensive structural regulation through alternative splicing, which is capable of greatly expanding the protein repertoire by generating, in some cases, thousands of functionally distinct isoforms from a single gene locus. Then, RNA packaging into neuronal transport granules and recognition by RNA-binding proteins and/or microRNAs is capable of restricting protein synthesis to selective locations and under specific input conditions. This ability of the post-transcriptional apparatus to expand the informational content of a cell and control the deployment of proteins in both spatial and temporal dimensions is a feature well adapted for the extreme morphological properties of neural cells. In this review, we describe recent advances in understanding how post-transcriptional regulatory mechanisms refine the proteomic complexity required for the assembly of intricate and specific neural networks.

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Khurana V, Elson-Schwab I, Fulga TA, Sharp KA, Loewen CA, Mulkearns E, Tyynelä J, Scherzer CR, Feany MB. 2010. Lysosomal dysfunction promotes cleavage and neurotoxicity of tau in vivo PLoS Genetics, 6 (7), pp. 1-11. | Show Abstract | Read more

Expansion of the lysosomal system, including cathepsin D upregulation, is an early and prominent finding in Alzheimer's disease brain. Cell culture studies, however, have provided differing perspectives on the lysosomal connection to Alzheimer's disease, including both protective and detrimental influences. We sought to clarify and molecularly define the connection in vivo in a genetically tractable model organism. Cathepsin D is upregulated with age in a Drosophila model of Alzheimer's disease and related tauopathies. Genetic analysis reveals that cathepsin D plays a neuroprotective role because genetic ablation of cathepsin D markedly potentiates tau-induced neurotoxicity. Further, generation of a C-terminally truncated form of tau found in Alzheimer's disease patients is significantly increased in the absence of cathepsin D. We show that truncated tau has markedly increased neurotoxicity, while solubility of truncated tau is decreased. Importantly, the toxicity of truncated tau is not affected by removal of cathepsin D, providing genetic evidence that modulation of neurotoxicity by cathepsin D is mediated through C-terminal cleavage of tau. We demonstrate that removing cathepsin D in adult postmitotic neurons leads to aberrant lysosomal expansion and caspase activation in vivo, suggesting a mechanism for C-terminal truncation of tau. We also demonstrate that both cathepsin D knockout mice and cathepsin D-deficient sheep show abnormal C-terminal truncation of tau and accompanying caspase activation. Thus, caspase cleavage of tau may be a molecular mechanism through which lysosomal dysfunction and neurodegeneration are causally linked in Alzheimer's disease. © 2010 Khurana et al.

Loya CM, Lu CS, Van Vactor D, Fulga TA. 2009. Transgenic microRNA inhibition with spatiotemporal specificity in intact organisms. Nat Methods, 6 (12), pp. 897-903. | Show Abstract | Read more

MicroRNAs are important regulators of gene expression, yet the functional outputs of most microRNA-target interactions remain elusive. Here we introduce the Drosophila melanogaster microRNA sponge (miR-SP) as a powerful transgenic technology to dissect the function of every microRNA with precise spatiotemporal resolution. miR-SPs can be used to characterize tissue-specific microRNA loss-of-function phenotypes, define the spatial regulation of their effectors and uncover interactions between microRNAs and other genes. Using themiR-SP system, we identified an essential role of the conserved microRNA miR-8, in neuromuscular junction formation. Tissue-specific silencing revealed that postsynaptic activity of miR-8 is important for normal neuromuscular junction morphogenesis. Given that miR-SPs rely on a bipartite modular expression system, they could be used to elucidate the endogenous function of microRNAs in any species in which conditional expression can be achieved.

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