Florian Eichler, MD, Patricia Musolino, MD, PhD
Brain endothelial dysfunction in cerebral adrenoleukodystrophy

Brain. 2015 Nov;138(Pt 11):3206-20. doi: 10.1093/brain/awv250. Epub 2015 Sep 15.

X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy is caused by mutations in the ABCD1 gene leading to accumulation of very long chain fatty acids. Its most severe neurological manifestation is cerebral adrenoleukodystrophy. Here we demonstrate that progressive inflammatory demyelination in cerebral adrenoleukodystrophy coincides with blood–brain barrier dysfunction, increased MMP9 expression, and changes in endothelial tight junction proteins as well as adhesion molecules. ABCD1, but not its closest homologue ABCD2, is highly expressed in human brain microvascular endothelial cells, far exceeding its expression in the systemic vasculature. Silencing of ABCD1 in human brain microvascular endothelial cells causes accumulation of very long chain fatty acids, but much later than the immediate upregulation of adhesion molecules and decrease in tight junction proteins. This results in greater adhesion and transmigration of monocytes across the endothelium. PCR-array screening of human brain microvascular endothelial cells after ABCD1 silencing revealed downregulation of both mRNA and protein levels of the transcription factor c-MYC (encoded by MYC). Interestingly, MYC silencing mimicked the effects of ABCD1 silencing on CLDN5 and ICAM1 without decreasing the levels of ABCD1 protein itself. Together, these data demonstrate that ABCD1 deficiency induces significant alterations in brain endothelium via c-MYC and may thereby contribute to the increased trafficking of leucocytes across the blood–brain barrier as seen in cerebral adrenouleukodystrophy.

 Brain-endothelial-dysfunction-in-cerebral.pdf
Benjamin Neale, PhD, Mark Daly, PhD
An atlas of genetic correlations across human diseases and traits

Nat Genet. 2015 Nov;47(11):1236-41. doi: 10.1038/ng.3406. Epub 2015 Sep 28.

Identifying genetic correlations between complex traits and diseases can provide useful etiological insights and help prioritize likely causal relationships. The major challenges preventing estimation of genetic correlation from genome-wide association study (GWAS) data with current methods are the lack of availability of individual-level genotype data and widespread sample overlap among meta-analyses. We circumvent these difficulties by introducing a technique—cross-trait LD Score regression—for estimating genetic correlation that requires only GWAS summary statistics and is not biased by sample overlap. We use this method to estimate 276 genetic correlations among 24 traits. The results include genetic correlations between anorexia nervosa and schizophrenia, anorexia and obesity, and educational attainment and several diseases. These results highlight the power of genome-wide analyses, as there currently are no significantly associated SNPs for anorexia nervosa and only three for educational attainment

 Bulik-Sullivan-et-al-2015-An-atlas.pdf
Susan A. Slaugenhaupt, PhD, Michael Talkowski, PhD
Mutations in DCHS1 cause mitral valve prolapse

Nature. 2015 Sep 3;525(7567):109-13. doi: 10.1038/nature14670. Epub 2015 Aug 10.

Mitral valve prolapse (MVP) is a common cardiac valve disease that affects nearly 1 in 40 individuals1–3. It can manifest as mitral regurgitation and is the leading indication for mitral valve surgery4,5. Despite a clear heritable component, the genetic aetiology leading to non-syndromic MVP has remained elusive. Four affected individuals from a large multigenerational family segregating non-syndromic MVP underwent capture sequencing of the linked interval on chromosome 11. We report a missense mutation in the DCHS1 gene, the human homologue of the Drosophila cell polarity gene dachsous (ds), that segregates with MVP in the family. Morpholino knockdown of the zebrafish homologue dachsous1b resulted in a cardiac atrioventricular canal defect that could be rescued by wild-type humanDCHS1, but not byDCHS1 messenger RNA with the familial mutation. Further genetic studies identified two additional families in which a second deleterious DCHS1 mutation segregates with MVP. Both DCHS1 mutations reduce protein stability as demonstrated in zebrafish, cultured cells and, notably, in mitral valve interstitial cells (MVICs) obtained during mitral valve repair surgery of a proband. Dchs11/2 mice had prolapse of thickened mitral leaflets, which could be traced back to developmental errors in valve morphogenesis. DCHS1 deficiency in MVP patient MVICs, as well as in Dchs11/2 mouse MVICs, result in altered migration and cellular patterning, supporting these processes as aetiological underpinnings for the disease. Understanding the role ofDCHS1 in mitral valve development and MVP pathogenesis holds potential for therapeutic insights for this very common disease.

 Mutations-in-DCHS1.pdf
James Gusella, PhD, Jong-Min Lee, PhD, Vanessa Wheeler, PhD, Ricardo Mouro Pinto, PhD, Marcy E. MacDonald, PhD
Identification of Genetic Factors that Modify Clinical Onset of Huntington’s Disease

Cell. 2015 Jul 30;162(3):516-26. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2015.07.003.

As a Mendelian neurodegenerative disorder, the genetic risk of Huntington’s disease (HD) is conferred entirely by an HTT CAG repeat expansion whose length is the primary determinant of the rate of pathogenesis leading to disease onset. To investigate the pathogenic process that precedes disease, we used genome-wide association (GWA) analysis to identify loci harboring genetic variations that alter the age at neurological onset of HD. A chromosome 15 locus displays two independent effects that accelerate or delay onset by 6.1 years and 1.4 years, respectively, whereas a chromosome 8 locus hastens onset by 1.6 years. Association at MLH1 and pathway analysis of the full GWA results support a role for DNA handling and repair mechanisms in altering the course of HD. Our findings demonstrate that HD disease modification in humans occurs in nature and offer a genetic route to identifying in-human validated therapeutic targets in this and other Mendelian disorders.

 Identification-of-Genetic-Factors-that-Modify-Clinical-Onset-of-Huntington’s-Disease-.pdf
Vijaya Ramesh, PhD, Stephen J. Haggarty, PhD, James Gusella, PhD
A high-throughput kinome screen reveals serum/glucocorticoid-regulated kinase 1 as a therapeutic target for NF2-deficient meningiomas

Oncotarget. 2015 Jul 10;6(19):16981-97.

Meningiomas are the most common primary intracranial adult tumor. All Neurofibromatosis 2 (NF2)-associated meningiomas and ~60% of sporadic meningiomas show loss of NF2 tumor suppressor protein. There are no effective medical therapies for progressive and recurrent meningiomas. Our previous work demonstrated aberrant activation of mTORC1 signaling that led to ongoing clinical trials with rapamycin analogs for NF2 and sporadic meningioma patients. Here we performed a high-throughput kinome screen to identify kinases responsible for mTORC1 pathway activation in NF2-deficient meningioma cells. Among the emerging top candidates were the mTORC2-specific target serum/glucocorticoid-regulated kinase 1 (SGK1) and p21-activated kinase 1 (PAK1). In NF2-deficient meningioma cells, inhibition of SGK1 rescues mTORC1 activation, and SGK1 activation is sensitive to dual mTORC1/2 inhibitor AZD2014, but not to rapamycin. PAK1 inhibition also leads to attenuated mTORC1 but not mTORC2 signaling, suggesting that mTORC2/SGK1 and Rac1/PAK1 pathways are independently responsible for mTORC1 activation in NF2-deficient meningiomas. Using CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing, we generated isogenic human arachnoidal cell lines (ACs), the origin cell type for meningiomas, expressing or lacking NF2. NF2-null CRISPR ACs recapitulate the signaling of NF2-deficient meningioma cells. Interestingly, we observe increased SGK1 transcription and protein expression in NF2-CRISPR ACs and in primary NF2-negative meningioma lines. Moreover, we demonstrate that the dual mTORC1/mTORC2 inhibitor, AZD2014 is superior to rapamycin and PAK inhibitor FRAX597 in blocking proliferation of meningioma cells. Importantly, AZD2014 is currently in use in several clinical trials of cancer. Therefore, we believe that AZD2014 may provide therapeutic advantage over rapalogs for recurrent and progressive meningiomas.

 A-high-throughput-kinome-screen-reveals-serumglucocorticoid-regulated-.pdf
Susan L. Cotman, PhD, Stephen J. Haggarty, PhD
Unbiased Cell-based Screening in a Neuronal Cell Model of Batten Disease Highlights an Interaction between Ca2+ Homeostasis, Autophagy, and CLN3 Protein Function

J Biol Chem. 2015 Jun 5; 290(23): 14361–14380.

Abnormal accumulation of undigested macromolecules, often disease-specific, is a major feature of lysosomal and neurodegenerative disease and is frequently attributed to defective autophagy. The mechanistic underpinnings of the autophagy defects are the subject of intense research, which is aided by genetic disease models. To gain an improved understanding of the pathways regulating defective autophagy specifically in juvenile neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (JNCL or Batten disease), a neurodegenerative disease of childhood, we developed and piloted a GFP-microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3 (GFP-LC3) screening assay to identify, in an unbiased fashion, genotype-sensitive small molecule autophagy modifiers, employing a JNCL neuronal cell model bearing the most common disease mutation in CLN3. Thapsigargin, a sarco/endoplasmic reticulum Ca(2+)-ATPase (SERCA) Ca(2+) pump inhibitor, reproducibly displayed significantly more activity in the mouse JNCL cells, an effect that was also observed in human-induced pluripotent stem cell-derived JNCL neural progenitor cells. The mechanism of thapsigargin sensitivity was Ca(2+)-mediated, and autophagosome accumulation in JNCL cells could be reversed by Ca(2+) chelation. Interrogation of intracellular Ca(2+) handling highlighted alterations in endoplasmic reticulum, mitochondrial, and lysosomal Ca(2+) pools and in store-operated Ca(2+) uptake in JNCL cells. These results further support an important role for the CLN3 protein in intracellular Ca(2+) handling and in autophagic pathway flux and establish a powerful new platform for therapeutic screening.

 Unbiased-Cell-based-Screening.pdf
Rakesh Karmacharya, MD, PhD, Stephen J. Haggarty, PhD
HDAC6 inhibitors modulate Lys49 acetylation and membrane localization of β-catenin in human iPSC-derived neuronal cells

ACS Chem Biol. 2015 Mar 20;10(3):883-90. doi: 10.1021/cb500838r. Epub 2015 Jan 8

We examined the effects of isoform-specific histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors on β-catenin posttranslational modifications in neural progenitor cells (NPCs) derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). β-catenin is a multifunctional protein with important roles in the developing and adult central nervous system. Activation of the Wnt pathway results in stabilization and nuclear translocation of β-catenin, resulting in activation of multiple target genes. In addition, β-catenin forms a complex with cadherins at the plasma membrane as part of the adherens junctions. The N-terminus of β-catenin has phosphorylation, ubiquitination, and acetylation sites that regulate its stability and signaling. In the absence of a Wnt signal, Ser33, Ser37, and Thr41 are constitutively phosphorylated by glycogen synthase kinase 3β (GSK3β). β-Catenin phosphorylated at these sites is recognized by β-transducin repeat-containing protein (βTrCP), which results in ubiquitination and degradation by the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway. The N-terminal regulatory domain of β-catenin also includes Ser45, a phosphorylation site for Casein Kinase 1α (CK1α) and Lys49, which is acetylated by the acetyltransferase p300/CBP-associated factor (PCAF). The relevance of Lys49 acetylation and Ser45 phosphorylation to the function of β-catenin is an active area of investigation. We find that HDAC6 inhibitors increase Lys49 acetylation and Ser45 phosphorylation but do not affect Ser33, Ser37, and Thr41 phosphorylation. Lys49 acetylation results in decreased ubiquitination of β-catenin in the presence of proteasome inhibition. While increased Lys49 acetylation does not affect total levels of β-catenin, it results in increased membrane localization of β-catenin.

 Iaconelli-et-al-2015.pdf
Christopher Newton-Cheh, MD, MPH, Mark Daly, PhD
Genetic association study of QT interval highlights role for calcium signaling pathways in myocardial repolarization

Nat Genet. 2014 Aug;46(8):826-36. doi: 10.1038/ng.3014. Epub 2014 Jun 22.

The QT interval, an electrocardiographic measure reflecting myocardial repolarization, is a heritable trait. QT prolongation is a risk factor for ventricular arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death (SCD) and could indicate the presence of the potentially lethal mendelian long-QT syndrome (LQTS). Using a genome-wide association and replication study in up to 100,000 individuals, we identified 35 common variant loci associated with QT interval that collectively explain ~8–10% of QT-interval variation and highlight the importance of calcium regulation in myocardial repolarization. Rare variant analysis of 6 new QT interval–associated loci in 298 unrelated probands with LQTS identified coding variants not found in controls but of uncertain causality and therefore requiring validation. Several newly identified loci encode proteins that physically interact with other recognized repolarization proteins. Our integration of common variant association, expression and orthogonal protein-protein interaction screens provides new insights into cardiac electrophysiology and identifies new candidate genes for ventricular arrhythmias, LQTS and SCD.

 Genetic-association-study-of-QT-interval-Newton-Cheh.pdf
James Walker, PhD
Genetic and Functional Studies Implicate Synaptic Overgrowth and Ring Gland cAMP/PKA Signaling Defects in the Drosophila melanogaster Neurofibromatosis-1 Growth Deficiency

PLoS Genet. 2013 Nov;9(11):e1003958. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1003958. Epub 2013 Nov 21.

Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), a genetic disease that affects 1 in 3,000, is caused by loss of a large evolutionary conserved protein that serves as a GTPase Activating Protein (GAP) for Ras. Among Drosophila melanogaster Nf1 (dNf1) null mutant phenotypes, learning/memory deficits and reduced overall growth resemble human NF1 symptoms. These and other dNf1 defects are relatively insensitive to manipulations that reduce Ras signaling strength but are suppressed by increasing signaling through the 3′-5′ cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) dependent Protein Kinase A (PKA) pathway, or phenocopied by inhibiting this pathway. However, whether dNf1 affects cAMP/PKA signaling directly or indirectly remains controversial. To shed light on this issue we screened 486 1(st) and 2(nd) chromosome deficiencies that uncover >80% of annotated genes for dominant modifiers of the dNf1 pupal size defect, identifying responsible genes in crosses with mutant alleles or by tissue-specific RNA interference (RNAi) knockdown. Validating the screen, identified suppressors include the previously implicated dAlk tyrosine kinase, its activating ligand jelly belly (jeb), two other genes involved in Ras/ERK signal transduction and several involved in cAMP/PKA signaling. Novel modifiers that implicate synaptic defects in the dNf1 growth deficiency include the intersectin-related synaptic scaffold protein Dap160 and the cholecystokinin receptor-related CCKLR-17D1 drosulfakinin receptor. Providing mechanistic clues, we show that dAlk, jeb and CCKLR-17D1 are among mutants that also suppress a recently identified dNf1 neuromuscular junction (NMJ) overgrowth phenotype and that manipulations that increase cAMP/PKA signaling in adipokinetic hormone (AKH)-producing cells at the base of the neuroendocrine ring gland restore the dNf1 growth deficiency. Finally, supporting our previous contention that ALK might be a therapeutic target in NF1, we report that human ALK is expressed in cells that give rise to NF1 tumors and that NF1 regulated ALK/RAS/ERK signaling appears conserved in man.

 Walker-et-al-2013.pdf
Jeremiah Scharf, MD, PhD, Benjamin Neale, PhD
Partitioning the Heritability of Tourette Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Reveals Differences in Genetic Architecture

The direct estimation of heritability from genome-wide common variant data as implemented in the program Genome-wide Complex Trait Analysis (GCTA) has provided a means to quantify heritability attributable to all interrogated variants. We have quantified the variance in liability to disease explained by all SNPs for two phenotypically-related neurobehavioral disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and Tourette Syndrome (TS), using GCTA. Our analysis yielded a heritability point estimate of 0.58 (se = 0.09, p = 5.64e-12) for TS, and 0.37 (se = 0.07, p = 1.5e-07) for OCD. In addition, we conducted multiple genomic partitioning analyses to identify genomic elements that concentrate this heritability. We examined genomic architectures of TS and OCD by chromosome, MAF bin, and functional annotations. In addition, we assessed heritability for early onset and adult onset OCD. Among other notable results, we found that SNPs with a minor allele frequency of less than 5% accounted for 21% of the TS heritability and 0% of the OCD heritability. Additionally, we identified a significant contribution to TS and OCD heritability by variants significantly associated with gene expression in two regions of the brain (parietal cortex and cerebellum) for which we had available expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs). Finally we analyzed the genetic correlation between TS and OCD, revealing a genetic correlation of 0.41 (se = 0.15, p = 0.002). These results are very close to previous heritability estimates for TS and OCD based on twin and family studies, suggesting that very little, if any, heritability is truly missing (i.e., unassayed) from TS and OCD GWAS studies of common variation. The results also indicate that there is some genetic overlap between these two phenotypically-related neuropsychiatric disorders, but suggest that the two disorders have distinct genetic architectures.

 Partitioning-the-Heritability-of-Tourette-Syndrome-and-OCD.pdf