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.

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.

Vanessa Wheeler, PhD, Ricardo Mouro Pinto, PhD, Mark Daly, PhD
Mismatch repair genes Mlh1 and Mlh3 modify CAG instability in Huntington’s disease mice: genome-wide and candidate approaches

PLoS Genet. 2013 Oct;9(10):e1003930. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1003930. Epub 2013 Oct 31.

The Huntington’s disease gene (HTT) CAG repeat mutation undergoes somatic expansion that correlates with pathogenesis. Modifiers of somatic expansion may therefore provide routes for therapies targeting the underlying mutation, an approach that is likely applicable to other trinucleotide repeat diseases. Huntington’s disease Hdh(Q111) mice exhibit higher levels of somatic HTT CAG expansion on a C57BL/6 genetic background (B6.Hdh(Q111) ) than on a 129 background (129.Hdh(Q111) ). Linkage mapping in (B6x129).Hdh(Q111) F2 intercross animals identified a single quantitative trait locus underlying the strain-specific difference in expansion in the striatum, implicating mismatch repair (MMR) gene Mlh1 as the most likely candidate modifier. Crossing B6.Hdh(Q111) mice onto an Mlh1 null background demonstrated that Mlh1 is essential for somatic CAG expansions and that it is an enhancer of nuclear huntingtin accumulation in striatal neurons. Hdh(Q111) somatic expansion was also abolished in mice deficient in the Mlh3 gene, implicating MutLγ (MLH1-MLH3) complex as a key driver of somatic expansion. Strikingly, Mlh1 and Mlh3 genes encoding MMR effector proteins were as critical to somatic expansion as Msh2 and Msh3 genes encoding DNA mismatch recognition complex MutSβ (MSH2-MSH3). The Mlh1 locus is highly polymorphic between B6 and 129 strains. While we were unable to detect any difference in base-base mismatch or short slipped-repeat repair activity between B6 and 129 MLH1 variants, repair efficiency was MLH1 dose-dependent. MLH1 mRNA and protein levels were significantly decreased in 129 mice compared to B6 mice, consistent with a dose-sensitive MLH1-dependent DNA repair mechanism underlying the somatic expansion difference between these strains. Together, these data identify Mlh1 and Mlh3 as novel critical genetic modifiers of HTT CAG instability, point to Mlh1 genetic variation as the likely source of the instability difference in B6 and 129 strains and suggest that MLH1 protein levels play an important role in driving of the efficiency of somatic expansions.


The ANK3 bipolar disorder gene regulates psychiatric-related behaviors that are modulated by lithium and stress

Biol Psychiatry. 2013 Apr 1;73(7):683-90. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2012.10.016. Epub 2012 Dec 11.

Ankyrin 3 (ANK3) has been strongly implicated as a risk gene for bipolar disorder (BD) by recent genome-wide association studies of patient populations. However, the genetic variants of ANK3 contributing to BD risk and their pathological function are unknown. This study defines a new role for Ank3 in the regulation of psychiatric-related behaviors and stress reactivity that lends support for its involvement in BD and establishes a general framework for determining the disease relevance of genes implicated by patient genome-wide association studies.

Jordan W. Smoller, MD, ScD, Benjamin Neale, PhD, Alysa Doyle, PhD, Aarno Palotie, MD, PhD
Identification of risk loci with shared effects on five major psychiatric disorders: a genome-wide analysis

Lancet. 2013 Apr 20;381(9875):1371-9. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(12)62129-1.

Findings from family and twin studies suggest that genetic contributions to psychiatric disorders do not in all cases map to present diagnostic categories. We aimed to identify specific variants underlying genetic effects shared between the five disorders in the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium: autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and schizophrenia. SNPs at four loci surpassed the cutoff for genome-wide significance (p<5x~10-8) in the primary analysis: regions on chromosomes 3p21 and 10q24, and SNPs within two L-type voltage-gated calcium channel subunits, CACNA1C and CACNB2. Model selection analysis supported effects of these loci for several disorders. Loci previously associated with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia had variable diagnostic specificity. Polygenic risk scores showed cross-disorder associations, notably between adult-onset disorders. Pathway analysis supported a role for calcium channel signaling genes for all five disorders. Finally, SNPs with evidence of cross-disorder association were enriched for brain eQTL markers.