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Developing a Sensor Worm Strain to Detect Cleavage and Polyadenylation in vivo

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Alternative polyadenylation (APA) is the biological mechanism in which the same gene can have multiple 3'untranslated region (3'UTR) isoforms due to the presence of multiple polyadenylation signal (PAS) elements within the pre mRNAs. Because APA produces mRNA transcripts that have

Alternative polyadenylation (APA) is the biological mechanism in which the same gene can have multiple 3'untranslated region (3'UTR) isoforms due to the presence of multiple polyadenylation signal (PAS) elements within the pre mRNAs. Because APA produces mRNA transcripts that have different 3'UTR isoforms, certain transcripts may be subject to post-transcriptional regulation by regulatory non-coding RNAs, such as microRNAs or RNA binding proteins defects of which have been implicated in diseases such as cancer. Despite the increasing level of information, functional understanding of the molecular mechanisms involved in transcription is still poorly understood, nor is it clear why APA is necessary at a cell or tissue-specific level. To address these questions I wanted to develop a set of sensor strain plasmids capable of detecting cleavage and polyadenylation in vivo, inject the complete sensor strain plasmid into C. elegans and prepare stable transgenic lines, and perform proof-of-principle RNAi feeding experiments targeting genes associated with the cleavage and polyadenylation complex machinery. I demonstrated that it was possible to create a plasmid capable of detecting cleavage and polyadenylation in C. elegans; however, issues arose during the RNAi assays indicating the sensor strain plasmid was not sensitive enough to the RNAi to effectively detect in the worms. Once the problems involved with sensitivity and variability in the RNAi effects are resolved, the plasmid would be able to better address questions regarding the functional understanding of molecular mechanisms involved in transcription termination.

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2015-05

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Developing engineered polymerases for practical applications in synthetic biology

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Advances in chemical synthesis have enabled new lines of research with unnatural genetic polymers whose modified bases or sugar-phosphate backbones have potential therapeutic and biotechnological applications. Maximizing the potential of these synthetic genetic systems requires inventing new molecular biology tools

Advances in chemical synthesis have enabled new lines of research with unnatural genetic polymers whose modified bases or sugar-phosphate backbones have potential therapeutic and biotechnological applications. Maximizing the potential of these synthetic genetic systems requires inventing new molecular biology tools that can both generate and faithfully replicate unnatural polymers of significant length. Threose nucleic acid (TNA) has received significant attention as a complete replication system has been developed by engineering natural polymerases to broaden their substrate specificity. The system, however, suffers from a high mutational load reducing its utility. This thesis will cover the development of two new polymerases capable of transcribing and reverse transcribing TNA polymers with high efficiency and fidelity. The polymerases are identified using a new strategy wherein gain-of-function mutations are sampled in homologous protein architectures leading to subtle optimization of protein function. The new replication system has a fidelity that supports the propagation of genetic information enabling in vitro selection of functional TNA molecules. TNA aptamers to human alpha-thrombin are identified and demonstrated to have superior stability compared to DNA and RNA in biologically relevant conditions. This is the first demonstration that functional TNA molecules have potential in biotechnology and molecular medicine.

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Date Created
2015

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An integrative analysis of alternative polyadenylation and microRNA regulation in Caenorhabditis elegans

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One of the fundamental questions in molecular biology is how genes and the control of their expression give rise to so many diverse phenotypes in nature. The mRNA molecule plays a key role in this process as it directs the

One of the fundamental questions in molecular biology is how genes and the control of their expression give rise to so many diverse phenotypes in nature. The mRNA molecule plays a key role in this process as it directs the spatial and temporal expression of genetic information contained in the DNA molecule to precisely instruct biological processes in living organisms. The region located between the STOP codon and the poly(A)-tail of the mature mRNA, known as the 3′Untranslated Region (3′UTR), is a key modulator of these activities. It contains numerous sequence elements that are targeted by trans-acting factors that dose gene expression, including the repressive small non-coding RNAs, called microRNAs.

Recent transcriptome data from yeast, worm, plants, and humans has shown that alternative polyadenylation (APA), a mechanism that enables expression of multiple 3′UTR isoforms for the same gene, is widespread in eukaryotic organisms. It is still poorly understood why metazoans require multiple 3′UTRs for the same gene, but accumulating evidence suggests that APA is largely regulated at a tissue-specific level. APA may direct combinatorial variation between cis-elements and microRNAs, perhaps to regulate gene expression in a tissue-specific manner. Apart from a few single gene anecdotes, this idea has not been systematically explored.

This dissertation research employs a systems biology approach to study the somatic tissue dynamics of APA and its impact on microRNA targeting networks in the small nematode C. elegans. In the first aim, tools were developed and applied to isolate and sequence mRNA from worm intestine and muscle tissues, which revealed pervasive tissue-specific APA correlated with microRNA regulation. The second aim provides genetic evidence that two worm genes use APA to escape repression by microRNAs in the body muscle. Finally, in aim three, mRNA from five additional somatic worm tissues was sequenced and their 3′ends mapped, allowing for an integrative study of APA and microRNA targeting dynamics in worms. Together, this work provides evidence that APA is a pervasive mechanism operating in somatic tissues of C. elegans with the potential to significantly rearrange their microRNA regulatory networks and precisely dose their gene expression.

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2016

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Structure-function study of telomerase RNA from evolutionary disparate species: remarkable divergence in gross architecture with the preservation of critical universal structural elements

Description

Telomerase enzyme is a truly remarkable enzyme specialized for the addition of short, highly repetitive DNA sequences onto linear eukaryotic chromosome ends. The telomerase enzyme functions as a ribonucleoprotein, minimally composed of the highly conserved catalytic telomerase reverse transcriptase

Telomerase enzyme is a truly remarkable enzyme specialized for the addition of short, highly repetitive DNA sequences onto linear eukaryotic chromosome ends. The telomerase enzyme functions as a ribonucleoprotein, minimally composed of the highly conserved catalytic telomerase reverse transcriptase and essential telomerase RNA component containing an internalized short template region within the vastly larger non-coding RNA. Even among closely related groups of species, telomerase RNA is astonishingly divergent in sequence, length, and secondary structure. This massive disparity is highly prohibitive for telomerase RNA identification from previously unexplored groups of species, which is fundamental for secondary structure determination. Combined biochemical enrichment and computational screening methods were employed for the discovery of numerous telomerase RNAs from the poorly characterized echinoderm lineage. This resulted in the revelation that--while closely related to the vertebrate lineage and grossly resembling vertebrate telomerase RNA--the echinoderm telomerase RNA central domain varies extensively in structure and sequence, diverging even within echinoderms amongst sea urchins and brittle stars. Furthermore, the origins of telomerase RNA within the eukaryotic lineage have remained a persistent mystery. The ancient Trypanosoma telomerase RNA was previously identified, however, a functionally verified secondary structure remained elusive. Synthetic Trypanosoma telomerase was generated for molecular dissection of Trypanosoma telomerase RNA revealing two RNA domains functionally equivalent to those found in known telomerase RNAs, yet structurally distinct. This work demonstrates that telomerase RNA is uncommonly divergent in gross architecture, while retaining critical universal elements.

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2015

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Small molecule inhibition of quiescin sulfhydryl oxidase 1 (QSOX1), a dynamic pro-tumorigenic regulator of the extracellular matrix

Description

Quiescin sulfhydryl oxidase 1 (QSOX1) is a highly conserved disulfide bond-generating enzyme that represents the ancient fusion of two major thiol-disulfide oxidoreductase gene families: thioredoxin and ERV. QSOX1 was first linked with cancer after being identified as overexpressed in pancreatic

Quiescin sulfhydryl oxidase 1 (QSOX1) is a highly conserved disulfide bond-generating enzyme that represents the ancient fusion of two major thiol-disulfide oxidoreductase gene families: thioredoxin and ERV. QSOX1 was first linked with cancer after being identified as overexpressed in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (but not in adjacent normal ductal epithelia, infiltrating lymphocytes, or chronic pancreatitis). QSOX1 overexpression has been confirmed in a number of other histological tumor types, such as breast, lung, kidney, prostate, and others. Expression of QSOX1 supports a proliferative and invasive phenotype in tumor cells, and its enzymatic activity is critical for promoting an invasive phenotype. An in vivo tumor growth study utilizing the pancreatic tumor cell line MIAPaCa-2 containing a QSOX1-silencing shRNA construct revealed that QSOX1 expression supports a proliferative phenotype. These preliminary studies suggest that suppressing the enzymatic activity of QSOX1 could represent a novel therapeutic strategy to inhibit proliferation and invasion of malignant neoplasms.

The goal of this research was to identify and characterize biologically active small molecule inhibitors for QSOX1. Chemical inhibition of QSOX1 enzymatic activity was hypothesized to reduce growth and invasion of tumor cells. Recombinant QSOX1 was screened against libraries of small molecules using an enzymatic activity assay to identify potential QSOX1 inhibitors. Two lead QSOX1 inhibitors were confirmed, 2-phenyl-1, 2-benzisoselenazol-3-one (ebselen), and 3-methoxy-n-[4-(1 pyrrolidinyl)phenyl]benzamide. The biological activity of these compounds is consistent with QSOX1 knockdown in tumor cell lines, reducing growth and invasion in vitro. Treatment of tumor cells with these compounds also resulted in specific ECM defects, a phenotype associated with QSOX1 knockdown. Additionally, these compounds were shown to be active in pancreatic and renal cancer xenografts, reducing tumor growth with daily treatment. For ebselen, the molecular mechanism of inhibition was determined using a combination of biochemical and mass spectrometric techniques. The results obtained in these studies provide proof-of-principle that targeting QSOX1 enzymatic activity with chemical compounds represents a novel potential therapeutic avenue worthy of further investigation in cancer. Additionally, the utility of these small molecules as chemical probes will yield future insight into the general biology of QSOX1, including the identification of novel substrates of QSOX1.

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2015

Molecular profiling plasma extracellular vesicles from breast cancer patients

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Extracellular vesicles (EVs) represent a heterogeneous population of small vesicles, consisting of a phospholipidic bilayer surrounding a soluble interior cargo. These vesicles play an important role in cellular communication by virtue of their protein, RNA, and lipid content, which can

Extracellular vesicles (EVs) represent a heterogeneous population of small vesicles, consisting of a phospholipidic bilayer surrounding a soluble interior cargo. These vesicles play an important role in cellular communication by virtue of their protein, RNA, and lipid content, which can be transferred among cells. Peripheral blood is a rich source of circulating EVs. An analysis of EVs in peripheral blood could provide access to unparalleled amounts of biomarkers of great diagnostic, prognostic as well as therapeutic value. In the current study, a plasma EV enrichment method based on pluronic co-polymer was first established and characterized. Plasma EVs from breast cancer patients were then enriched, profiled and compared to non-cancer controls. Proteins signatures that contributed to the prediction of cancer samples from non-cancer controls were created by a random-forest based cross-validation approach. We found that a large portion of these signatures were related to breast cancer aggression. To verify such findings, KIAA0100, one of the features identified, was chosen for in vitro molecular and cellular studies in the breast cancer cell line MDA-MB-231. We found that KIAA0100 regulates cancer cell aggression in MDA-MB-231 in an anchorage-independent manner and is particularly associated with anoikis resistance through its interaction with HSPA1A. Lastly, plasma EVs contain not only individual proteins, but also numerous molecular complexes. In order to measure millions of proteins, isoforms, and complexes simultaneously, Adaptive Dynamic Artificial Poly-ligand Targeting (ADAPT) platform was applied. ADAPT employs an enriched library of single-stranded oligodeoxynucleotides to profile complex biological samples, thus achieving a deep coverage of system-wide, native biomolecules. Profiling of EVs from breast cancer patients was able to obtain a prediction AUC performance of 0.73 when compared biopsy-positive cancer patient to healthy controls and 0.64 compared to biopsy-negative controls and such performance was not associated with the physical breast condition indicated by BIRAD scores. Taken together, current research demonstrated the potential of profiling plasma EVs in searching for therapeutic targets as well as diagnostic signatures.

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Date Created
2018

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Investigations on the Role of the U1 snRNA in Pre-mRNA Splicing

Description

The splicing of precursor messenger RNAs (pre-mRNAs) plays an essential role in dictating the mature mRNA profiles of eukaryotic cells. Mis-regulation of splicing, due to mutations in pre-mRNAs or in components of the splicing machinery, is associated with many diseases.

The splicing of precursor messenger RNAs (pre-mRNAs) plays an essential role in dictating the mature mRNA profiles of eukaryotic cells. Mis-regulation of splicing, due to mutations in pre-mRNAs or in components of the splicing machinery, is associated with many diseases. Therefore, knowledge of pre-mRNA splicing mechanisms is required to understand gene expression regulation during states of homeostasis and disease, and for the development of therapeutic interventions.Splicing is catalyzed by the spliceosome, a dynamic and protein-rich ribozyme composed of five small nuclear ribonucleoproteins (snRNPs) and ~170 auxiliary factors. Early interactions that occur in prespliceosomal complexes formed by the 5′- and 3′-splice-site bound U1 and U2 snRNPs are responsible for committing introns for removal. However, the mechanisms underlying these early interactions remain to be fully characterized for understanding the influence of alternative splicing factors and the impact of recurrent disease-associated mutations in prespliceosomal proteins. The goal of my dissertation research was to delineate the role of the U1 small nuclear RNA (snRNA) during prespliceosome assembly. By applying a cellular minigene reporter assay and a variety of in vitro techniques including cell-free protein expression, UV-crosslinking, electrophoretic mobility shift assays, surface plasmon resonance, and RNA affinity purification, my work establishes critical roles for the U1 snRNA stem-loops 3 (SL3) and 4 (SL4) in formation of intron definition interactions during prespliceosome assembly. Previously, the SL4 of the U1 snRNA was shown to form a molecular bridge across introns by contacting the U2-specific splicing factor 3A1 (SF3A1). I identified the Ubiquitin-like domain of SF3A1 as a non-canonical RNA binding domain responsible for U1-SL4 binding. I also determined a role for the SL3 region of the U1 snRNA in splicing and characterized the spliceosomal RNA helicase UAP56 as an SL3 interacting protein. By knocking-down the SL3- and SL4-interacting proteins, I confirmed that U1 splicing activity in vivo relies on UAP56 and SF3A1 and that their functions are interdependent. These findings, in addition to the observations made using in vitro splicing assays, support a model whereby UAP56, through its interaction with U1-SL3, enhances the cross-intron interaction between U1-SL4 and SF3A1 to promote prespliceosome formation.

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Date Created
2021

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ERK/MAPK Requirements for the Development of Long-Range Axonal Projections and Motor Learning in Cortical Glutamatergic Neurons

Description

The RASopathies are a collection of developmental diseases caused by germline mutations in components of the RAS/MAPK signaling pathway and is one of the world’s most common set of genetic diseases. A majority of these mutations result in an upregulation

The RASopathies are a collection of developmental diseases caused by germline mutations in components of the RAS/MAPK signaling pathway and is one of the world’s most common set of genetic diseases. A majority of these mutations result in an upregulation of RAS/MAPK signaling and cause a variety of both physical and neurological symptoms. Neurodevelopmental symptoms of the RASopathies include cognitive and motor delays, learning and intellectual disabilities, and various behavioral problems. Recent noninvasive imaging studies have detected widespread abnormalities within white matter tracts in the brains of RASopathy patients. These abnormalities are believed to be indicative of underlying connectivity deficits and a possible source of the behavioral and cognitive deficits. To evaluate these long-range connectivity and behavioral issues in a cell-autonomous manner, MEK1 loss- and gain-of-function (LoF and GoF) mutations were induced solely in the cortical glutamatergic neurons using a Nex:Cre mouse model. Layer autonomous effects of the cortex were also tested in the GoF mouse using a layer 5 specific Rbp4:Cre mouse. Immunohistochemical analysis showed that activated ERK1/2 (P-ERK1/2) was expressed in high levels in the axonal compartments and reduced levels in the soma when compared to control mice. Axonal tract tracing using a lipophilic dye and an adeno-associated viral (AAV) tract tracing vector, identified significant corticospinal tract (CST) elongation deficits in the LoF and GoF Nex:Cre mouse and in the GoF Rbp4:Cre mouse. AAV tract tracing was further used to identify significant deficits in axonal innervation of the contralateral cortex, the dorsal striatum, and the hind brain of the Nex:Cre GoF mouse and the contralateral cortex and dorsal striatum of the Rbp4:Cre mouse. Behavioral testing of the Nex:Cre GoF mouse indicated deficits in motor learning acquisition while the Rbp4:Cre GoF mouse showed no failure to acquire motor skills as tested. Analysis of the expression levels of the immediate early gene ARC in Nex:Cre and Rbp4:Cre mice showed a specific reduction in a cell- and layer-autonomous manner. These findings suggest that hyperactivation of the RAS/MAPK pathway in cortical glutamatergic neurons, induces changes to the expression patterns of P-ERK1/2, disrupts axonal elongation and innervation patterns, and disrupts motor learning abilities.

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Date Created
2018

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The functional evolution of human microRNA families

Description

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short non-coding RNAs that play key roles during metazoan development, and are frequently misregulated in human disease. MiRNAs regulate gene output by targeting degenerate elements primarily in the 3´ untranslated regions of mRNAs. MiRNAs are often deeply

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short non-coding RNAs that play key roles during metazoan development, and are frequently misregulated in human disease. MiRNAs regulate gene output by targeting degenerate elements primarily in the 3´ untranslated regions of mRNAs. MiRNAs are often deeply conserved, but have undergone drastic expansions in higher metazoans, leading to families of miRNAs with highly similar sequences. The evolutionary advantage of maintaining multiple copies of duplicated miRNAs is not well understood, nor has the distinct functions of miRNA family members been systematically studied. Furthermore, the unbiased and high-throughput discovery of targets remains a major challenge, yet is required to understand the biological function of a given miRNA.

I hypothesize that duplication events grant miRNA families with enhanced regulatory capabilities, specifically through distinct targeting preferences by family members. This has relevance for our understanding of vertebrate evolution, as well disease detection and personalized medicine. To test this hypothesis, I apply a conjunction of bioinformatic and experimental approaches, and design a novel high-throughput screening platform to identify human miRNA targets. Combined with conventional approaches, this tool allows systematic testing for functional targets of human miRNAs, and the identification of novel target genes on an unprecedented scale.

In this dissertation, I explore evolutionary signatures of 62 deeply conserved metazoan miRNA families, as well as the targeting preferences for several human miRNAs. I find that constraints on miRNA processing impact sequence evolution, creating evolutionary hotspots within families that guide distinct target preferences. I apply our novel screening platform to two cancer-relevant miRNAs, and identify hundreds of previously undescribed targets. I also analyze critical features of functional miRNA target sites, finding that each miRNA recognizes surprisingly distinct features of targets. To further explore the functional distinction between family members, I analyze miRNA expression patterns in multiple contexts, including mouse embryogenesis, RNA-seq data from human tissues, and cancer cell lines. Together, my results inform a model that describes the evolution of metazoan miRNAs, and suggests that highly similar miRNA family members possess distinct functions. These findings broaden our understanding of miRNA function in vertebrate evolution and development, and how their misexpression contributes to human disease.

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Date Created
2016

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Mechanisms of miRNA-based gene regulation in C. elegans and human cells

Description

Multicellular organisms use precise gene regulation, executed throughout development, to build and sustain various cell and tissue types. Post-transcriptional gene regulation is essential for metazoan development and acts on mRNA to determine its localization, stability, and translation. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) and

Multicellular organisms use precise gene regulation, executed throughout development, to build and sustain various cell and tissue types. Post-transcriptional gene regulation is essential for metazoan development and acts on mRNA to determine its localization, stability, and translation. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) and RNA binding proteins (RBPs) are the principal effectors of post-transcriptional gene regulation and act by targeting the 3'untranslated regions (3'UTRs) of mRNA. MiRNAs are small non-coding RNAs that have the potential to regulate hundreds to thousands of genes and are dysregulated in many prevalent human diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and cancer. However, the precise contribution of miRNAs to the pathology of these diseases is not known.

MiRNA-based gene regulation occurs in a tissue-specific manner and is implemented by an interplay of poorly understood and complex mechanisms, which control both the presence of the miRNAs and their targets. As a consequence, the precise contributions of miRNAs to gene regulation are not well known. The research presented in this thesis systematically explores the targets and effects of miRNA-based gene regulation in cell lines and tissues.

I hypothesize that miRNAs have distinct tissue-specific roles that contribute to the gene expression differences seen across tissues. To address this hypothesis and expand our understanding of miRNA-based gene regulation, 1) I developed the human 3'UTRome v1, a resource for studying post-transcriptional gene regulation. Using this resource, I explored the targets of two cancer-associated miRNAs miR-221 and let-7c. I identified novel targets of both these miRNAs, which present potential mechanisms by which they contribute to cancer. 2) Identified in vivo, tissue-specific targets in the intestine and body muscle of the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans. The results from this study revealed that miRNAs regulate tissue homeostasis, and that alternative polyadenylation and miRNA expression patterns modulate miRNA targeting at the tissue-specific level. 3) Explored the functional relevance of miRNA targeting to tissue-specific gene expression, where I found that miRNAs contribute to the biogenesis of mRNAs, through alternative splicing, by regulating tissue-specific expression of splicing factors. These results expand our understanding of the mechanisms that guide miRNA targeting and its effects on tissue-specific gene expression.

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Created

Date Created
2019