Recent publications

Microglia in Alzheimer’s Disease in the Context of Tau Pathology
Juan Ramón Perea, Marta Bolós, Jesús Avila

Microglia are the cells that comprise the innate immune system in the brain. First described more than a century ago, these cells were initially assigned a secondary role in the central nervous system (CNS) with respect to the protagonists, neurons. However, the latest advances have revealed the complexity and importance of microglia in neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the most common form of dementia associated with aging. This pathology is characterized by the accumulation of amyloid-β peptide (Aβ), which forms senile plaques in the neocortex, as well as by the aggregation of hyperphosphorylated tau protein, a process that leads to the development of neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs). Over the past few years, efforts have been focused on studying the interaction between Aβ and microglia, together with the ability of the latter to decrease the levels of this peptide. Given that most clinical trials following this strategy have failed, current endeavors focus on deciphering the molecular mechanisms that trigger the tau-induced inflammatory response of microglia. In this review, we summarize the most recent studies on the physiological and pathological functions of tau protein and microglia. In addition, we analyze the impact of microglial AD-risk genes (APOE, TREM2, and CD33) in tau pathology, and we discuss the role of extracellular soluble tau in neuroinflammation.

Involvement of the 14-3-3 Gene Family in Autism Spectrum Disorder and Schizophrenia: Genetics, Transcriptomics and Functional Analyses
Bàrbara Torrico, Ester Antón-Galindo, Noèlia Fernàndez-Castillo, Eva Rojo-Francàs, Sadaf Ghorbani, Laura Pineda-Cirera, Amaia Hervás, Isabel Rueda, Estefanía Moreno, Janice M. Fullerton, Vicent Casadó, Jan K. Buitelaar, Nanda Rommelse, Barbara Franke, Andreas Reif, Andreas G. Chiocchetti, Christine Freitag, Rune Kleppe, Jan Haavik, Claudio Toma, Bru Cormand

The 14-3-3 protein family are molecular chaperones involved in several biological functions and neurological diseases. We previously pinpointed YWHAZ (encoding 14-3-3ζ) as a candidate gene for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) through a whole-exome sequencing study, which identified a frameshift variant within the gene (c.659-660insT, p.L220Ffs*18). Here, we explored the contribution of the seven human 14-3-3 family members in ASD and other psychiatric disorders by investigating the: (i) functional impact of the 14-3-3ζ mutation p.L220Ffs*18 by assessing solubility, target binding and dimerization; (ii) contribution of common risk variants in 14-3-3 genes to ASD and additional psychiatric disorders; (iii) burden of rare variants in ASD and schizophrenia; and iv) 14-3-3 gene expression using ASD and schizophrenia transcriptomic data. We found that the mutant 14-3-3ζ protein had decreased solubility and lost its ability to form heterodimers and bind to its target tyrosine hydroxylase. Gene-based analyses using publicly available datasets revealed that common variants in YWHAE contribute to schizophrenia (p = 6.6 × 10−7), whereas ultra-rare variants were found enriched in ASD across the 14-3-3 genes (p = 0.017) and in schizophrenia for YWHAZ (meta-p = 0.017). Furthermore, expression of 14-3-3 genes was altered in post-mortem brains of ASD and schizophrenia patients. Our study supports a role for the 14-3-3 family in ASD and schizophrenia.

Temporal groups of lineage-related neurons have different neuropeptidergic fates and related functions in the Drosophila melanogaster CNS
Laura Díaz-de-la-Peña, Leila Maestro-Paramio, Fernando J. Díaz-Benjumea, Pilar Herrero

The central nervous system (CNS) of Drosophila is comprised of the brain and the ventral nerve cord (VNC), which are the homologous structures of the vertebrate brain and the spinal cord, respectively. Neurons of the CNS arise from neural stem cells called neuroblasts (NBs). Each neuroblast gives rise to a specific repertory of cell types whose fate is unknown in most lineages. A combination of spatial and temporal genetic cues defines the fate of each neuron. We studied the origin and specification of a group of peptidergic neurons present in several abdominal segments of the larval VNC that are characterized by the expression of the neuropeptide GPB5, the GPB5-expressing neurons (GPB5-ENs). Our data reveal that the progenitor NB that generates the GPB5-ENs also generates the abdominal leucokinergic neurons (ABLKs) in two different temporal windows. We also show that these two set of neurons share the same axonal projections in larvae and in adults and, as previously suggested, may both function in hydrosaline regulation. Our genetic analysis of potential specification determinants reveals that Klumpfuss (klu) and huckebein (hkb) are involved in the specification of the GPB5 cell fate. Additionally, we show that GPB5-ENs have a role in starvation resistance and longevity; however, their role in desiccation and ionic stress resistance is not as clear. We hypothesize that the neurons arising from the same neuroblast lineage are both architecturally similar and functionally related.

Identifying the role of PrimPol in TDF-induced toxicity and implications of its loss of function mutation in an HIV+ patient
Vincent N. Duong, Lei Zhou, María I. Martínez-Jiménez, Linh He, Moises Cosme, Luis Blanco, Elijah Paintsil, Karen S. Anderson

A key component of antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV patients is the nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NRTI) is tenofovir. Recent reports of tenofovir toxicity in patients taking ART for HIV cannot be explained solely on the basis of off-target inhibition of mitochondrial DNA polymerase gamma (Polγ). PrimPol was discovered as a primase-polymerase localized to the mitochondria with repriming and translesion synthesis capabilities and, therefore, a potential contributor to mitochondrial toxicity. We established a possible role of PrimPol in tenofovir-induced toxicity in vitro and show that tenofovir-diphosphate incorporation by PrimPol is dependent on the n-1 nucleotide. We identified and characterized a PrimPol mutation, D114N, in an HIV+ patient on tenofovir-based ART with mitochondrial toxicity. This mutant form of PrimPol, targeting a catalytic metal ligand, was unable to synthesize primers, likely due to protein instability and weakened DNA binding. We performed cellular respiration and toxicity assays using PrimPol overexpression and shRNA knockdown strains in renal proximal tubular epithelial cells. The PrimPol-knockdown strain was hypersensitive to tenofovir treatment, indicating that PrimPol protects against tenofovir-induced mitochondrial toxicity. We show that a major cellular role of PrimPol is protecting against toxicity caused by ART and individuals with inactivating mutations may be predisposed to these effects.

MiR‐9‐5p protects from kidney fibrosis by metabolic reprogramming
Marta Fierro‐Fernández, Verónica Miguel, Laura Márquez‐Expósito, Cristina Nuevo‐Tapioles, J. Ignacio Herrero, Eva Blanco‐Ruiz, Jessica Tituaña, Carolina Castillo, Pablo Cannata, María Monsalve, Marta Ruiz‐Ortega, Ricardo Ramos, Santiago Lamas

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) regulate gene expression posttranscriptionally and control biological processes (BPs), including fibrogenesis. Kidney fibrosis remains a clinical challenge and miRNAs may represent a valid therapeutic avenue. We show that miR‐9‐5p protected from renal fibrosis in the mouse model of unilateral ureteral obstruction (UUO). This was reflected in reduced expression of pro‐fibrotic markers, decreased number of infiltrating monocytes/macrophages, and diminished tubular epithelial cell injury and transforming growth factor‐beta 1 (TGF‐β1)‐dependent de‐differentiation in human kidney proximal tubular (HKC‐8) cells. RNA‐sequencing (RNA‐Seq) studies in the UUO model revealed that treatment with miR‐9‐5p prevented the downregulation of genes related to key metabolic pathways, including mitochondrial function, oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS), fatty acid oxidation (FAO), and glycolysis. Studies in human tubular epithelial cells demonstrated that miR‐9‐5p impeded TGF‐β1‐induced bioenergetics derangement. The expression of the FAO‐related axis peroxisome proliferator‐activated receptor gamma coactivator 1 alpha (PGC‐1α)‐peroxisome proliferator‐activated receptor alpha (PPARα) was reduced by UUO, although preserved by the administration of miR‐9‐5p. We found that in mice null for the mitochondrial master regulator PGC‐1α, miR‐9‐5p was unable to promote a protective effect in the UUO model. We propose that miR‐9‐5p elicits a protective response to chronic kidney injury and renal fibrosis by inducing reprogramming of the metabolic derangement and mitochondrial dysfunction affecting tubular epithelial cells.

Epigenetic Priming in Immunodeficiencies
Jorge Martínez-Cano, Elena Campos-Sánchez and César Cobaleda

Immunodeficiencies (IDs) are disorders of the immune system that increase susceptibility to infections and cancer, and are therefore associated with elevated morbidity and mortality. IDs can be primary (not caused by other condition or exposure) or secondary due to the exposure to different agents (infections, chemicals, aging, etc.). Most primary immunodeficiencies (PIDs) are of genetic origin, caused by mutations affecting genes with key roles in the development or function of the cells of the immune system. A large percentage of PIDs are associated with a defective development and/or function of lymphocytes and, especially, B cells, the ones in charge of generating the different types of antibodies. B-cell development is a tightly regulated process in which many different factors participate. Among the regulators of B-cell differentiation, a correct epigenetic control of cellular identity is essential for normal cell function. With the advent of next-generation sequencing (NGS) techniques, more and more alterations in different types of epigenetic regulators are being described at the root of PIDs, both in humans and in animal models. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly clear that epigenetic alterations triggered by the exposure to environmental agents have a key role in the development of secondary immunodeficiencies (SIDs). Due to their largely reversible nature, epigenetic modifications are quickly becoming key therapeutic targets in other diseases where their contribution has been known for more time, like cancer. Here, we establish a parallelism between IDs and the nowadays accepted role of epigenetics in cancer initiation and progression, and propose that epigenetics forms a “third axis” (together with genetics and external agents) to be considered in the etiology of IDs, and linking PIDs and SIDs at the molecular level. We therefore postulate that IDs arise due to a variable contribution of (i) genetic, (ii) environmental, and (iii) epigenetic causes, which in fact form a continuum landscape of all possible combinations of these factors. Additionally, this implies the possibility of a fully epigenetically triggered mechanism for some IDs. This concept would have important prophylactic and translational implications, and would also imply a more blurred frontier between primary and secondary immunodeficiencies.

Synergistic Lethal Mutagenesis of Hepatitis C Virus
Isabel Gallego, María Eugenia Soria, Josep Gregori, Ana I. de Ávila, Carlos García-Crespo, Elena Moreno, Ignacio Gadea, Jaime Esteban, Ricardo Fernández-Roblas, Juan Ignacio Esteban, Jordi Gómez, Josep Quer, Esteban Domingo, Celia Perales

Lethal mutagenesis is an antiviral approach that consists of extinguishing a virus by an excess of mutations acquired during replication in the presence of a mutagenic agent, often a nucleotide analogue. One of its advantages is its broad-spectrum nature, which renders the strategy potentially effective against emergent RNA viral infections. Here we describe the synergistic lethal mutagenesis of hepatitis C virus (HCV) by a combination of favipiravir (T-705) and ribavirin. Synergy has been documented over a broad range of analogue concentrations using the Chou-Talalay method implemented in CompuSyn graphics software, with the average dose reduction index (DRI) being above 1 (68.02 ± 101.6 for favipiravir and 5.83 ± 6.07 for ribavirin) and the average combination indices (CI) being below 1 (0.52 ± 0.28). Furthermore, analogue concentrations that individually did not extinguish high-fitness HCV in 10 serial infections extinguished high-fitness HCV in 1 to 2 passages when used in combination. Although both analogues displayed a preference for G → A and C → U transitions, deep sequencing analysis of mutant spectra indicated a different preference of the two analogues for the mutation sites, thus unveiling a new possible synergy mechanism in lethal mutagenesis. The prospects for synergy among mutagenic nucleotides as a strategy to confront emerging viral infections are discussed.

MEPSAnd: minimum energy path surface analysis over n-dimensional surfaces
Iñigo Marcos-Alcalde, Eduardo López-Viñas, Paulino Gómez-Puertas

n-dimensional energy surfaces are becoming computationally accessible, yet interpreting their information is not straightforward. We present minimum energy path surface analysis over n-dimensional surfaces (MEPSAnd), an open source GUI-based program that natively calculates minimum energy paths across energy surfaces of any number of dimensions. Among other features, MEPSAnd can compute the path through lowest barriers and automatically provide a set of alternative paths. MEPSAnd offers distinct plotting solutions as well as direct python scripting.

Viral quasispecies
Esteban Domingo, Celia Perales

Viral quasispecies refers to a population structure that consists of extremely large numbers of variant genomes, termed mutant spectra, mutant swarms or mutant clouds. Fueled by high mutation rates, mutants arise continually, and they change in relative frequency as viral replication proceeds. The term quasispecies was adopted from a theory of the origin of life in which primitive replicons) consisted of mutant distributions, as found experimentally with present day RNA viruses. The theory provided a new definition of wild type, and a conceptual framework for the interpretation of the adaptive potential of RNA viruses that contrasted with classical studies based on consensus sequences. Standard clonal analyses and deep sequencing methodologies have confirmed the presence of myriads of mutant genomes in viral populations, and their participation in adaptive processes. The quasispecies concept applies to any biological entity, but its impact is more evident when the genome size is limited and the mutation rate is high. This is the case of the RNA viruses, ubiquitous in our biosphere, and that comprise many important pathogens. In virology, quasispecies are defined as complex distributions of closely related variant genomes subjected to genetic variation, competition and selection, and that may act as a unit of selection. Despite being an integral part of their replication, high mutation rates have an upper limit compatible with inheritable information. Crossing such a limit leads to RNA virus extinction, a transition that is the basis of an antiviral design termed lethal mutagenesis.

Genetic deficiency or pharmacological inhibition of miR-33 protects from kidney fibrosis
Nathan L. Price, Verónica Miguel, Wen Ding, Abhishek K. Singh, Shipra Malik, Noemi Rotllan, Anna Moshnikova, Jakub Toczek, Caroline Zeiss, Mehran M. Sadeghi, Noemi Arias, Ángel Baldán, Oleg A. Andreev, Diego Rodríguez-Puyol, Raman Bahal, Yana K. Reshetnyak, Yajaira Suárez, Carlos Fernández-Hernando, and Santiago Lamas

Previous work has reported the important links between cellular bioenergetics and the development of chronic kidney disease, highlighting the potential for targeting metabolic functions to regulate disease progression. More recently, it has been shown that alterations in fatty acid oxidation (FAO) can have an important impact on the progression of kidney disease. In this work, we demonstrate that loss of miR-33, an important regulator of lipid metabolism, can partially prevent the repression of FAO in fibrotic kidneys and reduce lipid accumulation. These changes were associated with a dramatic reduction in the extent of fibrosis induced in 2 mouse models of kidney disease. These effects were not related to changes in circulating leukocytes because bone marrow transplants from miR-33–deficient animals did not have a similar impact on disease progression. Most important, targeted delivery of miR-33 peptide nucleic acid inhibitors to the kidney and other acidic microenvironments was accomplished using pH low insertion peptides as a carrier. This was effective at both increasing the expression of factors involved in FAO and reducing the development of fibrosis. Together, these findings suggest that miR-33 may be an attractive therapeutic target for the treatment of chronic kidney disease.

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