Representative publications

Á Briso-Montiano, A Vilas, E Richard, P Ruiz-Sala, E Morato, L R Desviat, M Ugarte, P Rodríguez-Pombo, B Pérez

Methylmalonic aciduria cblB type (MMA cblB type, MMAB OMIM #251110), caused by a deficiency in the enzyme ATP:cob(I)alamin adenosyltransferase (ATR, E.C_2. 5.1.17), is a severe metabolic disorder with a poor prognosis despite treatment. We recently described the potential therapeutic use of pharmacological chaperones (PCs) after increasing the residual activity of ATR in patient-derived fibroblasts. The present work reports the successful generation of hepatocyte-like cells (HLCs) differentiated from two healthy and two MMAB induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) lines, and the use of this platform for testing the effects of PCs. The MMAB cells produced little ATR, showed reduced residual ATR activity, and had higher concentrations of methylmalonic acid compared to healthy HLCs. Differential proteome analysis revealed the two MMAB HCLs to show reproducible differentiation, but this was not so for the healthy HLCs. Interestingly, PC treatment in combination with vitamin B12 increased the amount of ATR available, and subsequently ATR activity, in both MMAB HLCs. More importantly, the treatment significantly reduced the methylmalonic acid content of both. In summary, the HLC model would appear to be an excellent candidate for the pharmacological testing of the described PCs, for analyzing the effects of new drugs, and investigating the repurposing of older drugs, before testing in animal models.

Andrés Vicente-Acosta, Alfredo Giménez-Cassina, Javier Díaz-Nido & Frida Loria

Friedreich’s ataxia is a rare hereditary neurodegenerative disease caused by decreased levels of the mitochondrial protein frataxin. Similar to other neurodegenerative pathologies, previous studies suggested that astrocytes might contribute to the progression of the disease. To fully understand the mechanisms underlying neurodegeneration in Friedreich’s ataxia, we investigated the reactivity status and functioning of cultured human astrocytes after frataxin depletion using an RNA interference-based approach and tested the effect of pharmacologically modulating the SHH pathway as a novel neuroprotective strategy.

Cristina Sánchez-González, Juan Cruz Herrero Martín, Beñat Salegi Ansa, Cristina Núñez de Arenas, Brina Stančič, Marta P. Pereira, Laura Contreras, José M. Cuezva & Laura Formentini

Tubular aggregates (TA) are honeycomb-like arrays of sarcoplasmic-reticulum (SR) tubules affecting aged glycolytic fibers of male individuals and inducing severe sarcomere disorganization and muscular pain. TA develop in skeletal muscle from Tubular Aggregate Myopathy (TAM) patients as well as in other disorders including endocrine syndromes, diabetes, and ageing, being their primary cause unknown. Nowadays, there is no cure for TA. Intriguingly, both hypoxia and calcium dyshomeostasis prompt TA formation, pointing to a possible role for mitochondria in their setting. However, a functional link between mitochondrial dysfunctions and TA remains unknown. Herein, we investigate the alteration in muscle-proteome of TAM patients, the molecular mechanism of TA onset and a potential therapy in a preclinical mouse model of the disease. We show that in vivo chronic inhibition of the mitochondrial ATP synthase in muscle causes TA. Upon long-term restrained oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS), oxidative soleus experiments a metabolic and structural switch towards glycolytic fibers, increases mitochondrial fission, and activates mitophagy to recycle damaged mitochondria. TA result from the overresponse of the fission controller DRP1, that upregulates the Store-Operate-Calcium-Entry and increases the mitochondria-SR interaction in a futile attempt to buffer calcium overloads upon prolonged OXPHOS inhibition. Accordingly, hypoxic muscles cultured ex vivo show an increase in mitochondria/SR contact sites and autophagic/mitophagic zones, where TA clusters grow around defective mitochondria. Moreover, hypoxia triggered a stronger TA formation upon ATP synthase inhibition, and this effect was reduced by the DRP1 inhibitor mDIVI. Remarkably, the muscle proteome of TAM patients displays similar alterations in mitochondrial dynamics and in ATP synthase contents. In vivo edaravone treatment in mice with restrained OXPHOS restored a healthy phenotype by prompting mitogenesis and mitochondrial fusion. Altogether, our data provide a functional link between the ATP synthase/DRP1 axis and the setting of TA, and repurpose edaravone as a possible treatment for TA-associated disorders.

María Jesús García-León, Marta Mosquera, Carmela Cela, Juan Alcain, Saulius Zuklys, Georg Holländer and María L. Toribio

Notch signaling is crucial for fate specification and maturation of thymus-seeding progenitors along the T-cell lineage. Recent studies have extended the role of Notch signaling to thymic epithelial cells (TECs), showing that Notch regulates TEC progenitor maintenance and emergence of medullary TECs (mTECs) in fetal thymopoiesis. Based on immunohistochemistry studies of spatiotemporal regulation of Notch activation in the postnatal thymus, we show that in vivo Notch activation is not confined to fetal TECs. Rather, Notch signaling, likely mediated through the Notch1 receptor, is induced in postnatal cortical and medullary TECs, and increases significantly with age in the latter, in both humans and mice, suggesting a conserved role for Notch signaling in TEC homeostasis during thymus aging. To investigate the functional impact of Notch activation in postnatal TEC biology, we used a mouse model in which RPBJκ, the transcriptional effector of canonical Notch signaling, is deleted in epithelial cells, including TECs, under the control of the transcription factor Foxn1. Immunohistochemistry and flow cytometry analyses revealed no significant differences in TEC composition in mutant (RPBJκ-KOTEC) and wild-type (WT) littermate mice at early postnatal ages. However, a significant reduction of the medullary region was observed in mutant compared to WT older thymi, which was accompanied by an accelerated decrease of postnatal mTEC numbers. Also, we found that organization and integrity of the postnatal thymic medulla critically depends on activation of the canonical Notch signaling pathway, as abrogation of Notch signaling in TECs led to the disruption of the medullary thymic microenvironment and to an accelerated thymus atrophy. These features paralleled a significant increase in the proportion of intrathymic non-T lineage cells, mostly B cells, and a slight decrease of DP thymocyte numbers compatible with a compromised thymic function in mutant mice. Therefore, impaired Notch signaling induced in embryonic development impacts postnatal TECs and leads to an accelerated mTEC degeneration and a premature thymus involution. Collectively, our data have uncovered a new role for Notch1 signaling in the control of adult mTEC homeostasis, and point toward Notch signaling manipulation as a novel strategy for thymus regeneration and functional recovery from immunosenescence.

Elena R Bovolenta, Eva M García-Cuesta, Lydia Horndler, Julia Ponomarenko, Wolfgang W Schamel, Mario Mellado, Mario Castro, David Abia, Hisse M van Santen

Signaling via the T cell receptor (TCR) is critical during the development, maintenance, and activation of T cells. Quantitative aspects of TCR signaling have an important role during positive and negative selection, lineage choice, and ability to respond to small amounts of antigen. By using a mutant mouse line expressing a hypomorphic allele of the CD3ζ chain, we show here that the strength of pre-TCR–mediated signaling during T cell development determines the diversity of the TCRβ repertoire available for positive and negative selection, and hence of the final αβTCR repertoire. This finding uncovers an unexpected, pre-TCR signaling–dependent and repertoire–shaping role for β-selection beyond selection of in-frame rearranged TCRβ chains. Our data furthermore support a model of pre-TCR signaling in which the arrangement of this receptor in stable nanoclusters determines its quantitative signaling capacity.

María Gimeno-Pérez, James D Finnigan, Coro Echeverria, Simon J Charnock, Aurelio Hidalgo, Diana M Mate

In the last two decades, several PET-degrading enzymes from already known microorganisms or metagenomic sources have been discovered to face the growing environmental concern of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) accumulation. However, there is a limited number of high-throughput screening protocols for PET-hydrolyzing activity that avoid the use of surrogate substrates. Herein, a microplate fluorescence screening assay was described. It was based on the coupled activity of ketoreductases (KREDs) and diaphorase to release resorufin in the presence of the products of PET degradation. Six KREDs were identified in a commercial panel that were able to use the PET building block, ethylene glycol, as substrate. The most efficient KRED, KRED61, was combined with the diaphorase from Clostridium kluyveri to monitor the PET degradation reaction catalyzed by the thermostable variant of the cutinase-type polyesterase from Saccharomonospora viridis AHK190. The PET degradation products were measured both fluorimetrically and by HPLC, with excellent correlation between both methods.

Rodrigo Martín-Rufo, Guillermo de la Vega-Barranco, Emilio Lecona
Every time a cell copies its DNA the genetic material is exposed to the acquisition of mutations and genomic alterations that corrupt the information passed on to daughter cells. A tight temporal regulation of DNA replication is necessary to ensure the full copy of the DNA while preventing the appearance of genomic instability. Protein modification by ubiquitin and SUMO constitutes a very complex and versatile system that allows the coordinated control of protein stability, activity and interactome. In chromatin, their action is complemented by the AAA+ ATPase VCP/p97 that recognizes and removes ubiquitylated and SUMOylated factors from specific cellular compartments. The concerted action of the ubiquitin/SUMO system and VCP/p97 determines every step of DNA replication enforcing the ordered activation/inactivation, loading/unloading and stabilization/destabilization of replication factors. Here we analyze the mechanisms used by ubiquitin/SUMO and VCP/p97 to establish molecular timers throughout DNA replication and their relevance in maintaining genome stability. We propose that these PTMs are the main molecular watch of DNA replication from origin recognition to replisome disassembly.
Iria González-Vasconcellos, María A. Cobos-Fernández, Michael J. Atkinson, José Fernandez-Piqueras & Javier Santos

Here we present a method to detect and quantify long non-coding RNAs, in particular those related to telomeres. By coupling the specificity of a peptide nucleic acid (PNA) probe with flow cytometry we have quantified cellular levels of TERRA and TERC lncRNAs in culture cell lines and PBMCs. This easy-to-use method appointed RNA-Flow allows reliable lncRNA quantification with broad applications in basic research and clinical diagnostics. In addition, the staining protocol presented here was proven useful for the detection and quantification of such lncRNAs on unfixed cells using confocal microscopy.

Jose C Solana, Javier Moreno, Salvador Iborra, Manuel Soto, Jose M Requena

The control of diseases caused by protozoan parasites is one of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. In recent years much research effort has gone into developing a new generation of live attenuated vaccines (LAVs) against malaria, Chagas disease and leishmaniasis. However, there is a bottleneck related to their biosafety, production, and distribution that slows downs further development. The success of irradiated or genetically attenuated sporozoites against malaria, added to the first LAV against leishmaniasis to be evaluated in clinical trials, is indicative that the drawbacks of LAVs are gradually being overcome. However, whether persistence of LAVs is a prerequisite for sustained long-term immunity remains to be clarified, and the procedures necessary for clinical evaluation of vaccine candidates need to be standardized.

Mireya Ruiz-Losada, Raul González, Ana Peropadre, Alejandro Gil-Gálvez, Juan J. Tena, Antonio Baonza & Carlos Estella

Exposure to genotoxic stress promotes cell cycle arrest and DNA repair or apoptosis. These “life” or “death” cell fate decisions often rely on the activity of the tumor suppressor gene p53. Therefore, the precise regulation of p53 is essential to maintain tissue homeostasis and to prevent cancer development. However, how cell cycle progression has an impact on p53 cell fate decision-making is mostly unknown. In this work, we demonstrate that Drosophila p53 proapoptotic activity can be impacted by the G2/M kinase Cdk1. We find that cell cycle arrested or endocycle-induced cells are refractory to ionizing radiation-induced apoptosis. We show that p53 binding to the regulatory elements of the proapoptotic genes and its ability to activate their expression is compromised in experimentally arrested cells. Our results indicate that p53 genetically and physically interacts with Cdk1 and that p53 proapoptotic role is regulated by the cell cycle status of the cell. We propose a model in which cell cycle progression and p53 proapoptotic activity are molecularly connected to coordinate the appropriate response after DNA damage.

Miguel Hernández-del-Valle, Andrea Valencia-Expósito, Antonio López-Izquierdo, Pau Casanova-Ferrer, Pedro Tarazona, Maria D. Martín-Bermudo & David G. Míguez


The dynamics of the actomyosin machinery is at the core of many important biological processes. Several relevant cellular responses such as the rhythmic compression of the cell cortex are governed, at a mesoscopic level, by the nonlinear interaction between actin monomers, actin crosslinkers, and myosin motors. Coarse-grained models are an optimal tool to study actomyosin systems, since they can include processes that occur at long time and space scales, while maintaining the most relevant features of the molecular interactions.


Here, we present a coarse-grained model of a two-dimensional actomyosin cortex, adjacent to a three-dimensional cytoplasm. Our simplified model incorporates only well-characterized interactions between actin monomers, actin crosslinkers and myosin, and it is able to reproduce many of the most important aspects of actin filament and actomyosin network formation, such as dynamics of polymerization and depolymerization, treadmilling, network formation, and the autonomous oscillatory dynamics of actomyosin.


We believe that the present model can be used to study the in vivo response of actomyosin networks to changes in key parameters of the system, such as alterations in the attachment of actin filaments to the cell cortex.

Beatriz Cardeñes, Irene Clares, Tamara Bezos, Víctor Toribio, Soraya López-Martín, Almudena Rocha, Héctor Peinado, María Yáñez-Mó, Carlos Cabañas

Colorectal cancer (CRC) and ovarian cancer (OvC) patients frequently develop peritoneal metastasis, a condition associated with a very poor prognosis. In these cancers, tumor-derived extracellular vesicles (EVs) cause immunosuppression, facilitate the direct attachment and invasion of cancer cells through the mesothelium, induce the conversion of peritoneal mesothelial cells (PMCs) into cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) and transfer a more aggressive phenotype amongst cancer cells. Although the promoting role of EVs in CRC and OvC peritoneal metastasis is well established, the specific molecules that mediate the interactions between tumor-derived EVs and immune and non-immune target cells remain elusive. Here, we employed the SKOV-3 (ovarian adenocarcinoma) and Colo-320 (colorectal adenocarcinoma) human cell lines as model systems to study the interactions and uptake of EVs produced by ovarian carcinoma and colorectal carcinoma cells, respectively. We established that the adhesion molecule ALCAM/CD166 is involved in the interaction of cancer-derived EVs with recipient cancer cells (a process termed "EV binding" or "EV docking") and in their subsequent uptake by these cells. The identification of ALCAM/CD166 as a molecule mediating the docking and uptake of CRC and OvC-derived EVs may be potentially exploited to block the peritoneal metastasis cascade promoted by EVs in CRC and OvC patients.

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