Posts tagged genetic disorders
Posts tagged genetic disorders
Giant axonal neuropathy (GAN) is a rare genetic disorder that causes central and peripheral nervous system dysfunction. GAN is known to be caused by mutations in the gigaxonin gene and is characterized by tangling and aggregation of neural projections, but the mechanistic link between the genetic mutation and the effects on neurons is unclear. In this issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Robert Goldman and colleagues at Northwestern University uncover how mutations in gigaxonin contribute to neural aggregation.They demonstrated that gigaxonin regulates the degradation of neurofilament proteins, which help to guide outgrowth and morphology of neural projections. Loss of gigaxonin in either GAN patient cells or transgenic mice increased levels of neurofilament proteins, causing tangling and aggregation of neural projections. Importantly, expression of gigaxonin allowed for clearance of neurofilament proteins in neurons. These findings demonstrate that mutations in gigaxonin cause accumulation of neurofilament proteins and shed light on the molecular pathology of GAN.
Our time in the womb is one of the most vulnerable periods of our existence. Pregnant women are warned to steer clear of certain foods and alcohol, and doctors refrain from medical interventions unless absolutely necessary, to avoid the faintest risk of causing birth defects.
Yet it is this very stage that is now being considered for some of the most daring and radical medical procedures yet devised: stem cell and gene therapies. “It’s really the ultimate preventative therapy,” says Alan Flake, a surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. “The idea is to avoid any manifestations of disease.”
The idea may sound alarming, but there is a clear rationale behind it. Use these therapies on an adult, and the body part that you are trying to fix is fully formed. Use them before birth, on the other hand, and you may solve the problem before it even arises. “This will set a new paradigm for treatment of many genetic disorders in future,” says Flake.
Flake has been performing surgery on unborn babies for nearly 30 years, using techniques refined on pregnant animals to ensure they met the challenges of working on tiny bodies and avoided triggering miscarriage. The first operation on a human fetus took place in 1981 to fix a blocked urethra, the tube that carries urine out of the bladder. Since then the field has grown to encompass many types of surgery, such as correction of spinal cord defects to prevent spina bifida.
While fetal surgery may now be mainstream, performing stem cell therapy or gene therapy in the womb would arguably be an order of magnitude more challenging. Yet these techniques seem to represent the future of medicine, offering the chance to vanquish otherwise incurable illnesses by re-engineering the body at the cellular level. Several groups around the world are currently testing them out on animals in the womb.
Of the two, stem cell therapy has the longer history: we have been carrying it out on adults since the 1950s, in the form of bone marrow transplants. Bone marrow contains stem cells that give rise to all the different blood cells, from those that make up the immune system to the oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Bone marrow transplants are mainly carried out to treat cancers of immune cells, such as leukaemia, or the various genetic disorders of red blood cells that give rise to anaemia.
One of Flake’s interests is sickle-cell anaemia, in which red blood cells are distorted into a sickle shape by a mutation in the gene for haemoglobin. People with the condition are usually treated with blood transfusions and drugs to ease the symptoms, but even so they may well die in their 40s or 50s. Some are offered a bone marrow transplant, although perhaps only 1 in 3 can find a donor who is a good match genetically and whose cells are thus unlikely to be rejected by their body. “The biggest issue with treating disease with stem cells is the immune system,” says Flake.
And therein lies the main reason for trying a bone marrow transplant in an unborn baby: its immune system is not fully formed. At around the fourteenth week of pregnancy, the fetus’s immune system learns not to attack its own body by killing off any immune cells that react to the fetus’s own tissues. This raises the prospect of introducing donor stem cells during this learning window and so fooling the immune system into accepting those cells. “You can develop a state of complete tolerance to the donor,” says Flake. “If it works for sickle cell, then there are at least 30 related genetic disorders that could be treated.”
These glowing shapes aren’t the ears of a rave-happy Vulcan - they’re slices from a mouse’s brain.
The slice on the right is from a mouse that lacks a gene called Arl13b - the same gene whose mutation causes Joubert syndrome in humans. This is a rare neurological condition that is linked with autism-spectrum disorders and brain structure malformations.
Without Arl13b, the nerve cells known as interneurons can’t find the right destination in the cerebral cortex during the brain’s development. Since the interneurons don’t end up in the right places, they can’t be wired up properly later on. This causes the disrupted brain development, typical of Joubert syndrome, visible in the image on the right.
The researchers hope that their findings will lead to better treatments for people who have the syndrome.
“Ultimately, if you’re going to come up with therapeutic solutions, it’s important to understand the biology of the disease,” says Eva Anton of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, who worked on the research, which was published in Developmental Cell last week.
The Hazards of Growing Up Painlessly
The girl who feels no pain was in the kitchen, stirring ramen noodles, when the spoon slipped from her hand and dropped into the pot of boiling water. It was a school night; the TV was on in the living room, and her mother was folding clothes on the couch. Without thinking, Ashlyn Blocker reached her right hand in to retrieve the spoon, then took her hand out of the water and stood looking at it under the oven light. She walked a few steps to the sink and ran cold water over all her faded white scars, then called to her mother, “I just put my fingers in!” Her mother, Tara Blocker, dropped the clothes and rushed to her daughter’s side. “Oh, my lord!” she said — after 13 years, that same old fear — and then she got some ice and gently pressed it against her daughter’s hand, relieved that the burn wasn’t worse.
“I showed her how to get another utensil and fish the spoon out,” Tara said with a weary laugh when she recounted the story to me two months later. “Another thing,” she said, “she’s starting to use flat irons for her hair, and those things get superhot.”
Tara was sitting on the couch in a T-shirt printed with the words “Camp Painless But Hopeful.” Ashlyn was curled on the living-room carpet crocheting a purse from one of the skeins of yarn she keeps piled in her room. Her 10-year-old sister, Tristen, was in the leather recliner, asleep on top of their father, John Blocker, who stretched out there after work and was slowly falling asleep, too. The house smelled of the homemade macaroni and cheese they were going to have for dinner. A South Georgia rainstorm drummed the gutters, and lightning illuminated the batting cage and the pool in the backyard.
Without lifting her eyes from the crochet hooks in her hands, Ashlyn spoke up to add one detail to her mother’s story. “I was just thinking, What did I just do?” she said.
Scientists have cracked a molecular code that may open the way to destroying or correcting defective gene products, such as those that cause genetic disorders in humans.
The code determines the recognition of RNA molecules by a superfamily of RNA-binding proteins called pentatricopeptide repeat (PPR) proteins.
When a gene is switched on, it is copied into RNA. This RNA is then used to make proteins that are required by the organism for all of its vital functions. If a gene is defective, its RNA copy and the proteins made from this will also be defective. This forms the basis of many terrible genetic disorders in humans.
RNA-binding PPR proteins could revolutionise the way we treat disease. Their secret is their versatility - they can find and bind a specific RNA molecule, and have the capacity to correct it if it is defective, or destroy it if it is detrimental. They can also help ramp up production of proteins required for growth and development.
The new paper in PLOS Genetics describes for the first time how PPR proteins recognise their RNA targets via an easy-to-understand code. This mechanism mimics the simplicity and predictability of the pairing between DNA strands described by Watson and Crick 60 years ago, but at a protein/RNA interface.
Children with a rare syndrome that includes a form of insulin-dependent diabetes have brain abnormalities that appear to set the stage for cognitive problems later in life, according to new research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
The scientists studied children with Wolfram syndrome, which causes insulin-dependent diabetes in childhood. The disorder also causes hearing and vision loss and kidney problems. As patients get older, they can develop cognitive difficulties and dementia, and more than half die before their 30th birthday.
ScienceDaily (July 5, 2012) — A gene whose mutation results in malformed faces and skulls as well as mental retardation has been found by scientists.
They looked at patients with Potocki-Shaffer syndrome, a rare disorder that can result in significant abnormalities such as a small head and chin and intellectual disability, and found the gene PHF21A was mutated, said Dr. Hyung-Goo Kim, molecular geneticist at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Health Sciences University.
The scientists confirmed PHF21A’s role by suppressing it in zebrafish, which developed head and brain abnormalities similar to those in patients. “With less PHF21A, brain cells died, so this gene must play a big role in neuron survival,” said Kim, lead and corresponding author of the study published in The American Journal of Human Genetics. They reconfirmed the role by giving the gene back to the malformed fish — studied for their adeptness at regeneration — which then became essentially normal. They also documented the gene’s presence in the craniofacial area of normal mice.
While giving the normal gene unfortunately can’t cure patients as it does zebrafish, the scientists believe the finding will eventually enable genetic screening and possibly early intervention during fetal development, including therapy to increase PHF21A levels, Kim said. It also provides a compass for learning more about face, skull and brain formation.
The scientists zeroed in on the gene by using a distinctive chromosomal break found in patients with Potocki-Shaffer syndrome as a starting point. Chromosomes — packages of DNA and protein — aren’t supposed to break, and when they do, it can damage genes in the vicinity.
“We call this breakpoint mapping and the breakpoint is where the trouble is,” said Dr. Lawrence C. Layman, study co-author and Chief of the MCG Section of Reproductive Endocrinology, Infertility and Genetics. Damaged genes may no longer function optimally; in PHF21A’s case it’s about half the norm.
“When you see the chromosome translocation, you don’t know which gene is disrupted,” Layman said. “You use the break as a focus then use a bunch of molecular techniques to zoom in on the gene.” Causes of chromosomal breaks are essentially unknown but likely are environmental and/or genetic, Kim said.
Little was known about PHF21A other than its role in determining how tightly DNA is wound in a package with proteins called histones. How tightly DNA is wound determines whether proteins called transcription factors have the access needed to regulate gene expression, which is important, for example, when a gene needs to be expressed only at a specific time or tissue. PHF21A is believed to primarily work by suppressing other genes, for example, ensuring that genes that should be expressed only in brain cells don’t show up in other cell types, Kim said.
Next steps include using PHF21A as a sort of geographic positioning system to identify other “depressor” genes it regulates then screening patients to look for mutations in those genes as well. “We want to find other people with different genes causing the same problem,” Layman said, and they suspect the genes PHF21A interacts with or regulates are the most likely suspects. It’s too early to know what percentage of Potocki-Shaffer syndrome patients have the PHF21A mutation, Kim noted. “Now that we know the causative gene, we can sequence the gene in more patients and see if they have a mutation,” Layman said.
They also want to look at less-severe forms of mental deficiency, including autism, for potentially milder mutations of PHF21A. More than a dozen of the 25,000 human genes are known to cause craniofacial defects and mental retardation, which often occur together, Kim said.
Source: Science Daily
June 27th, 2012
RTC 13 effectively counteracts ‘nonsense’ mutation that causes disorder.
Scientists at UCLA have identified a new compound that could treat certain types of genetic disorders in muscles. It is a big first step in what they hope will lead to human clinical trials for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy, or DMD, is a degenerative muscle disease that affects boys almost exclusively. It involves the progressive degeneration of voluntary and cardiac muscles, severely limiting the life span of sufferers.
In a new study, senior author Carmen Bertoni, an assistant professor in the UCLA Department of Neurology, first author Refik Kayali, a postgraduate fellow in Bertoni’s lab, and their colleagues demonstrate the efficacy of a new compound known as RTC13, which suppresses so-called “nonsense” mutations in a mouse model of DMD.
The findings appear in the current online edition of the journal Human Molecular Genetics.
“We are excited about these new findings because they represent a major step toward the development of a drug that could potentially treat this devastating disease in humans,” Bertoni said. “We knew that the compounds were effective in cells isolated from the mouse model for DMD, but we did not know how they would behave when administered in a living organism.”
Histopathology of gastrocnemius muscle from patient who died of pseudohypertrophic muscular dystrophy, Duchenne type. Cross section of muscle shows extensive replacement of muscle fibers by adipose cells.
Nonsense mutations are generally caused by a single change in DNA that disrupts the normal cascade of events that changes a gene into messenger RNA, then into a protein. The result is a non-functioning protein. Approximately 13 percent of genetic defects known to cause diseases are due to such mutations. In the case of DMD, the “missing” protein is called dystrophin.
For the study, Bertoni and Kayali collaborated with the laboratory of Dr. Richard Gatti, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and of human genetics at UCLA. Working with the UCLA Molecular Shared Screening Resource facility at the campus’s California NanoSystems Institute, the Gatti lab screened some 35,000 small molecules in the search for new compounds that could ignore nonsense mutations. Two were identified as promising candidates: RTC13 and RTC14.
The Bertoni lab tested RTC13 and RTC14 in a mouse model of DMD carrying a nonsense mutation in the dystrophin gene. While RTC14 was not found to be effective, RTC13 was able to restore significant amounts of dystrophin protein, making the compound a promising drug candidate for DMD. When RTC13 was administered to mice for five weeks, the investigators found that the compound partially restored full-length dystrophin, which resulted in a significant improvement in muscle strength. The loss of muscle strength is a hallmark of DMD.
The researchers also compared the level of dystrophin achieved to the levels seen with another experimental compound, PTC124, which has proved disappointing in clinical trials; RTC13 was found to be more effective in promoting dystrophin expression. Just as important, Bertoni noted, the study found that RTC13 was well tolerated in animals, which suggests it may also be safe to use in humans.
The next step in the research is to test whether an oral formulation of the compound would be effective in achieving therapeutically relevant amounts of dystrophin protein. If so, planning can then begin for clinical testing in patients and for expanding these studies to other diseases that may benefit from this new drug.
Source: Neuroscience News