Current Genomics (v.14, #1)

Editorial by Christian Neri (1-1).

Kallmann Syndrome is a heritable disorder characterized by congenital anosmia, hypogonadotropic hypogonadism and, less frequently, by other symptoms. The X-linked form of this syndrome is caused by mutations affecting the KAL1 gene that codes for the extracellular protein anosmin-1. Investigation of KAL1 function in mice has been hampered by the fact that the murine ortholog has not been identified. Thus studies performed in other animal models have contributed significantly to an understanding of the function of KAL1. In this review, the main results obtained using the two invertebrate models, the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans and the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, are illustrated and the contribution provided by them to the elucidation of the molecular pathogenesis of Kallmann Syndrome is discussed in detail. Structure-function dissection studies performed in these two animal models have shown how the different domains of anosmin-1 carry out specific functions, also suggesting a novel intramolecular regulation mechanism among the different domains of the protein. The model that emerges is one in which anosmin-1 plays different roles in different tissues, interacting with different components of the extracellular matrix. We also describe how the genetic approach in C. elegans has allowed the discovery of the genes involved in KAL1-heparan sulfate proteoglycans interactions and the identification of HS6ST1 as a new disease gene.

Synthetic Genomics and Synthetic Biology Applications Between Hopes and Concerns by Harald Konig, Daniel Frank, Reinhard Heil, Christopher Coenen (11-24).
New organisms and biological systems designed to satisfy human needs are among the aims of synthetic genomics and synthetic biology. Synthetic biology seeks to model and construct biological components, functions and organisms that do not exist in nature or to redesign existing biological systems to perform new functions. Synthetic genomics, on the other hand, encompasses technologies for the generation of chemically-synthesized whole genomes or larger parts of genomes, allowing to simultaneously engineer a myriad of changes to the genetic material of organisms. Engineering complex functions or new organisms in synthetic biology are thus progressively becoming dependent on and converging with synthetic genomics. While applications from both areas have been predicted to offer great benefits by making possible new drugs, renewable chemicals or clean energy, they have also given rise to concerns about new safety, environmental and socio-economic risks – stirring an increasingly polarizing debate. Here we intend to provide an overview on recent progress in biomedical and biotechnological applications of synthetic genomics and synthetic biology as well as on arguments and evidence related to their possible benefits, risks and governance implications.

Autosomal Dominant Hypercholesterolemia: Needs for Early Diagnosis and Cascade Screening in the Tunisian Population by Awatef Jelassi, Mohamed Najah, Afef Slimani, Imen Jguirim, Mohamed Naceur Slimane, Mathilde Varret (25-32).
Autosomal dominant hypercholesterolemia (ADH) is characterized by an isolated elevation of plasmatic lowdensity lipoprotein (LDL), which predisposes to premature coronary artery disease (CAD) and early death. ADH is largely due to mutations in the low-density lipoprotein receptor gene (LDLR), the apolipoprotein B-100 gene (APOB), or the proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9). Early diagnosis and initiation of treatment can modify the disease progression and its outcomes. Therefore, cascade screening protocol with a combination of plasmatic lipid measurements and DNA testing is used to identify relatives of index cases with a clinical diagnosis of ADH. In Tunisia, an attenuated phenotypic expression of ADH was previously reported, indicating that the establishment of a special screening protocol is necessary for this population.

The New Perspectives on Genetic Studies of Type 2 Diabetes and Thyroid Diseases by Min Xu, Yufang Bi, Bin Cui, Jie Hong, Weiqing Wang, Guang Ning (33-48).
Recently, genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have led to the discovery of hundreds of susceptibility loci that are associated with complex metabolic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and hyperthyroidism. The majority of the susceptibility loci are common across different races or populations; while some of them show ethnicity-specific distribution. Though the abundant novel susceptibility loci identified by GWAS have provided insight into biology through the discovery of new genes or pathways that were previously not known, most of them are in introns and the associated variants cumulatively explain only a small fraction of total heritability. Here we reviewed the genetic studies on the metabolic disorders, mainly type 2 diabetes and hyperthyroidism, including candidate genes-based findings and more recently the GWAS discovery; we also included the clinical relevance of these novel loci and the gene-environmental interactions. Finally, we discussed the future direction about the genetic study on the exploring of the pathogenesis of the metabolic diseases.

Mechano-Regulation of Alternative Splicing by Huan Liu, Liling Tang (49-55).
Alternative splicing contributes to the complexity of proteome by producing multiple mRNAs from a single gene. Affymetrix exon arrays and experiments in vivo or in vitro demonstrated that alternative splicing was regulated by mechanical stress. Expression of mechano-growth factor (MGF) which is the splicing isoform of insulin-like growth factor 1(IGF-1) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) splicing variants such as VEGF121, VEGF165, VEGF206, VEGF189, VEGF165 and VEGF145 are regulated by mechanical stress. However, the mechanism of this process is not yet clear. Increasing evidences showed that the possible mechanism is related to Ca2+ signal pathway and phosphorylation signal pathway. This review proposes possible mechanisms of mechanical splicing regulation. This will contribute to the biomechanical study of alternative splicing.

The ascidian (sea squirt) C. intestinalis has become an important model organism for the study of cisregulation. This is largely due to the technology that has been developed for assessing cis-regulatory activity through the use of transient reporter transgenes introduced into fertilized eggs. This technique allows the rapid and inexpensive testing of endogenous or altered DNA for regulatory activity in vivo. This review examines evidence that C. intestinalis cisregulatory elements are located more closely to coding regions than in other model organisms. I go on to compare the organization of cis-regulatory elements and conserved non-coding sequences in Ciona, mammals, and other deuterostomes for three representative C.intestinalis genes, Pax6, FoxAa, and the DlxA-B cluster, along with homologs in the other species. These comparisons point out some of the similarities and differences between cis-regulatory elements and their study in the various model organisms. Finally, I provide illustrations of how C. intestinalis lends itself to detailed study of the structure of cis-regulatory elements, which have led, and promise to continue to lead, to important insights into the fundamentals of transcriptional regulation.

Cellular gene expression is governed by a complex, multi-faceted network of regulatory interactions. In the last decade, microRNAs (miRNAs) have emerged as critical components of this network. miRNAs are small, non-coding RNA molecules that serve as post-transcriptional regulators of gene expression. Although there has been substantive progress in our understanding of miRNA-mediated gene regulation, the mechanisms that control the expression of the miRNAs themselves are less well understood. Identifying the factors that control miRNA expression will be critical for further characterizing miRNA function in normal physiology and pathobiology. We describe recent progress in the efforts to map genomic regions that control miRNA transcription (such as promoters). In particular, we highlight the utility of large-scale “-omic” data, such as those made available by the ENCODE and the NIH Roadmap Epigenomics consortiums, for the discovery of transcriptional control elements that govern miRNA expression. Finally, we discuss how integrative analysis of complementary genetic datasets, such as the NHGRI Genome Wide Association Studies Catalog, can predict novel roles for transcriptional mis-regulation of miRNAs in complex disease etiology.