FOXO links stress to the innate immune response in flies

Life is tough. Every living thing is constantly dealing with insults that damage or disrupt homeostasis. At the cellular level these insults, or stresses, come in multiple forms: starvation, oxidative stress, heat shock, radiation damage, and infection. In response to these stresses, organisms have evolved numerous mechanisms to promote survival. Broadly speaking, an insult stimulates various signaling cascades that alter gene expression in the cell.

One way this is achieved is through the “turning on” of transcription factors. One such transcription factor is FOXO, which is activated under many types of stress, both metabolic and environmental. Another way gene expression can be accomplished is the post-transcriptional control of gene expression. An important player of post-transcriptional control is the small RNA pathways composed of the RNA interference (RNAi), micro RNA (miRNA), and PIWI RNA (piRNA) branches. In a recent article from the Marr lab titled “FOXO regulates RNA interference in Drosophila and protects from RNA virus infection”, published in PNAS this November, the authors identify a new connection between both the transcriptional and small RNA mediated post-transcriptional mechanisms that respond to stress.

Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 9.22.43 AM

RNAi efficiency is enhanced in a dFOXO-dependent manner. For full explanations, see Fig. 2 in Spellberg & Marr (2015)

Using Drosophila as a model system, the authors identify FOXO as a transcription factor that regulates important genes in the small RNA pathways in response to stress. This is the first transcription factor identified to control these genes. Despite being a hot and competitive field for over 15 years, work in small RNA pathways had yet to reveal the transcriptional regulation of the core protein machinery that are involved in small RNA biogenesis and utilization. Under stress conditions, FOXO directly binds the promoters of core small RNA pathway genes, such as Ago1, Ago2, and Dicer 2, leading to increases in their expression. As one might expect, this is followed by an increase in RNAi efficiency and post-transcriptional control of gene expression.

A known physiological role for RNAi is to fight off viral infections as part of an innate immune response. The authors find that FOXO is activated by viral infection to promote this anti-viral response. In addition, animals deleted for the FOXO gene are more susceptible to a viral infection. Theses results are consistent with the notion that virally-activated FOXO stimulates RNAi gene transcription as a mechanism to enhance viral immunity.

Finally, the work in this paper identifies integration between metabolic and stress signaling and the innate immune response, with FOXO serving the bridge. There is evidence that acute stress can confer a protective effect against infection in humans. If the identified role of FOXO is conserved, perhaps it can be utilized therapeutically.

Spellberg MJ, Marr MT, 2nd. FOXO regulates RNA interference in Drosophila and protects from RNA virus infection. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015

DUB inhibitors _or_ why you should you eat your broccoli

Eat your broccoli!

We’re constantly bombarded by advice on which foods to eat or not eat, but skeptics among us often find compelling evidence for a convincing mechanism of how the foods promote health hard to come by – food has many components, and there are many different cells and metabolic pathways in those cells with which those components interact.

phenethyl isothiocyanate (a component of cruciferous vegetables)

phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC, a component of cruciferous vegetables)

Consider broccoli. It is well established that cruciferous vegetables have wide-ranging health benefits, apparently reducing cancer risks and lowering inflammation.  One set of phytochemicals responsible for the potent anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties are called isothiocyanates or ‘ITCs’.  It is now four decades since the discovery of ITCs, yet a molecular understanding of what ITCs do in a cell has proven elusive.

In a paper published this month in Cancer Research, Brandeis research scientist Ann Lawson, working in Liz Hedstrom’s laboratory, together with graduate students Marcus Long (Biochem) and Rory Coffey (Mol Cell Biol) and scientists from UbiQ and from Boston College, has shown that ITCs block the action of deubiquitinating enzymes (DUBs),  including the tumorigenesis-associated enzymes USP9x and UCH37, at physiologically relevant concentrations and time scales.

DUB inhibition provides a simple, unifying explanation that can account for many of the diverse health effects of ITCs. Understanding of how ITCs work at the molecular level may, one day, lead to new drug therapies for illnesses such as cancer, chronic inflammation, and neurodegenerative diseases.

Are you ready for your broccoli now? Me, I think I’ll have some kale sprouts.

Lawson AP, Long MJ, Coffey RT, Qian Y, Weerapana E, El Oualid F, Hedstrom L. Naturally occurring isothiocyanates exert anticancer effects by inhibiting deubiquitinating enzymes. Cancer Res. 2015

Gio Biosco (P’98) gets NIH Pioneer Award

Molecular and Cell Biology alum Giovanni Bosco Giovanni Bosco Ph.D. ’98, currently Associate Professor of Genetics at Dartmouth, recently received a Pioneer Award from the NIH.

Gio Bosco is a die-hard chromatin regulation guy who became interested in whether long-term changes in DNA structure are involved in long-term behavioral plasticity. Gio did his PhD work in Jim Haber’s lab and provided some of the earliest and strongest evidence for a critical DNA repair mechanism called break-induced replication, which plays an essential role in maintaining the integrity of chromosome ends when the normal end-addition of DNA by telomerase is absent.

In his postdoctoral work, Giovanni turned from using yeast as a model system to Drosophila.  In the lab of Terry Orr-Weaver at MIT he focused his attention on the role of DNA replication in regulating gene amplifications and became interested in the importance of post-translational modifications (acetylations and phosphorylations) of the histone proteins that wrap the DNA into chromatin.

Approximately 7 years ago Gio started contemplating the question of how these post-translational histone modifications change during behavior and learning. He returned to his Brandeis roots to develop tools and approaches to address this problem. He received an NIH K18 grant to fund a sabbatical in Leslie Griffith’s lab in 2010. He and his behavior group have remained connected to Brandeis since then through frequent joint group meeting visits.

We’ll be interested to hear more about the role of histone modifications in how learning and memory occurs in the context of social behavior, and in how social behavior can be inherited through multiple generations, as the result of the Bosco lab research funded by this award.


Mitosis: One Polo controls it all

On November 6, 2014, Cell Cycle published a paper from the Yoshida lab entitled “The budding yeast Polo-like kinase Cdc5 is released from the nucleus in anaphase for timely mitotic exit.” This study was authored by Vladimir V. Botchkarev Jr., Valentina Rossio, and Satoshi Yoshida.

The cell cycle is one of the most fundamental biological processes whose ultimate goal is cell division with equal content of DNA in both daughter cells. The process of cell division is regulated by many intracellular events which must occur in a sequential order. These events include mitotic entry, faithful chromosome segregation, mitotic exit, and cytokinesis. Over the past 25 years, the Polo-like kinase (Polo) has been established to play important regulatory roles in each of these processes. Although many mitotic substrates of Polo have been discovered, the mechanism by which Polo can coordinate all of these mitotic events has remained largely elusive.

To understand the mechanism by which Polo can target its many substrates in a sequential order during mitosis, we decided to study the budding yeast Polo kinase Cdc5, which has high conservation with the human Polo-like kinase 1.

We found that Cdc5-GFP dynamically changes its localization during the cell cycle: Cdc5 is found in the cytoplasm in S- through early G2-phase, it accumulates in the nucleus at metaphase, and is released again to the cytoplasm in anaphase. Blocking nuclear import of Cdc5 in metaphase leads to a prolonged metaphase duration, suggesting that nuclear Cdc5 is required for chromosome segregation. In contrast, blocking nuclear release of Cdc5 in anaphase results in a prolonged anaphase duration, a defect in activation of the cytoplasmic Mitotic Exit Network, and a defect in cytokinesis. This indicates that Cdc5 is released from the nucleus to the cytoplasm in anaphase for timely mitotic exit and cytokinesis. We further found that activation of the Cdc14 phosphatase, a known nuclear substrate of Cdc5, is required for Cdc5 nuclear release in anaphase.

Collectively, our work reveals that the budding yeast Polo-like kinase Cdc5 controls the timing of mitotic events by dynamically changing its sub-cellular localization. Furthermore, our data suggests the existence of a positive feedback look between Cdc5 and Cdc14 to regulate timely mitotic exit. Read more

Genetics Training Grant Retreat to be held Friday, 9/26/14

The annual Genetics Training Grant seminar is being held on Friday, September 26th at the Shapiro Campus Center Auditorium at Brandeis University. Four cutting-edge synthetic biologists: Timothy Lu, Ron Weiss, William Shih and Ahmad Khalil will share their research for the Synthetic Biology: Insights and Applications” symposium.
Brandeis graduate students and post-docs will have the opportunity to meet the speakers and present their work in a poster session after the talks. We encourage researchers from all departments to contribute. If you are currently, or previously were on the Genetics Training Grant, presentation of a poster is expected. 

Schedule for GTG Retreat

9:30-10:30 Ron Weiss (MIT, Dept. of Biological Engineering)
“Synthetic biology: from parts to modules to therapeutic systems.”
10:30-11:00 Coffee Break
11:00-12:00 Timothy Lu (MIT, Dept. of Biology Engineering)
“Synthetic biology for human health applications.”
12:00-1:30 Break/Lunch
1:30-2:30 William Shih (Wyss Institute)
“DNA nanostructures as building blocks for molecular biophysics and future therapeutics.”
2:30-3:30 Ahmad Khalil (Boston University, Biomedical Engineering)
“Building molecular assemblies to control the flow of biological information.”
3:30-5:00 Poster session
Shapiro Science Center 2nd floor.
All life sciences students are invited to present.

John Wardle Named Division of Science Head

John Wardle, Division of ScienceSusan Birren, Dean of Arts and Sciences, has announced that John Wardle, Professor of Physics, will be the new Head of the Division of Science.

The following is Susan’s email:

“I am pleased to announce that John Wardle will be the new Head of the Division of Science.  John is an astrophysicist and Professor of Physics and is a former chair of the Physics department.  In his new role he will oversee science-wide programs and initiatives, including the summer undergraduate research program and will work with Division of Science faculty and staff to identify new directions for the division.  I am delighted that he has agreed to take on this role and I hope that you will join with me in welcoming him.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to Eve Marder who, as the first Head of the Division, created and steered many of the priorities of the Division.  During her time as Head, Eve ably represented the Sciences at Brandeis and beyond, worked to make the Summer Undergraduate Science Program a flourishing success, changed the way we trained students and postdocs in the ethical conduct of research, and worked tirelessly to secure funding and recognition for the Sciences.  Thank you Eve!”

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