Browsing by Subject "Genetiikka ja genomiikka"

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  • Aho, Niina (Helsingin yliopisto, 2022)
    Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer in women worldwide and in 2020 it was the fifth deadliest. In Finland 2019 more than 5000 breast cancer cases were diagnosed, 94% in women and 6% in men. Until now, the high-risk breast cancer susceptibility genes have been identified including BRCA1, BRCA2 and TP53 as well as many of the moderate risk genes. Still, together all the identified genes explain only approximately half of the familial breast cancer cases. Furthermore, all the known breast cancer susceptibility genes are linked to the DNA repair mechanism. Serpina3 stands out as a non-DNA repair gene but as a gene that encodes a protease inhibitor which belongs to the serpin superfamily. Serpina3 has been associated with various diseases before and especially changes in its expression levels are linked to the tumor prognosis in many cancers including breast cancer. However, a previous study proposed that Serpina3 c.918-1G>C is a susceptibility variant for breast cancer in the Northern Finland population. This thesis a case-control study to investigate whether Serpina3 c.918-1G>C variant is associated with breast cancer in the Southern Finland population. In addition, the tumor histology and cellular markers of Serpina3 c.918-1G>C carriers were examined. This study utilized DNA collected from breast cancer patients as well as DNA from blood donors and healthy biobank controls. Breast cancer patients included both familial and unselected cases. The prevalence of Serpina3 c.918- 1G<C variant was studied by genotyping the cases and controls. Genotyping was done by TaqMan real-time PCR and carriers were further confirmed by Sanger sequencing. Moreover, statistical tests were used in the data analyses. The studied Serpina3 c.918-1G>C variant was not found to be significantly (p>0.05) enriched in the breast cancer cases. The variant was found in 0.23 % of familial and 0.36 % of unselected cases, altogether in 0.28 % of all studied breast cancer cases, the frequency in controls was 0.27 %. The tumor histology was found to be ductal in 73 % of the Serpina3 c.918- 1G>C variant carriers and only 9 % had lobular tumor. In other words, the tumor histology followed the usual distribution. All the carriers had a HER2 negative tumor and all except one case were both ER and PR positive. About half of the carriers expressed the cellular proliferation marker Ki67. As a conclusion, the results from this study do not suggest Serpina3 c.918-1G>C as a breast cancer risk variant at least in the Southern Finland population.
  • Preussner, Annina (Helsingin yliopisto, 2021)
    The Y chromosome has an essential role in the genetic sex determination in humans and other mammals. It contains a male-specific region (MSY) which escapes recombination and is inherited exclusively through the male line. The genetic variations inherited together on the MSY can be used in classifying Y chromosomes into haplogroups. Y-chromosomal haplogroups are highly informative of genetic ancestry, thus Y chromosomes have been widely used in tracing human population history. However, given the peculiar biology and analytical challenges specific to the Y chromosome, the chromosome is routinely excluded from genetic association studies. Consequently, potential impacts of Y-chromosomal variation on complex disease remain largely uncharacterized. Lately the access to large-scale biobank data has enabled to extend the Y-chromosomal genetic association studies. A recent UK Biobank study suggested links between Y-chromosomal haplogroup I1 and coronary artery disease (CAD) in the British population, but this result has not been validated in other datasets. Since Finland harbours a notable frequency of Y-chromosomal haplogroup I1, the relationship between haplogroup I1 and CAD can further be inferred in the Finnish population using data from the FinnGen project. The first aim of this thesis was to determine the prevalence of Y-chromosomal haplogroups in Finland and characterize their geographical distributions using genotyping array data from the FinnGen project. The second aim was to assess the role between Finnish Y-chromosomal haplogroups and coronary artery disease (CAD) by logistic regression. This thesis characterized the Y-chromosomal haplogroups in Finland for 24 160 males and evaluated the association between Y-chromosomal haplogroups and CAD in Finland. The dataset used in this study was extensive, providing an opportunity to study the Y-chromosomal variation geographically in Finland and its role in complex disease more accurately compared to previous studies. The geographical distribution of the Y-chromosomal haplogroups was characterized on 20 birth regions, and between eastern and western areas of Finland. Consistent with previous studies, the results demonstrated that two major Finnish Y-chromosomal haplogroup lineages, N1c1 and I1, displayed differing distributions within regions, especially between eastern and western Finland. Results from logistic regression analysis between CAD and Y-chromosomal haplogroups suggested no significant association between haplogroup I1 and CAD. Instead, the major Finnish Y-chromosomal haplogroup N1c1 displayed a decreased risk for CAD in the association analysis when compared against other haplogroups. Moreover, this thesis also demonstrated that the association results were not straightforwardly comparable between populations. For instance, haplogroup I1 displayed a decreased risk for CAD in the FinnGen dataset when compared against haplogroup R1b, whereas the same association was reported as risk increasing for CAD in the UK Biobank. Overall, this thesis demonstrates the possibility to study the genetics of Y chromosome using data from the FinnGen project, and highlights the value of including this part of the genome in the future complex disease studies.
  • Jäntti, Maija (Helsingin yliopisto, 2020)
    Uterine leiomyomas are benign tumors originating in the smooth muscle cells of the uterine wall. Leiomyomas represent one of the most common tumor types in women affecting up to 80% of pre-menopausal women. Besides having extensive implications on women´s health through the numerous symptoms they cause, leiomyomas are a cause of remarkable financial burden worldwide. Bivalent promoters are defined by the co-occurrence of two histone modifications with opposite functions: trimethylation of lysine 4 on histone 3 (H3K4me3) and trimethylation of lysine 27 on histone 3 (H3K27me3). H3K4me3 is associated with promoters of actively expressed genes, whereas H3K27me3 is frequently found at promoters of silenced genes. The genes controlled by the bivalent promoters are reversibly silenced or expressed at low levels and remain poised for fast activation or full repression as a response to external cues. Bivalent chromatin is gaining more and more importance as new roles are identified in tumorigenesis and cell differentiation. Despite this, the vast majority of data available was obtained from cell lines, and not from human tissue. The aim of this thesis work was to map the genomic location of bivalent promoters in uterine leiomyoma and myometrium tissue, and to characterize the functions of bivalently-controlled genes in differentiated tissue. This would provide novel information about bivalent promoters’ distribution in human tissues and also their potential role in myomagenesis. Chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by sequencing (ChIP-seq) against H3K4me3 and H3K27me3 was performed on fresh frozen tissue samples of uterine leiomyomas and corresponding myometrium. A promoter was defined as bivalent, if it showed overlap between H3K4me3 and H3K27me3 peaks within a 2 kb region of a gene’s transcription start site in all samples. Altogether 951 bivalent promoters were found in myometrium and leiomyoma. Strikingly, only 231 (24.3%) promoters were present in both tissue types, most bivalent promoters being tissue-specific. These findings indicated bivalent promoters regulating a substantial number of genes also in differentiated tissue and the presence of extensive alterations in bivalent promoter distribution during myomagenesis. Gene ontology analyses of the bivalently-controlled genes in myometrium revealed the highest score for developmental processes. Instead, for leiomyomas, the highest enrichment was detected in stem cell fate specification-related processes. The data presented in this thesis suggests that bivalent chromatin plays an important role during myomagenesis, as it undergoes a significant reorganization during the process. Future experiments will provide novel insights about the role for these changes, i.e.: if they underlie the process.
  • Tiusanen, Ville (Helsingin yliopisto, 2021)
    Enhancers are important regulatory elements of DNA, that are bound by transcription factors (TFs) to regulate gene expression. Enhancers control cell type specific gene expression and they can form structures called super-enhancers, that consist of multiple normal enhancers and are bound by high numbers and variety of transcription factors. These super-enhancers are important for defining cell identity and changes in the super-enhancer landscape have been linked to different cancers. In this project, characterization of super-enhancers and their transcription factors composition between primary and cancer cells were studied using genome-wide next-generation sequencing data from multiple assays, such as ChIP-seq, RNA-seq and ATAC-seq. The focus of the project was on the data processing and analysis to identify and characterize the super-enhancers. Analyses included GSEA, heatmap binding analysis, peak and super-enhancer calling and IGV analysis. This project used pancreatic HPDE cell line for primary cells and different cancers with endodermal origin as cancer cell lines. The goal of the thesis was to try show characteristic features of super-enhancers and their features in normal and cancer cells. Data analysis showed that distinct super-enhancers can be identified in cancer cells and defined super-enhancers had typical strong binding for specific transcription factor and histone modification such as histone 3 lysine 27 acetylation (H3K27ac) mark of active enhancers. Super-enhancer regions were located in highly accessible chromatin regions of the genome, and genes that were associated with HPDE super-enhancers could be shown to have association with cell identity. Peak and super-enhancer calling counts varied between cell lines for transcription factors, histone modifications and super-enhancers. Visualization of super-enhancers was successful and could show transcription factor binding and active enhancers that establish the super-enhancer structure. Comprehensive analyses allowed us to characterize typical features of super-enhancers and show differences in the numbers of super-enhancers between primary and cancer cell lines and cancer cell lines of different organ types. Analysis of the transcription factor binding showed unique peaks on some of the super-enhancers, and these peaks might have a role in inducing the super-enhancer structure.
  • Jokinen, Vilja (Helsingin yliopisto, 2021)
    Uterine leiomyomas are benign smooth muscle tumors arising in myometrium. They are very common, and the incidence in women is up to 70% by the age of 50. Usually, leiomyomas are asymptomatic, but some patients suffer from various symptoms, including abnormal uterine bleeding, pelvic pain, urinary frequency, and constipation. Uterine leiomyomas may also cause subfertility. Genetic alterations in the known driver genes MED12, HMGA2, FH, and COL4A5-6 account for about 90 % of all leiomyomas. These initiator mutations result in distinct molecular subtypes of leiomyomas. The majority of whole-genome sequencing (WGS) studies analyzing chromosomal rearrangements have been performed using fresh frozen tissues. One aim of this study was to examine the feasibility of detecting chromosomal rearrangements from WGS data of formalin-fixed paraffin embedded (FFPE) tissue samples. Previous results from 3’RNA-sequencing data revealed a subset of uterine leiomyoma samples that displayed similar gene expression patterns with HMGA2-positive leiomyomas but were previously classified as HMGA2-negative by immunohistochemistry. According to 3’RNA-sequencing, all these tumors overexpressed PLAG1, and some of them overexpressed HMGA2 or HMGA1. Thus, the second aim of this study was to identify driver mutations in these leiomyoma samples using WGS. In this study, WGS was performed for 16 leiomyoma and 4 normal myometrium FFPE samples. The following bioinformatic tools were used to detect somatic alterations at multiple levels: Delly for chromosomal rearrangements, CNVkit for copy-number alterations, and Mutect for point mutations and small insertions and deletions. Sanger sequencing was used to validate findings. The quality of WGS data obtained from FFPE samples was sufficient for detecting chromosomal rearrangements, although the number of calls were quite high. We identified recurrent chromosomal rearrangements affecting HMGA2, HMGA1, and PLAG1, mutually exclusively. One sample did not harbor any of these rearrangements, but a deletion in COL4A5-6 was found. Biallelic loss of DEPDC5 was seen in one sample with an HMGA2 rearrangement and in another sample with an HMGA1 rearrangement. HMGA2 and HMGA1 encode architectural chromatin proteins regulating several transcription factors. It is well-known that HMGA2 upregulates PLAG1 expression. The structure and functionality of HMGA2 and HMGA1 are very similar and conserved, so it might be that HMGA1 may also regulate PLAG1 expression. The results of this study suggest that HMGA2 and HMGA1 drive tumorigenesis by regulating PLAG1, and thus, PLAG1 rearrangements resulting in PLAG1 overexpression can also drive tumorigenesis. A few samples, previously classified as HMGA2-negative by immunohistochemistry, revealed to harbor HMGA2 rearrangements, suggesting that the proportion of HMGA2-positive leiomyomas might be underestimated in previous studies using immunohistochemistry. Only one study has previously reported biallelic inactivation of DEPDC5 in leiomyomas, and the results of this study support the idea that biallelic loss of DEPDC5 is a secondary driver event in uterine leiomyomas.
  • Lukander, Volter (Helsingin yliopisto, 2022)
    Spinal muscular atrophy of Jokela type (SMAJ) is an autosomal dominant motor-neuron disease caused by a missense mutation c.197G>T, p.G66V in the gene CHCHD10. Coiled-coil-helix-coiled-coil-helix domain-containing protein 10 (CHCHD10) is a nuclear-encoded mitochondrial protein located in the intermembrane space (IMS) of mitochondria with an unknown exact function and disease-causing mechanism. In this project, the overarching aim was to correct a heterozygous SMAJ-causing mutation in patient myoblast cells with CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing. The goal was to create a genetically identical, isogenic, cell line to study only the effects of the mutation on cellular phenotype in vitro. Human myoblast cells isolated from patient biopsies provide the most pertinent experimental model to study neuromuscular atrophy-associated mutations in their natural genomic environment. More specific aims included genome editing optimization with myoblast cells, since it is not as widely conducted as with some other cell types, such as iPSCs. CRISPR-Cas9 ribonucleoprotein (RNP) complex and associated donor template were used to induce homology-directed repair (HDR) in the genome of patient-derived myoblast cells and correct the mutation. After optimization of electroporation conditions for myoblast cells, guide RNAs were designed and transfected into patient myoblasts. Clonal cell lines were made by utilizing techniques such as fluorescence adjusted cell sorting (FACS) and manual colony picking. The success and precision of genome editing were analyzed by Sanger sequencing, comparing the performance of the different guide RNAs with restriction enzyme analysis and Synthego ICE CRISPR web tool, and screening regions of potential off-target genome editing. A genome-edited myoblast cell line with the CHCHD10 c.197G>T mutation corrected, was successfully generated to provide an isogenic control for the patient myoblast cell line. Optimization of myoblast electroporation was successful and conditions used proved to be effective. Clonal cell line creation proved to be challenging with myoblast cells and work is still needed to improve the viability of single-cell clones after FACS. Nevertheless, the advances taken here regarding myoblast genome editing with CRISPR-Cas9 offer a fertile avenue for future research of myoblasts genome manipulation, myogenic disorders, and the role of CHCHD10 in skeletal muscle and SMAJ. Comparing the CHCHD10 protein level and mRNA expression between patient cells, corrected myoblasts, and differentiated myotubes is an area of future research. Future work also includes measuring the mitochondrial integrated stress response in both cell lines and co-culturing myotubes and iPSC derived motor neurons to study the effects of p.G66V on neuromuscular junction (NMJ) formation.
  • Keskinen, Timo (Helsingin yliopisto, 2020)
    Cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy (CADASIL) is an inherited autosomal dominant disease that leads to cognitive impairment, vascular dementia and ischemic strokes. In CADASIL, vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) degrade gradually and are replaced by connective tissue in the small and mid-sized arteries in the brain. Extracellular granular osmiophilic material (GOM) that surround the VSMCs are a unique feature in CADASIL. The causal gene behind CADASIL is Notch3, which encodes a transmembrane protein with a signaling function. There are over 200 cysteine-altering mutations that cause CADASIL in Notch3. The potential pathology causing mechanism is still unclear, but most likely the mechanism is linked to the aggregation of GOM deposits that are potentially toxic to VSMCs. This thesis project aimed to correct CADASIL causing c.475C>T mutation in Notch3 in different CADASIL cell lines with different CRISPR base editor systems. Another aim was to create induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) lines from a CADASIL patient-derived skin biopsy sample to be used in the creation of an in vitro disease model for CADASIL. RNA-based ABEmax base editor system was used to correct immortalized- and primary- CADASIL cell lines. DNA-based ABEmax base editor system was used as a positive control. Simultaneous pluripotent reprogramming and pathogenic CADASIL mutation correction were done in the same transfection during this project. The editing efficiencies were evaluated by Sanger sequencing the genomic target region before and after the transfection. The editing efficiencies were good in general compared to literature. They ranged from 27 % to 73 % target base editing efficiency depending on the editing system-, guide-RNAs - and electroporation parameters used. Confirmed proximal off-target effects were not detected, and distal off-target effects were not evaluated.
  • Kyriacou, Mikael Sakarias (Helsingin yliopisto, 2021)
    MLH1 is a gene that codes for one of the four mismatch repair (MMR) proteins alongside MSH2, MSH6, and PMS2. The main function of the MMR proteins is to recognize base mismatches and insertion-deletion loops formed during DNA replication and aid in their excision. Inherited heterozygous pathogenic variants in any of the four MMR genes lead to Lynch syndrome, an inherited cancer syndrome that predisposes to multiple different cancer types, most notably colorectal cancer. Loss of the expression of an MMR gene causes MMR-deficiency, which leads to microsatellite instability, the accumulation of mutations in microsatellite regions of the DNA. The higher mutational burden caused by MMR-deficiency is thought to be the main driving force of genomic instability and tumorigenesis in MMR-deficient cells. In addition to MMR, MLH1 and the MMR machinery have roles in other anticarcinogenic cellular processes, such as DNA damage signaling and DNA double-strand break repair. Recently, MLH1 has also been shown to have a significant role in regulating mitochondrial metabolism and oxidative stress responses. The identification of MMR-proficient tumors in Lynch syndrome patients begs the question whether the lower amount of functional MLH1 observed in MLH1 mutation carriers could cause problems with these functions and pose alternative routes to tumorigenesis. In line with this, it has been shown that the role of MLH1 in cell cycle regulation in DNA damage signaling is notably more sensitive to decreased amount of the protein compared to its role in MMR. The main goal of the thesis was to study the effects of decreased MLH1 expression on gene expression, cellular functions, and possible alternative tumorigenic pathways. In order to achieve this, the coding transcriptome of human fibroblast cell lines expressing MLH1 at different levels was sequenced and the resulting data analyzed. The study revealed that decreased MLH1 expression affects cellular functions associated with mitochondrial function and oxidative stress responses in cells with functional MMR. Particularly NRF2-controlled cytoprotective defence systems were observed to be downregulated. Decreased MLH1 expression was also observed to affect several cellular functions associated with reorganization of the cytoskeleton and interactions with the extracellular matrix. These results strengthen the recently made notions that MLH1 has a role in controlling the function of mitochondria and in mitigating oxidative stress, and that these two functions are connected. The study also brings to light new information on the possible role of MLH1 in controlling the organization of the cytoskeleton, which has previously received little attention. Dysfunction of mitochondria, increased oxidative stress, and reorganization of the cytoskeleton, as a result of decreased MLH1 expression, could pose events that facilitate malignant transformation of cells prior to the total loss of MMR function.
  • Liu, Jianyin (Helsingin yliopisto, 2022)
    Cytokine release syndrome is a severe systematic inflammatory disease that can be triggered upon pharmaceuticals intake. Evaluating the potential risk levels of novel therapeutics with an optimal assay is therefore essential. In this study, we tried to set up and validate a cytokine release assay from human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) for its application in nonclinical immunotoxicity assessments. Fresh PBMCs were isolated from buffy coats obtained from 11 healthy donors of different characteristics. Freshly isolated PBMCs were treated with LPS, positive control antibodies (anti-CD28, anti-CD3) and their corresponding isotypes (negative control antibodies) in both aqueous and solid formats to assess their abilities to induce cytokine release. Similarly, cryopreserved frozen PBMCs were also incubated with LPS, the positive control antibodies and the negative control antibodies, and compared their cytokine releasing capacities with freshly isolated PBMCs. A nine-cytokine panel (IFNγ, IL-1β, IL-2, IL-4, IL-6, IL-8, IL-10, TNFα, IL-12) was screened to select four cytokines (IFNγ, IL-2, IL-6, TNFα) in the following experimental setup. Freshly isolated PBMCs appeared to have higher sensitivity in response to the treatments as shown by the higher level of cytokine release. However, similar trends of cytokine release were observed between freshly isolated and frozen PBMCs in both aqueous and solid assay formats. LPS and anti-CD3 strongly induced cytokine release in all donors. Conversely, anti-CD28 induced cytokine release in some, but not all donors, possibly due to donor specificity. In summary, we have successfully developed and optimized a cytokine release assay, and it can be used to test the potential risk of immune-modulating drug candidate in the preclinical safety studies.
  • Gómez Sánchez, Celia (Helsingin yliopisto, 2022)
    Kv7.1 is a potassium ion channel comprised of the KCNQ1 protein, which can coassemble with distinct β-subunits modulating the channel functions in different tissues. In 2017, Raivio’s group (from the University of Helsinki) found two missense mutations in the KCNQ1 gene, p.(Arg116Leu) and p.(Pro369Leu), responsible for causing pituitary hormone deficiency and maternally inherited gingival fibromatosis. The facial features and bone structure pointed to a cranial neural crest (CNC)-derived phenotype caused by an alteration in the potassium channel balance, given that these cells form the bone and cartilage of the cranial zone. To understand the implication of the CNC in the KCNQ1 syndrome, I attempted to replicate the CNC differentiation protocol of Suga and Furue (2019) with the aim of obtaining cranial neural crest cells (CNCCs). This would enable future generation of a KCNQ1-related disease model. The differentiation process was carried out thrice, and two BMP4 concentrations (10 and 100 ng/ml) were assayed. The differentiated cells exhibited a CNC-like morphology as well as upregulation of the marker genes (TFAP2A, SOX10, DLX1, MSX1, and DLX2) associated to this cell lineage. However, the gene expression was low according to the qRT-PCR Ct values, which were in most cases higher than 30. Additionally, no differences were found between the two BMP4 treatments. Furthermore, the cells did not express KCNQ1, and thus the impact of the two KCNQ1 mutations was not investigated under this protocol. In conclusion, the protocol had a low efficiency in the generation of CNCCs that was not improved by increasing the BMP4 concentration. Further optimization of the protocol, such as the BMP4 concentration or the cell density of the culture, will be needed to improve its efficiency and obtain an adequate disease model.
  • Vänttinen, Ida (Helsingin yliopisto, 2020)
    Multiple myeloma (MM) is a heterogeneous plasma cell cancer that results from the excessive proliferation of mutated B cells in the bone marrow and the accumulation of ineffective antibodies, monoclonal proteins, in the blood. Despite recent advances in research and novel therapeutics, MM remains incurable, mainly due to the mechanisms underlying disease progression and drug resistance. Therefore, novel biomarkers and therapeutics for the treatment of relapsed and refractory MM are urgently needed. MicroRNAs (miRNAs), short non-coding RNA molecules that play a key role in post-transcriptional gene regulation, have been found to be associated with different hallmarks of MM. Previous studies have indicated that abnormally functioning miRNA-mediated gene regulation followed by oncogene activation and tumor suppressor gene silencing results in drastic alterations in cell proliferation, apoptosis, growth, and metabolism. These changes in cellular functions have been indicated to be associated with the pathogenesis, progression, and formation of drug resistance in MM. Therefore, the role and potential of miRNAs to act as biomarkers to predict MM progression and drug sensitivity should be further investigated to ultimately improve the survival rates of patients. The aim of this master’s thesis was to investigate the relationships between drug sensitivity, disease progression and miRNA regulation in MM patients. Bioinformatically predicted miRNAs identified to be associated with sensitivity to panobinostat, a novel histone deacetylase inhibitor, and MM progression were validated in MM patient samples by using real-time quantitative reverse transcription PCR (RT-qPCR). In addition, the specific gene targets of miRNAs involved in the regulation of drug responses and MM progression were predicted by identifying statistically significant, negatively correlated interactions between the miRNA and RNA sequencing data of 45 MM patients in pairwise comparative correlation analysis. Finally, the predicted miRNA targets genes were validated in MM patient samples using RT-qPCR. Based on the bioinformatic analyses and RT-qPCR validation, mir-424 expression was significantly increased in relapsed MM patients as compared to respective patient samples taken at diagnosis, suggesting a potential role of mir-424 in MM progression. Similarly, mir-4433b expression was significantly elevated in panobinostat-resistant patients compared to sensitive patients, suggesting a potential effect of mir-4433b on the regulation of panobinostat drug response in MM patients. In addition, the RT-qPCR validation demonstrated that the disease progression and drug sensitivity associated mir-92b, mir-363 and mir-221, would potentially regulate the expression of FGF2, MFF, and TMEM248, respectively, providing novel insights into the functional roles of miRNAs in MM pathways.
  • Rämö, Karita (Helsingin yliopisto, 2022)
    Every year in the western world 3–5% of newborns suffer permanent damages due to prenatal alcohol exposure. Alcohol causes the symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), which consist of various structural, cognitive, and behavioral neurological defects and distinctive craniofacial features, although in many cases the condition is undiagnosed. The frequency, amount, and timing of alcohol consumption during pregnancy critically influence the symptoms and their severity. Despite the serious consequences and frequent incidence, there is still no clear information on the etiology of FASD symptoms or the timing specific effects of alcohol. However, it has been hypothesized that the early pregnancy is especially susceptible to environmental exposures, such as alcohol, because there is rapid cell proliferation, cell differentiation, and epigenetic reprogramming taking place in the embryo. Gastrulation is a crucial developmental stage in early embryonic development where the three germ layers, endoderm, mesoderm, and ectoderm form and create a foundation for all further development. The aims of this thesis are to study how alcohol affects the gene expression in undifferentiated human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) compared to cells differentiating into the germ layers, and how the gene expression in each of the germ layers is affected. To study the differentiation in gastrulation, hESCs were differentiated in vitro under alcohol exposure to endoderm, mesoderm, and ectoderm with STEMdiff™ Trilineage Differentiation Kit. Gene expression in differentiated germ layers and undifferentiated hESCs was analyzed with 3’mRNA sequencing. The results show that the number of genes with alcohol-induced differential expression is considerably higher in hESCs than in the germ layers indicating that undifferentiated hESCs are more susceptible to alcohol than differentiating cells, which is in agreement with findings from previous studies. In the germ layers, alcohol affected the expression of many genes involved in developmentally important signaling pathways such as FGF, Wnt, and TGF-β. Each of the germ layers have different gene expression profiles and accordingly, they exhibit a unique response to alcohol. Furthermore, the differentially expressed genes reveal intriguing connections to the FASD phenotype, notably, in ectodermal cells alcohol caused differential expression in many genes related to neurodevelopment.
  • Karmila, Nelli (Helsingin yliopisto, 2022)
    Schizophrenia is a debilitating psychiatric disorder associated with reduced life expectancy. The biological mechanism of schizophrenia is nebulous; however, many findings point to the central nervous system and neurons, where a reduction in dendritic spines has been indicated by previous research. The genetic findings support the involvement of synapses in the pathogenesis of schizophrenia. To study the biological properties stemming from genetics, relevant model systems and efficient methods are needed. Induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology offers a robust method for modeling the biological processes underlying schizophrenia. Somatic cells, e.g. fibroblasts, can be reprogrammed back to a pluripotent state resembling embryonic stem cells, and further differentiated into any cell type of the body, which might not be otherwise accessible. This allows establishing and characterizing neuronal cultures from patient and control cell lines, potentially revealing biological differences associated to the disease phenotype. The field of schizophrenia research has adopted iPSC technology and multiple studies have been conducted. These include assessments of synaptic density in the produced neuronal cultures, many of which reported decreased density associated with schizophrenia. In this thesis, a modified version of Nehme et al. (2018) protocol was used to differentiate iPSCs into neurons in co-cultures with human iPSC-derived astrocytes. The overarching aim was to construct an immunocytochemistry (ICC) -based assay to measure synaptic density in the produced co-cultures. First, suitable markers for characterization by ICC were tested and selected. The markers were selected to inform about neuronal identity, maturity, and synapses of the differentiated neurons. Next, the culturing conditions were optimized regarding the cell density and coating of the culturing wells. Finally, to estimate the utility of the assay, a pilot study was performed with three cell lines derived from a healthy control and a monozygotic twin pair discordant for schizophrenia. iPSCs from these cell lines were differentiated into neurons in co-cultures with astrocytes, and then characterized with ICC using selected markers and image analysis software. The synaptic density was quantified for each cell line. The performance of the assay was evaluated with analysis of variance (ANOVA) and restricted maximum likelihood model (RELM). An assay to quantify synaptic structures in mature neurons was established. The average synaptic density for all cell lines was approximately 1 synapse per 100μm of neurite. Analysis of the data produced with the assay revealed a notable batch effect and technical variation. This suggests that further optimization is needed to reduce variance from undesired sources. The pilot data suggests that the differences in synaptic density between cases and controls may be modest, further highlighting the need for minimizing noise in the assay to improve signal to noise ratio. However, indicated by power analysis, large sample sizes are needed to identify meaningful differences between cases and controls. In light of these results, more attention should be drawn to the methodology in the field of iPSC-based studies, as the principals of the assay constructed here were similar to other synaptic assays used in previous publications.
  • Zhou, Quan (Helsingin yliopisto, 2020)
    Leaf senescence is a developmental and physiological phase in plants to end leaf development. Environment factors such as drought stress, extreme temperature, and pathogen threat and internal factors including age and reactive oxygen species induce leaf senescence. Some phytohormones such as jasmonic acid and salicylic acid play a key function in cell death in plants. WRKY transcription factors is known as one of the largest transcription factor family in plants which regulates a variety of plants processes. WRKY75 which belong to WRKY transcription factors has shown multiple functions in plant development like regulation of Pi starvation responses and root development and flowering. In my thesis, I focused on the role of WRKY75 in senescence and stress responses. WRKY75 was identified as a positive regulator of cell death in Arabidopsis. WRKY75 can promote salicylic acid biosynthesis by promote transcript levels of SID2 and also cause hydrogen peroxide accumulation by suppressing the transcription of CAT2. Hydrogen peroxide and salicylic acid can promote WRKY75 transcription at the same time. To evaluate the function of WRKY75 transcription factor in SA signalling and cell death, three lesion mimic mutants acd5, cat2, dnd1 and their corresponding wrky75 double mutant were used. Interestingly, no different phenotypes were found between acd5, cat2, dnd1 and their corresponding wrky75 double mutants in cell death and hydrogen peroxide accumulation detection in Arabidopsis leaves. Meanwhile, marker genes transcription levels were not different in both short day and long day growth condition. However, different phenotypes were observed in botrytis infection. Based on these results, we formed a hypothesis that gene redundancy could influence genetic characterization of WRKY75. To overcome this problem, SRDX-WRKY75 chimeric repressor transgenic lines were generated. The SRDX domain act as a dominant negative regulator to suppress WRKY75 target genes. In future research, these new lines can be used to test transcript levels for putative WRKY75 target genes.
  • Laiho, Elina (Helsingin yliopisto, 2021)
    The European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is a small mammal native to the Iberian Peninsula, but introduced by humans to all continents except Antarctica. The rabbit has been a remarkably successful invasive species due to its generalist nature and fast reproduction. Its spreading has mostly been destructive to the local nature, and humans have used fatal rabbit diseases such as rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) to control harmful populations. The rabbit population in Helsinki is one of the most northern annually surviving rabbit populations in the world. It is believed to have originated from escaped pet rabbits in the late 1980s, and in the early 2000s, the rabbits spread rapidly around the Helsinki area. RHD spread unintentionally to Finland in 2016, and the disease caused a significant reduction in the Helsinki rabbit population. Rabbit population genetics has previously been studied in several countries, but never before in Finland. The aim of the thesis was to examine the genetic diversity and population structure of the Helsinki rabbit population before and after the RHD epidemic, and to compare the results to similar preceding rabbit population genetic studies. Rabbit populations have previously been found to recover from major population crashes without a notable loss in genetic diversity using DNA microsatellite markers. The recent RHD epidemic in Helsinki provided an opportunity to study, whether a rabbit population can recover from a population crash even in a harsher environment without losing genetic diversity. To conduct genetic analysis, fourteen DNA microsatellite loci were genotyped from individuals caught during two distinct time periods, in 2008-2009 (n=130) and in 2019-2020 (n=59). Population structure was observed in both temporal rabbit populations with small but significant FST values. The 2019-2020 population was more diverse than the 2008-2009 population in terms of allele numbers and expected heterozygosity. This result was unexpected considering the recent RHD-epidemic but could be explained by gene flow from new escaped rabbits. Compared to other wild rabbit populations around the world, the Helsinki area rabbits exhibit significantly lower genetic diversity. Bottleneck tests showed a significant signal separately in both temporal populations, but the RHD bottleneck cannot be distinguished based on the tests. The results could be biased by new gene flow, or the initial bottleneck caused by the founder effect of only a few pet rabbits. The rabbits have demonstrated their adaptation and survival skills in the cold climate of Helsinki. The population has significantly lower genetic diversity compared to other wild populations, yet recovered from a major RHD epidemic without reduction in genetic diversity under these more extreme environmental conditions. It has been proven again; the rabbit is a thriving invasive species.
  • Nihtilä, Julia (Helsingin yliopisto, 2021)
    Henoch-Schölein purpura (HSP) is a vasculitis of small vessels and its characteristics include abnormal accumulation of IgA immunocomplexes on vessel walls as well as abnormal glycosylation patterns of IgA. HSP is an autoimmune disease like inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). The genetic background of HSP has not been studied in Finnish population before, and only one genome-wide association study has been conducted for HSP before. Therefore investigating the Finnish genetic associations of HSP on a genome-wide level is of value. In this study the genetic background of HSP is studied with genome-wide association analyses performed on 424,041 genotyped SNPs passing quality control, HLA alleles imputed from the SNPs, and for their allele-level HLA protein sequences with the aim of replicating previous HSP associations in a Finnish cohort. There were 46 HSP individuals and 18,757 controls (216 bone marrow donors and 18,541 blood donors) passing quality control and included in the study. R package HIBAG was used for HLA imputation, and SPAtest package was used for the association analyses. In the association analyses, a region in chromosome 6 passed genome-wide significance (SNP with the smallest p-value: p 6,57 x 10-10, OR 0.14[0.1-0.2]) and the region contained both predisposing and protective associations. Of HLA alleles, DQB1*05:01, DQA1*01:01 ja DRB1*01:01 surpassed genome-wide significance level (p values 4,99 x 10-9, 1,04 x 10-8 and 2,37 x 10-8, respectively) and were positively associated with HSP. Five amino acid positions were significantly associated with HSP (p-values 3,9 x 10-10, 7,37 x 10-9, 1,26 x 10-8, 1,69 x 10-8 and 2,41 x 10-8), being both protective and predisposing to HSP. In addition, the genetic background of HSP was compared with that of IBD by comparing their GWAS results of genotyped SNPs, HLA alleles and their protein sequences. There were 49 IBD patients after quality control, and the same controls as for HSP (18,541 individuals) were included in the association analyses of IBD. The diseases seem to share some of their genetic background. According to the results, HSP seems to associate primarily with HLA class 2 and the result is also compatible with previous studies linking HSP to this region. The results also replicate previous GWAS findings in HLA class 2. According to this it is likely that the same HLA alleles are notable genetic factors in both Finnish and Spanish populations. The connection between HSP and IBD could potentially have to do with intestinal microbes aiding the onset of autoimmune diseases in genetically susceptible hosts.
  • Högel, Caroline (Helsingin yliopisto, 2022)
    The aim for this project is to set up a high-content imaging pipeline for phenotypic analysis of single cells in peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) samples from healthy blood donors. The blood donors selected for the optimization experiments are known to carry specific allele variants of interest, based on an earlier FinnGen study. The main question is whether these genetic differences result in phenotypic changes in the PBMCs that can be identified by microscopic imaging and AI-guided image analysis. In this Pro Gradu work, I have optimized the pipeline of PBMC sample handling, immunostaining, and phenotypic imaging. PBMCs were gathered from healthy donors at the Blood Service Biobank. The frozen PBMC samples were thawed, and cells were plated on 384-well plates prior to immediate fixation with paraformaldehyde. The cells were then stained with fluorescent cell markers based on the Cell Painting assay (Bray 2016), followed by wide-field and confocal imaging with Opera Phenix high-content confocal microscope (FIMM High Content Imaging and Analysis unit). Novel deep learning methods are now being developed (Pitkänen group) to automatically learn phenotypes from the collected imaging data and associate them to the donor’s genotypes. We also used in-house tools for cell segmentation and further analysis as well as quality control (Paavolainen group). Primary results based on the features extracted from acquired images showed promising cell type - and donor -type specific clustering.
  • Müller, Linda Helena (Helsingin yliopisto, 2022)
    Puberty initiation is a crucial physiological process in human development. A group of hypothalamic neurons secreting the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) and expressing the kisspeptin receptor (KISS1R) plays a key role in launching puberty. Furthermore, cellular KISS1R signaling has been shown to regulate GnRH expression and secretion. Although the in vitro differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells into GnRH-secreting neurons has been successful, it is of high interest to generate KISS1R expressing GnRH neurons. By utilizing the CRISPR activation technology, this study aimed to establish a conditional KISS1R-activation cell line using H9 human embryonic stem cells. Through controlling dCas9VP192 abundance using the Tet-On system combined with the dihydrofolate reductase destabilizing domain, the transcriptional activation of KISS1R was temporally regulated by the addition of two antibiotic drugs - doxycycline and trimethoprim. KISS1R expression was primarily assessed by qPCR and verified by immunocytochemistry and the use of a KISS1R-GFP reporter cell line. The main finding of this study is the achievement of a 6217 ± 2286 fold change in KISS1R transcription by introducing two guide RNAs (N = 3). Nevertheless, leaky gene activation was observed without drug treatment (fold change of 63 ± 51). Concludingly, this study successfully led to the generation of a KISS1R-activation cell line. After further characterization and refinement of the activation protocol, the established cell line will enable to investigate whether KISS1R upregulation modulates in vitro GnRH neuron differentiation, electrophysiology, hormone expression, and secretion in the future. Respective outcomes may lead to advances in understanding and treating pubertal disorders.
  • Wei, Xiaodong (Helsingin yliopisto, 2022)
    The composition and dynamics of the early life gut microbiota plays a major role in establishing neonatal immunity and is suggested to have multiple impacts on the child’s long-term health. Meanwhile, the composition of the infant gut microbiome has been shown to be affected by the birth mode, infant health and diet. However, the characterization of the infant gut microbiome and its impact on the host’s health is still challenging as the contribution and importance of multiple co-factors on the early microbiome during infant growth is still poorly understood and characterized. The Health and Early-life microbiota (HELMi) is a cohort of more than 1000 healthy Finnish infants currently followed from birth to 4-5 years old. By now, the HELMi dataset comprises more than 400 whole genome shotgun metagenomes obtained from stool samples from 80 infants and parents, but also an in-depth characterization of the families’ lifestyle, environment, health and nutrition, allowing for a precise and cutting-edge characterization of the early gut microbiota. Based on the datasets from the HELMi, this project used Metaphlan3, Kraken and Braken to determine the best computational approach for the taxonomic profiling of the metagenomic reads. Then a PERMANOVA test was performed to evaluate and determine the factors significantly associated with the compositional microbiota variation within the infant gut metagenomes. This study first identified technical factors introducing bias in taxonomic profiling (e.g., DNA extraction batch), which served as confounders in the analysis of environmental and host variables. The investigation of these biological factors indicates that pre-natal and peri-natal variables such as the mode of delivery significantly impact the infant gut microbiota, while we did not identify any significant impact of breastfeeding habits and medication exposures in this study.
  • Perkiö, Anna (Helsingin yliopisto, 2021)
    Long interspersed nuclear element 1 (LINE-1 or L1) belongs to a class of retrotransposons. In other words, it is a DNA element that can copy and paste itself around the genome. There are approximately 500,000 copies present in humans, but only around 5,000 are expected to remain transcriptionally competent. The activity of L1s is generally strongly repressed in normal human tissues, but in many cancers, these elements are reactivated. Both L1 transposition and transcription can have significant effects on cellular function, making it an interesting topic of research from a pathological point-of-view. By studying and understanding more about this transposon, it could be possible to find novel screening methods or even therapeutics for different cancers. One of these cancer types is high-grade serous ovarian carcinoma (HGSOG), which is known for exhibiting L1 upregulation. However, the quantification of L1 transcription has been proven to be very challenging, mostly due to alignment issues caused by the repetitive nature of the element. In addition, a large proportion of L1s reside within genes, meaning that L1 sequence -containing transcripts frequently do not originate from the L1’s own promoter. This thesis aimed to tackle these challenges; I quantified L1 expression at the single-locus level in 11 pre- and post-chemo HGSOC sample pairs, as well as in 5 samples from healthy women, based on single-cell RNA-sequencing. In addition to comparing L1 activity in different sample and cell types, I researched whether L1 activity was associated with any changes in gene expression. The poly(A) site of an L1 is relatively weak, meaning that L1 transcription frequently extends over it. Based on this fact, the utilized approach was to quantify L1 expression based on reads mapping to the 1 kilobase downstream window of each L1 locus, thus minimizing the alignment issues of repetitive elements. Thereafter, the features of the detected loci were carefully assessed to separate false-positive L1s from those with evidence supporting genuine activity, such as tumor sample enriched expression, lack of correlation to host gene, and detection with bulk RNA-sequencing. The activity of the latter loci was then further analyzed to search for differences in L1 expression between pre- and post-chemo samples. In addition, the association between L1-activity and gene expression was examined based on regression models both at the individual gene and molecular signature gene set-level. It was found that L1 expression data is filled with factitiously active loci, highlighting the importance of careful analysis and wet lab validations when studying transposon activity. However, regardless of the issues arising from a sparse and unreliable dataset, I showed that L1 activity was negatively associated with the expression of MYC target genes. MYC has been previously shown to be a transcriptional repressor of the L1, indicating that the obtained results are legitimate. Even though the results obtained from this study appear to be biologically justifiable, they would require further validation to ensure their authenticity. In addition, for the future it would be essential to enhance the sensitivity of the utilized workflow to minimize the sparsity of the data, so that statistical analyses performed would become more reliable. Nevertheless, it was shown that assessing L1 expression at the single-cell level using RNA-sequencing is executable.