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  • Siitonen, Annika (Helsingin yliopisto, 2008)
    RAPADILINO syndrome is an autosomally resessively inherited condition that belongs to a group of rare syndromes more common in Finland than in other parts of the world. RAPADILINO is characterized by pre- and postnatal growth retardation, radial ray defects, diarrhoea of unknown aetiology during chilhood, a facial resemblance with other patients and normal intelligence. In Finland, 15 patients with this condition have been found which compares with only five patients in other parts of the world. We found RECQL4 gene mutations in RAPADILINO patients and proved this syndrome to be allelic with a subgroup of Rothmund-Thomson syndrome (RTS). Later we found RECQL4 mutations in patients with Baller-Gerold syndrome (BGS). These three syndromes share clinical findings and differential diagnostics rely on poikiloderma and craniosynostosis not seen in RAPADILINO syndrome. We found five different mutations in the Finnish RAPADILINO patients. The g.2545delT mutation is the founder mutation in the Finnish population as all the patients are either homozygotes or compound heterozygotes for it. This mutation leads to the inframe skipping of exon seven from mRNA. The protein encoded by this mutant mRNA lacks the nuclear retention signal and thus leads to the mislocalization of the mutant protein. The genotype-phenotype correlation is not straightforward but it seems that RAPADILINO could be due to alteration in protein function and truncating mutations in both alleles are more common among RTS patients. RTS patients with RECQL4 mutations have an elevated risk for osteosarcoma, but their risk to develop other types of malignancies is not increased.Two Finnish RAPADILINO patients have been diagnosed with osteosarcoma, but in addition to this we have found an excess of lymphoma cases among the Finnish RAPADILINO patients. This difference between cancer types could be due to different mutations found in these syndromes. The mutation screening of the patients will help to differentiate patients who have RECQL4 mutations and thus the elevated cancer risk. Patients will benefit from the follow up since early detection of malignancies is important for the treatment.
  • Ekelund, Jesper (Helsingin yliopisto, 2001)
  • Wedenoja, Juho (Helsingin yliopisto, 2010)
    Schizophrenia, affecting about 1% of population worldwide, is a severe mental disorder characterized by positive and negative symptoms, such as psychosis and anhedonia, as well as cognitive deficits. At present, schizophrenia is considered a complex disorder of neurodevelopmental origin with both genetic and environmental factors contributing to its onset. Although a number of candidate genes for schizophrenia have been highlighted, only very few schizophrenia patients are likely to share identical genetic liability. This study is based on the nation-wide schizophrenia family sample of the National Institute for Health and Welfare, and represents one of the largest and most well-characterized familial series in the world. In the first part of this study, we investigated the roles of the DTNBP1, NRG1, and AKT1 genes in the background of schizophrenia in Finland. Although these genes are associated with schizophrenia liability in several populations, any significant association with clinical diagnostic information of schizophrenia remained absent in our sample of 441 schizophrenia families. In the second part of this study, we first replicated schizophrenia linkage on the long arm of chromosome 7 in 352 schizophrenia families. In the following association analysis, we utilized additional clinical disorder features and intermediate phenotypes – endophenotypes - in addition to diagnostic information from altogether 290 neuropsychologically assessed schizophrenia families. An intragenic short tandem repeat allele of the regional RELN gene, supposed to play a role in the background of several neurodevelopmental disorders, showed significant association with poorer cognitive functioning and more severe schizophrenia symptoms. Additionally, this risk allele was significantly more prevalent among the individuals affected with schizophrenia spectrum disorders. We have previously identified linkage of schizophrenia and its cognitive endophenotypes on the long arms of chromosomes 2, 4, and 5. In the last part of this study, we selected altogether 104 functionally relevant candidate genes from the linked regions. We detected several promising associations, of which especially interesting are the ERBB4 gene, showing association with the severity of schizophrenia symptoms and impairments in traits related to verbal abilities, and the GRIA1 gene, showing association with the severity of schizophrenia symptoms. Our results extend the previous evidence that the genetic risk for schizophrenia is at least partially mediated via the effects of the candidate genes and their combinations on relevant brain systems, resulting in alterations in different disorder domains, such as the cognitive deficits.
  • Piippo, Kirsi (Helsingin yliopisto, 2001)
  • Nieminen, Pekka (Helsingin yliopisto, 2007)
    Congenital missing of teeth, tooth agenesis or hypodontia, is one of the most common developmental anomalies in man. The common forms in which one or a few teeth are absent, may cause occlusal or cosmetic harm, while severe forms which are relatively rare always require clinical attention to support and maintain the dental function. Observation of tooth agenesis is also important for diagnosis of malformation syndromes. Some external factors may cause developmental defects and agenesis in dentition. However, the role of inheritance in the etiology of tooth agenesis is well established by twin and family studies. Studies on familial tooth agenesis as well as mouse null mutants have also identified several genetic factors. However, these explain syndromic or rare dominant forms of tooth agenesis, whereas the genes and defects responsible for the majority of cases of tooth agenesis, especially the common and less severe forms, are largely unknown. In this study it was shown, that a dominant nonsense mutation in PAX9 was responsible for severe tooth agenesis (oligodontia) in a Finnish family. In a study of tooth agenesis associated with Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, it was shown that severe tooth agenesis was present if the causative deletion in 4p spanned the MSX1 locus. It was concluded that severe tooth agenesis was caused by haploinsufficiency of these transcription factors. A summary of the phenotypes associated with known defects in MSX1 and PAX9 showed that, despite similarities, they were significantly different, suggesting that the genes, in addition to known interactions, also have independent roles during the development of human dentition. The original aim of this work was to identify gene defects that underlie the common incisor and premolar hypodontia. After excluding several candidate genes, a genome-wide search was conducted in seven Finnish families in which this phenotype was inherited in an autosomal dominant manner. A promising locus for second premolar agenesis was identified in chromosome 18 in one family and this finding was supported by results from other families. The results also implied the existence of other loci both for second premolar agenesis and for incisor agenesis. On the other hand the results did not lend support for comprehensive involvement of the most obvious candidate genes in the etiology of incisor and premolar hypodontia. Rather, they suggest remarkable genetic heterogeneity of tooth agenesis. The available evidence suggests that quantitative defects during tooth development predispose to a failure to overcome a developmental threshold and to agenesis. The results of the study increase the understanding of the etiology and heredity of tooth agenesis. Further studies may lead to identification of novel genes that affect the development of teeth.
  • Västinsalo, Hanna (Helsingin yliopisto, 2011)
    Usher syndrome (USH) is an inherited blindness and deafness disorder with variable vestibular dysfunction. The syndrome is divided into three subtypes according to the progression and severity of clinical symptoms. The gene mutated in Usher syndrome type 3 (USH3), clarin 1 (CLRN1), was identified in Finland in 2001 and two mutations were identified in Finnish patients at that time. Prior to this thesis study, the two CLRN1 gene mutations were the only USH mutations identified in Finnish USH patients. To further clarify the Finnish USH mutation spectrum, all nine USH genes were studied. Seven mutations were identified: one was a previously known mutation in CLRN1, four were novel mutations in myosin VIIa (MYO7A) and two were a novel and a previously known mutation in usherin (USH2A). Another aim of this thesis research was to further study the structure and function of the CLRN1 gene, and to clarify the effects of mutations on protein function. The search for new splice variants resulted in the identification of eight novel splice variants in addition to the three splice variants that were already known prior to this study. Studies of the possible promoter regions for these splice variants showed the most active region included the 1000 bases upstream of the translation start site in the first exon of the main three exon splice variant. The 232 aa CLRN1 protein encoded by the main (three-exon) splice variant was transported to the plasma membrane when expressed in cultured cells. Western blot studies suggested that CLRN1 forms dimers and multimers. The CLRN1 mutant proteins studied were retained in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and some of the USH3 mutations caused CLRN1 to be unstable. During this study, two novel CLRN1 sequence alterations were identified and their pathogenicity was studied with cell culture protein expression. Previous studies with mice had shown that Clrn1 is expressed in mouse cochlear hair cells and spiral ganglion cells, but the expression profile in mouse retina remained unknown. The Clrn1 knockout mice display cochlear cell disruption/death, but do not have a retinal phenotype. The zebrafish, Danio rerio, clrn1 was found to be expressed in hair cells associated with hearing and balance. Clrn1 expression was also found in the inner nuclear layer (INL), photoreceptor layer and retinal pigment epithelium layer (RPE) of the zebrafish retina. When Clrn1 production was knocked down with injected morpholino oligonucleotides (MO) targeting Clrn1 translation or correct splicing, the zebrafish larvae showed symptoms similar to USH3 patients. These larvae had balance/hearing problems and reduced response to visual stimuli. The knowledge this thesis research has provided about the mutations in USH genes and the Finnish USH mutation spectrum are important in USH patient diagnostics. The extended information about the structure and function of CLRN1 is a step further in exploring USH3 pathogenesis caused by mutated CLRN1 as well as a step in finding a cure for the disease.
  • von und zu Fraunberg, Mikael (Helsingin yliopisto, 2003)
  • Huopaniemi, Laura (Helsingin yliopisto, 2000)
  • Jalkanen, Reetta (Helsingin yliopisto, 2008)
    Inherited retinal diseases are the most common cause of vision loss among the working population in Western countries. It is estimated that ~1 of the people worldwide suffer from vision loss due to inherited retinal diseases. The severity of these diseases varies from partial vision loss to total blindness, and at the moment no effective cure exists. To date, nearly 200 mapped loci, including 140 cloned genes for inherited retinal diseases have been identified. By a rough estimation 50% of the retinal dystrophy genes still await discovery. In this thesis we aimed to study the genetic background of two inherited retinal diseases, X-linked cone-rod dystrophy and Åland Island eye disease. X-linked cone-rod dystrophy (CORDX) is characterized by progressive loss of visual function in school age or early adulthood. Affected males show reduced visual acuity, photophobia, myopia, color vision defects, central scotomas, and variable changes in fundus. The disease is genetically heterogeneous and two disease loci, CORDX1 and CORDX2, were known prior to the present thesis work. CORDX1, located on Xp21.1-11.4, is caused by mutations in the RPGR gene. CORDX2 is located on Xq27-28 but the causative gene is still unknown. Åland Island eye disease (AIED), originally described in a family living in Åland Islands, is a congenital retinal disease characterized by decreased visual acuity, fundus hypopigmentation, nystagmus, astigmatism, red color vision defect, myopia, and defective night vision. AIED shares similarities with another retinal disease, congenital stationary night blindness (CSNB2). Mutations in the L-type calcium channel α1F-subunit gene, CACNA1F, are known to cause CSNB2, as well as AIED-like disease. The disease locus of the original AIED family maps to the same genetic interval as the CACNA1F gene, but efforts to reveal CACNA1F mutations in patients of the original AIED family have been unsuccessful. The specific aims of this study were to map the disease gene in a large Finnish family with X-linked cone-rod dystrophy and to identify the disease-causing genes in the patients of the Finnish cone-rod dystrophy family and the original AIED family. With the help of linkage and haplotype analyses, we could localize the disease gene of the Finnish cone-rod dystrophy family to the Xp11.4-Xq13.1 region, and thus establish a new genetic X-linked cone-rod dystrophy locus, CORDX3. Mutation analyses of candidate genes revealed three novel CACNA1F gene mutations: IVS28-1 GCGTC>TGG in CORDX3 patients, a 425 bp deletion, comprising exon 30 and flanking intronic regions in AIED patients, and IVS16+2T>C in an additional Finnish patient with a CSNB2-like phenotype. All three novel mutations altered splice sites of the CACNA1F gene, and resulted in defective pre-mRNA splicing suggesting altered or absent channel function as a disease mechanism. The analyses of CACNA1F mRNA also revealed novel alternative wt splice variants, which may enhance channel diversity or regulate the overall expression level of the channel. The results of our studies may be utilized in genetic counseling of the families, and they provide a basis for studies on the pathogenesis of these diseases. In the future, the knowledge of the genetic defects may be used in the identification of specific therapies for the patients.
  • Valli-Jaakola, Kaisa (Helsingin yliopisto, 2007)
    The prevalence of obesity is increasing at an alarming rate in all age groups worldwide. Obesity is a serious health problem due to increased risk of morbidity and mortality. Although environmental factors play a major role in the development of obesity, the identification of rare monogenic defects in human genes have confirmed that obesity has a strong genetic component. Mutations have been identified in genes encoding proteins of the leptin-melanocortin signaling system, which has an important role in the regulation of appetite and energy balance. The present study aimed at identifying mutations and genetic variations in the melanocortin receptors 2-5 and other genes active on the same signaling pathway accounting for severe early-onset obesity in children and morbid obesity in adults. The main achievement of this thesis was the identification of melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4R) mutations in Finnish patients. Six pathogenic MC4R mutations (308delT, P299H, two S127L and two -439delGC mutations) were identified, corresponding to a prevalence of 3% in severe early-onset obesity. No obesity causing MC4R mutations were found among patients with adult-onset morbid obesity. The MC4R 308delT deletion is predicted to result in a grossly truncated nonfunctional receptor of only 107 amino acids. The C-terminal residues, which are important in MC4R cell surface targeting, are totally absent from the mutant 308delT receptor. In vitro functional studies supported a pathogenic role for the S127L mutation since agonist induced signaling of the receptor was impaired. Cell membrane localization of the S127L receptor did not differ from that of the wild-type receptor, confirming that impaired function of the S127L receptor was due to reduced signaling properties. The P299H mutation leads to intracellular retention of the receptor. The -439delGC deletion is situated at a potential nescient helix-loop-helix 2 (NHLH2) -binding site in the MC4R promoter. It was demonstrated that the transcription factor NHLH2 binds to the consensus sequence at the -439delGC site in vitro, possibly resulting in altered promoter activity. Several genetic variants were identified in the melanocortin-3 receptor (MC3R) and pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) genes. These polymorphisms do not explain morbid obesity, but the results indicate that some of these genetic variations may be modifying factors in obesity, resulting in subtle changes in obesity-related traits. A risk haplotype for obesity was identified in the ectonucleotide pyrophosphatase phosphodiesterase 1 (ENPP1) gene through a candidate gene single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) genotyping approach. An ENPP1 haplotype, composed of SNPs rs1800949 and rs943003, was shown to be significantly associated with morbid obesity in adults. Accordingly, the MC3R, POMC and ENPP1 genes represent examples of susceptibility genes in which genetic variants predispose to obesity. In conclusion, pathogenic mutations in the MC4R gene were shown to account for 3% of cases with severe early-onset obesity in Finland. This is in line with results from other populations demonstrating that mutations in the MC4R gene underlie 1-6% of morbid obesity worldwide. MC4R deficiency thus represents the most common monogenic defect causing human obesity reported so far. The severity of the MC4-receptor defect appears to be associated with time of onset and the degree of obesity. Classification of MC4R mutations may provide a useful tool when predicting the outcome of the disease. In addition, several other genetic variants conferring susceptibility to obesity were detected in the MC3R, MC4R, POMC and ENPP1 genes.
  • Wolf, Maija (Helsingin yliopisto, 2000)
  • Lehtokari, Vilma-Lotta (Helsingin yliopisto, 2009)
    Nemaline myopathy (NM) is a rare muscle disorder characterised by muscle weakness and nemaline bodies in striated muscle tissue. Nemaline bodies are derived from sarcomeric Z discs and may be detected by light microscopy. The disease can be divided into six subclasses varying from very severe, in some cases lethal forms to milder forms. NM is usually the consequence of a gene mutation and the mode of inheritance varies between NM subclasses and different families. Mutations in six genes are known to cause NM; nebulin (NEB), alpha-actin, alpha-tropomyosin (TPM3), troponin T1, beta-tropomyosin (TPM2) and cofilin 2, of which nebulin and -actin are the most common. One of the main interests of my research is NEB. Nebulin is a giant muscle protein (600-900 kDa) expressed mainly in the thin filaments of striated muscle. Mutations in NEB are the main cause of autosomal recessive NM. The gene consists of 183 exons. Thus being gigantic, NEB is very challenging to investigate. NEB was screened for mutations using denaturing High Performance Liquid Chromatography (dHPLC) and sequencing. DNA samples from 44 families were included in this study, and we found and published 45 different mutations in them. To date, we have identified 115 mutations in NEB in a total of 96 families. In addition, we determined the occurrence in a world-wide sample cohort of a 2.5 kb deletion containing NEB exon 55 identified in the Ashkenazi Jewish population. In order to find the seventh putative NM gene a genome-wide linkage study was performed in a series of Turkish families. In two of these families, we identified a homozygous mutation disrupting the termination signal of the TPM3 gene, a previously known NM-causing gene. This mutation is likely a founder mutation in the Turkish population. In addition, we described a novel recessively inherited distal myopathy, named distal nebulin myopathy, caused by two different homozygous missense mutations in NEB in six Finnish patients. Both mutations, when combined in compound heterozygous form with a more disruptive mutation, are known to cause NM. This study consisted of molecular genetic mutation analyses, light and electron microscopic studies of muscle biopsies, muscle imaging and clinical examination of patients. In these patients the distribution of muscle weakness was different from NM. Nemaline bodies were not detectable with routine light microscopy, and they were inconspicuous or absent even using electron microscopy. No genetic cause was known to underlie cap myopathy, a congenital myopathy characterised by cap-like structures in the muscle fibres, until we identified a deletion of one codon of the TPM2 gene, in a 30-year-old cap myopathy patient. This mutation does not change the reading frame of the gene, but a deletion of one amino acid does affect the conformation of the protein produced. In summary, this thesis describes a novel distal myopathy caused by mutations in the nebulin gene, several novel nebulin mutations associated with nemaline myopathy, the first molecular genetic cause of cap myopathy, i.e. a mutation in the beta-tropomyosin gene, and a founder mutation in the alpha-tropomyosin gene underlying autosomal recessive nemaline myopathy in the Turkish population.
  • Kavakka, Jari (Helsingin yliopisto, 2010)
    Photosynthesis is a chemical process in which the energy of the light quanta is transformed into chemical energy. Chlorophyll (Chl) molecules play a key role in photosynthesis; they function in the antennae systems and in the photosynthetic reaction center where the primary charge separation (CS) takes place. Bio-inspired mimicry of the CS is an essential unit in dye-sensitized solar cells. Aim of this study was to design and develop electron donor-acceptor (EDA) pairs from Chls and fullerenes (C60) or carbon nanotubes (CNT). The supramolecular approach was chosen, as long synthetic sequences required by the covalent approach lead to long reaction schemes and low yields. Here, a π-interaction between soluble CNTs and Chl was used in EDA construction. Also, a beta-face selective two-point bound Chl-C60 EDA was introduced. In addition, the photophysical properties of the supramolecular EDA dyads were analyzed. In organic chemistry, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy is the most vital analytical technique in use. Multi-dimensional NMR experiments have enabled a structural analysis of complex natural products and proteins. However, in mixture analysis NMR is still facing difficulties. In many cases overlapping signals can t be resolved even with the help of multi-dimensional experiments. In this work, an NMR tool based on simple host-guest chemistry between analytes and macromolecules was developed. Diffusion ordered NMR spectroscopy (DOSY) measures the mobilities of compounds in an NMR sample. In a liquid state NMR sample, each of the analytes has a characteristic diffusion coefficient, which is proportional to the size of the analyte. With normal DOSY experiment, provided that the diffusion coefficients of the analytes differ enough, individual spectra of analytes can be extracted. When similar sized analytes differ chemically, an additive can be introduced into the sample. Since macromolecules in a liquid state NMR sample can be considered practically stationary, even faint supramolecular interaction can change the diffusion coefficient of the analyte sufficiently for a successful resolution in DOSY. In this thesis, polyvinylpyrrolidone and polyethyleneglycol enhanced DOSY NMR techniques, which enable mixture analysis of similar in size but chemically differing natural products, are introduced.
  • Uusi-Rauva, Kristiina (2012)
    Neuronal ceroid lipofuscinoses (NCLs) are inherited severe neurodegenerative diseases of childhood. NCLs are characterised by progressive, selective neuronal death and lysosomal accumulation of autofluorescent storage material. Due to the poor knowledge on the functions of the proteins primarily defective in NCLs, the intracellular changes critical to the pathogenesis of NCLs are not known. In this thesis study, the primary functions of CLN3, a protein defective in classic juvenile onset form of NCLs (juvenile CLN3 disease), was studied in terms of its protein interactions. CLN3 was determined to interact with Na+, K+ ATPase and associated fodrin cytoskeleton and 78 kDa glucose-regulated protein/immunoglobulin heavy chain binding protein (GRP78/BiP). Plasma membrane association and ouabain-induced endocytosis of Na+, K+ ATPase were found to be impaired in CLN3-deficient neurons. This suggests that CLN3 may play a role in the ouabain-regulated non-pumping functions of Na+, K+ ATPase, including intracellular signalling, apoptosis and calcium oscillations. Furthermore, putative structural changes in the fodrin cytoskeleton were observed in CLN3-deficient mouse brain sections and patient cells implying that fodrin-associated events in axonal and synaptic intracellular trafficking, synaptic transmission, and neuritogenesis may also be compromised in early stage of juvenile CLN3 disease. CLN3 was also found to interact with Hook1 involved in late endosomal/lysosomal maturation and with microtubular motor protein complexes, dynein-dynactin and kinesin-2-dynactin. CLN3 was shown to associate with the motor proteins most likely through direct interactions with Rab7 GTPase and its effector Rab7-interacting lysosomal protein (RILP). Rab7 and its effectors have been reported to regulate both minus and plus end-directed microtubular membrane trafficking. Interestingly, membrane trafficking was found to be affected in CLN3 deficiency demonstrated by abnormal intracellular position of late endosomes/lysosomes and unbalanced functional GTP/GDP cycle of Rab7 as well defects in the late endosomal targeting of endocytosed cargo and kinesin-dependent movement of late endosomes/lysosomes in CLN3-deficient cells. These results suggest that Rab7-guided motor protein functions in neurons, such as axonal retrograde trafficking of neurotrophins, neurite outgrowth and maturation, and transportation of neuronal autophagic vesicles could also be affected in CLN3 disease. This thesis work has provided important novel data on the functions of CLN3 and the primary intracellular defects possibly resulting in CLN3 disease. This study also contributes to the determination of the pathogenesis of other NCLs and general processes of neurodegeneration.
  • Lyly, Annina (Helsingin yliopisto, 2008)
    Disorders resulting from degenerative changes in the nervous system are progressive and incurable. Both environmental and inherited factors affect neuron function, and neurodegenerative diseases are often the sum of both factors. The cellular events leading to neuronal death are still mostly unknown. Monogenic diseases can offer a model for studying the mechanisms of neurodegeneration. Neuronal ceroid lipofuscinoses, or NCLs, are a group of monogenic, recessively inherited diseases affecting mostly children. NCLs cause severe and specific loss of neurons in the central nervous system, resulting in the deterioration of motor and mental skills and leading to premature death. In this thesis, the focus has been on two forms of NCL, the infantile NCL (INCL, CLN1) and the Finnish variant of late infantile NCL (vLINCLFin, CLN5). INCL is caused by mutations in the CLN1 gene encoding for the PPT1 (palmitoyl protein thioesterase 1) enzyme. PPT1 removes a palmitate moiety from proteins in experimental conditions, but its substrates in vivo are not known. In the Finnish variant of late infantile NCL (vLINCLFin), the CLN5 gene is defective, but the function of the encoded CLN5 has remained unknown. The aim of this thesis was to elucidate the disease mechanisms of these two NCL diseases by focusing on the molecular interactions of the defective proteins. In this work, the first interaction partner for PPT1, the mitochondrial F1-ATP synthase, was described. This protein has been linked to HDL metabolism in addition to its well-known role in the mitochondrial energy production. The connection between PPT1 and the F1-ATP synthase was studied utilizing the INCL-disease model, the genetically modified Ppt1-deficient mice. The levels of F1-ATP synthase subunits were increased on the surface of Ppt1-deficient neurons when compared to controls. We also detected several changes in lipid metabolism both at the cellular and systemic levels in Ppt1-deficient mice when compared to controls. The interactions between different NCL proteins were also elucidated. We were able to detect novel interactions between CLN5 and other NCL proteins, and to replicate the previously reported interactions. Some of the novel interactions influenced the intracellular trafficking of the proteins. The multiple interactions between CLN5 and other NCL proteins suggest a connection between the NCL subtypes at the cellular level. The main results of this thesis elicit information about the neuronal function of PPT1. The connection between INCL and neuronal lipid metabolism introduces a new perspective to this rather poorly characterized subject. The evidence of the interactions between NCL proteins provides the basis for future research trying to untangle the NCL disease mechanisms and to develop strategies for therapies.
  • Miettinen, Oskari (Helsingin yliopisto, 2010)
    New stars form in dense interstellar clouds of gas and dust called molecular clouds. The actual sites where the process of star formation takes place are the dense clumps and cores deeply embedded in molecular clouds. The details of the star formation process are complex and not completely understood. Thus, determining the physical and chemical properties of molecular cloud cores is necessary for a better understanding of how stars are formed. Some of the main features of the origin of low-mass stars, like the Sun, are already relatively well-known, though many details of the process are still under debate. The mechanism through which high-mass stars form, on the other hand, is poorly understood. Although it is likely that the formation of high-mass stars shares many properties similar to those of low-mass stars, the very first steps of the evolutionary sequence are unclear. Observational studies of star formation are carried out particularly at infrared, submillimetre, millimetre, and radio wavelengths. Much of our knowledge about the early stages of star formation in our Milky Way galaxy is obtained through molecular spectral line and dust continuum observations. The continuum emission of cold dust is one of the best tracers of the column density of molecular hydrogen, the main constituent of molecular clouds. Consequently, dust continuum observations provide a powerful tool to map large portions across molecular clouds, and to identify the dense star-forming sites within them. Molecular line observations, on the other hand, provide information on the gas kinematics and temperature. Together, these two observational tools provide an efficient way to study the dense interstellar gas and the associated dust that form new stars. The properties of highly obscured young stars can be further examined through radio continuum observations at centimetre wavelengths. For example, radio continuum emission carries useful information on conditions in the protostar+disk interaction region where protostellar jets are launched. In this PhD thesis, we study the physical and chemical properties of dense clumps and cores in both low- and high-mass star-forming regions. The sources are mainly studied in a statistical sense, but also in more detail. In this way, we are able to examine the general characteristics of the early stages of star formation, cloud properties on large scales (such as fragmentation), and some of the initial conditions of the collapse process that leads to the formation of a star. The studies presented in this thesis are mainly based on molecular line and dust continuum observations. These are combined with archival observations at infrared wavelengths in order to study the protostellar content of the cloud cores. In addition, centimetre radio continuum emission from young stellar objects (YSOs; i.e., protostars and pre-main sequence stars) is studied in this thesis to determine their evolutionary stages. The main results of this thesis are as follows: i) filamentary and sheet-like molecular cloud structures, such as infrared dark clouds (IRDCs), are likely to be caused by supersonic turbulence but their fragmentation at the scale of cores could be due to gravo-thermal instability; ii) the core evolution in the Orion B9 star-forming region appears to be dynamic and the role played by slow ambipolar diffusion in the formation and collapse of the cores may not be significant; iii) the study of the R CrA star-forming region suggests that the centimetre radio emission properties of a YSO are likely to change with its evolutionary stage; iv) the IRDC G304.74+01.32 contains candidate high-mass starless cores which may represent the very first steps of high-mass star and star cluster formation; v) SiO outflow signatures are seen in several high-mass star-forming regions which suggest that high-mass stars form in a similar way as their low-mass counterparts, i.e., via disk accretion. The results presented in this thesis provide constraints on the initial conditions and early stages of both low- and high-mass star formation. In particular, this thesis presents several observational results on the early stages of clustered star formation, which is the dominant mode of star formation in our Galaxy.
  • Rice, David (Helsingin yliopisto, 1999)