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  • 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.
  • Laurila, Pirkka-Pekka (Helsingin yliopisto, 2015)
    Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, and is characterized by disturbances in lipid metabolism. High blood LDL cholesterol is the most important risk factors for atherosclerosis, a pathological state in which the circulating lipid molecules accumulate in the blood vessel wall. Blood levels of HDL cholesterol are inversely associated with cardiovascular risk, and low HDL-cholesterol is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease. In this thesis, new genes predisposing to low HDL-cholesterol level were searched using genome-wide association analysis in Finnish individuals with extremely low or high HDL-cholesterol. Several new genes predisposing to low HDL-cholesterol were discovered, of which many were known to be associated with immune system and inflammatory reaction of the body, but their role in cholesterol metabolism has not previously been characterized. Some of the subjects appeared to be genetically more prone to inflammation than others, especially in the blood and adipose tissue. The more inflammation inducing genetic variants one had, the stronger was the inflammatory state of the body, especially in blood and adipose tissue, and the lower the HDL-cholesterol level. The inflammation may block the transport of cholesterol from vessel walls to circulation leading to lower HDL-cholesterol levels in the circulation. This thesis also examined the composition of HDL particles by determining the concentration of all know lipid species in HDL particles. The quality of HDL particles appeared to vary considerably. In individuals, whose HDL-cholesterol levels were low, the quality of HDL particles was also impaired; they contained smaller amounts of plasmalogens which are fat molecules known to be antioxidant and thus protective to arteries. In individuals with high HDL-cholesterol levels in the circulation, the lipid composition of the HDL particle was more beneficial regarding heart disease risk. This thesis further demonstrates that not only the quantity but also the quality of HDL particles is genetically regulated. The genetic variants regulating the level of HDL-cholesterol also govern its quality, highlighted by inflammation-increasing genetic variants also impairing HDL quality. This thesis work provides novel insights about the molecular background of HDL cholesterol and validates the strong link between inflammation and low HDL-cholesterol levels. The studies show how genetically induced inflammation reduces blood HDL-cholesterol levels and impairs HDL particle quality, potentially predisposing to cardiovascular disease.
  • Rice, David (Helsingin yliopisto, 1999)
  • Pihlajamaa, Päivi (Helsingin yliopisto, 2014)
    Androgens are steroid hormones that regulate the development and function of male reproductive organs as well as physiology of many non-reproductive tissues, such as muscle, bone, liver, and kidney. Moreover, androgen signaling is involved in several pathological conditions, most common of which is prostate cancer. In its target cells, testosterone or its more potent metabolite 5α-dihydrotestosterone regulates cellular processes by modulating gene expression through the androgen receptor (AR). Ligand-activated AR translocates to nucleus and binds to specific DNA sequences, called androgen response elements (AREs), at the regulatory regions of its target genes. AR cistromes, i.e., global maps of genomic AR occupancy, comprise thousands of AR-binding events primarily located at distal enhancers. AR-binding sites are characterized by distinct histone modifications, and AR recruitment is primed by pioneer factors capable of binding to compact chromatin. AR interacts with a plethora of coregulatory proteins that modify the local chromatin environment and interact with basal transcription machinery. These elements create the complex cellular landscape for androgen action. The purpose of this thesis was to study molecular determinants of context-specific AR functions in vivo in murine androgen-responsive tissues. The advantage of in vivo studies is that unlike in cancer cell models androgen target cells reside within their physiological environment with an intact AR pathway. In the first part of this work, an androgen reporter mouse line with the luciferase gene under androgenic control was created. In this model, luciferase activity is a measure of AR function, and it can be used for assessing in vivo effects of chemical compounds on AR signaling. The androgen reporter mice were treated with genistein, a phytoestrogenic compound to which people consuming soy products are also exposed. Previous studies have implied that genistein plays a potential role in prostate cancer prevention. The results in this thesis work showed that genistein exhibits tissue-specific effects on AR signaling in vivo. Furthermore, genistein modulates endogenous AR-mediated gene expression in prostate, supporting its potentially beneficial role in prostate carcinogenesis. In the second part of this work, genomic AR occupancy was examined using chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) coupled with massively parallel sequencing (ChIP-seq). Distinct AR cistromes were identified in three androgen-responsive tissues: prostate, kidney, and epididymis. AR-binding events associate with tissue-specific transcription programs responsible for distinct physiological functions of androgens in these tissues. The key finding in this work was that tissue-specific AR binding is directed by divergent pioneer factors, and that previously identified forkhead box protein A1 (FoxA1) is prostate-specific rather than general pioneer factor for AR. Two novel pioneer factors for AR were identified in this study hepatocyte nuclear factor 4 alpha (Hnf4α) in murine kidney and activating protein 2 alpha (AP-2α) in murine epididymis. ChIP-seq was also utilized to study in vivo role and characteristics of selective AREs cis-elements not bound by other steroid receptors. Transgenic SPARKI mice have the second zinc finger of the AR DNA-binding domain swapped with the respective part of glucocorticoid receptor, resulting in a chimeric AR unable to bind to selective AREs. A significant proportion of in vivo binding events of wild-type AR were not shared by SPARKI AR in prostate and epididymis, highlighting the importance of selective AREs in AR-specific functions in vivo. Differential receptor binding was also linked to differentially expressed genes in the epididymides of wild-type and SPARKI mice. De novo sequence analysis revealed that the selective AREs are characterized by decreased sequence conversation, indicating that, counter-intuitively, AR selectivity in vivo is achieved by relaxed rather than increased cis-element stringency. In conclusion, both the AREs and the collaborating proteins contribute to precise AR-regulated transcriptional outcome in the context of native chromatin and distinct tissues. Overall, the results clarified several molecular mechanisms employed by AR in vivo that can potentially contribute to the development of better treatments and diagnostic tools for hormone-dependent disorders in the future.
  • Thompson, James (Helsingin yliopisto, 2006)
    The androgen receptor (AR) mediates the effects of the male sex-steroid hormones (androgens), testosterone and 5?-dihydrotestosterone. Androgens are critical in the development and maintenance of male sexual characteristics. AR is a member of the steroid receptor ligand-inducible transcription factor family. The steroid receptor family is a subgroup of the nuclear receptor superfamily that also includes receptors for the active forms of vitamin A, vitamin D3, and thyroid hormones. Like all nuclear receptors, AR has a conserved modular structure consisting of a non-conserved amino-terminal domain (NTD), containing the intrinsic activation function 1, a highly conserved DNA-binding domain, and a conserved ligand-binding domain (LBD) that harbors the activation function 2. Each of these domains plays an important role in receptor function and signaling, either via intra- and inter-receptor interactions, interactions with specific DNA sequences, termed hormone response elements, or via functional interactions with domain-specific proteins, termed coregulators (coactivators and corepressors). Upon binding androgens, AR acquires a new conformational state, translocates to the nucleus, binds to androgen response elements, homodimerizes and recruits sequence-specific coregulatory factors and the basal transcription machinery. This set of events is required to activate gene transcription (expression). Gene transcription is a strictly modulated process that governs cell growth, cell homeostasis, cell function and cell death. Disruptions of AR transcriptional activity caused by receptor mutations and/or altered coregulator interactions are linked to a wide spectrum of androgen insensitivity syndromes, and to the pathogenesis of prostate cancer (CaP). The treatment of CaP usually involves androgen depletion therapy (ADT). ADT achieves significant clinical responses during the early stages of the disease. However, under the selective pressure of androgen withdrawal, androgen-dependent CaP can progress to an androgen-independent CaP. Androgen-independent CaP is invariably a more aggressive and untreatable form of the disease. Advancing our understanding of the molecular mechanisms behind the switch in androgen-dependency would improve our success of treating CaP and other AR related illnesses. This study evaluates how clinically identified AR mutations affect the receptor s transcriptional activity. We reveal that a potential molecular abnormality in androgen insensitivity syndrome and CaP patients is caused by disruptions of the important intra-receptor NTD/LBD interaction. We demonstrate that the same AR LBD mutations can also disrupt the recruitment of the p160 coactivator protein GRIP1. Our investigations reveal that 30% of patients with advanced, untreated local CaP have somatic mutations that may lead to increases in AR activity. We report that somatic mutations that activate AR may lead to early relapse in ADT. Our results demonstrate that the types of ADT a CaP patient receives may cause a clustering of mutations to a particular region of the receptor. Furthermore, the mutations that arise before and during ADT do not always result in a receptor that is more active, indicating that coregulator interactions play a pivotal role in the progression of androgen-independent CaP. To improve CaP therapy, it is necessary to identify critical coregulators of AR. We screened a HeLa cell cDNA library and identified small carboxyl-terminal domain phosphatase 2 (SCP2). SCP2 is a protein phosphatase that directly interacts with the AR NTD and represses AR activity. We demonstrated that reducing the endogenous cellular levels of SCP2 causes more AR to load on to the prostate specific antigen (PSA) gene promoter and enhancer regions. Additionally, under the same conditions, more RNA polymerase II was recruited to the PSA promoter region and overall there was an increase in androgen-dependent transcription of the PSA gene, revealing that SCP2 could play a role in the pathogenesis of CaP.
  • Sarin, Peter (2010)
    Double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) viruses encode only a single protein species that contains RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRP) motifs. This protein is a central component in the life cycle of a dsRNA virus, carrying out both RNA transcription and replication. The architecture of viral RdRPs resembles that of a 'cupped right hand' with fingers, palm and thumb domains. Those applying de novo initiation have additional structural features, including a flexible C-terminal domain that constitutes the priming platform. Moreover, viral RdRPs must be able to interact with the incoming 3'-terminus of the template and position it so that a productive binary complex is formed. Bacteriophage phi6 of the Cystoviridae family is to date one of the best studied dsRNA viruses. The purified recombinant phi6 RdRP is highly active in vitro and possesses both RNA replication and transcription activities. The extensive biochemical observations and the atomic level crystal structure of the phi6 RdRP provides an excellent platform for in-depth studies of RNA replication in vitro. In this thesis, targeted structure-based mutagenesis, enzymatic assays and molecular mapping of phi6 RdRP and its RNA were used to elucidate the formation of productive RNA-polymerase binary complexes. The positively charged rim of the template tunnel was shown to have a significant role in the engagement of highly structured ssRNA molecules, whereas specific interactions further down in the template tunnel promote ssRNA entry to the catalytic site. This work demonstrated that by aiding the formation of a stable binary complex with optimized RNA templates, the overall polymerization activity of the phi6 RdRP can be greatly enhanced. Furthermore, proteolyzed phi6 RdRPs that possess a nick in the polypeptide chain at the hinge region, which is part of the extended loop, were better suited for catalysis at higher temperatures whilst favouring back-primed initiation. The clipped C-terminus remains associated with the main body of the polymerase and the hinge region, although structurally disordered, is involved in the control of C-terminal domain displacement. The accumulated knowhow on bacteriophage phi6 was utilized in the development of two technologies for the production of dsRNA: (i) an in vitro system that combines the T7 RNA polymerase and the phi6 RdRP to generate dsRNA molecules of practically unlimited length, and (ii) an in vivo RNA replication system based on restricted infection with phi6 polymerase complexes in bacterial cells to produce virtually unlimited amounts of dsRNA. The pools of small interfering RNAs derived from dsRNA produced by these systems were validated and shown to efficiently decrease the expression of both exogenous and endogenous targets.
  • Gylling, Annette (Helsingin yliopisto, 2008)
    Hereditary non-polyposis colorectal carcinoma (HNPCC; Lynch syndrome) is among the most common hereditary cancers in man and a model of cancers arising through deficient DNA mismatch repair (MMR). It is inherited in a dominant manner with predisposing germline mutations in the MMR genes, mainly MLH1, MSH2, MSH6 and PMS2. Both copies of the MMR gene need to be inactivated for cancer development. Since Lynch syndrome family members are born with one defective copy of one of the MMR genes in their germline, they only need to acquire a so called second hit to inactivate the MMR gene. Hence, they usually develop cancer at an early age. MMR gene inactivation leads to accumulation of mutations particularly in short repeat tracts, known as microsatellites, causing microsatellite instability (MSI). MSI is the hallmark of Lynch syndrome tumors, but is present in approximately 15% of sporadic tumors as well. There are several possible mechanisms of somatic inactivation (i.e. the second hit ) of MMR genes, for instance deletion of the wild-type copy, leading to loss of heterozygosity (LOH), methylation of promoter regions necessary for gene transcription, or mitotic recombination or gene conversion. In the Lynch syndrome tumors carrying germline mutations in the MMR gene, LOH was found to be the most frequent mechanism of somatic inactivation in the present study. We also studied MLH1/MSH2 deletion carriers and found that somatic mutations identical to the ones in the germline occurred frequently in colorectal cancers and were also present in extracolonic Lynch syndrome-associated tumors. Chromosome-specific marker analysis implied that gene conversion, rather than mitotic recombination or deletion of the respective gene locus accounted for wild-type inactivation. Lynch syndrome patients are predisposed to certain types of cancers, the most common ones being colorectal, endometrial and gastric cancer. Gastric cancer and uroepithelial tumors of bladder and ureter were observed to be true Lynch syndrome tumors with MMR deficiency as the driving force of tumorigenesis. Brain tumors and kidney carcinoma, on the other hand, were mostly MSS, implying the possibility of alternative routes of tumor development. These results present possible implications in clinical cancer surveillance. In about one-third of families suspected of Lynch syndrome, mutations in MMR genes are not found, and we therefore looked for alternative mechanisms of predisposition. According to our results, large genomic deletions, mainly in MSH2, and germline epimutations in MLH1, together explain a significant fraction of point mutation-negative families suspected of Lynch syndrome and are associated with characteristic clinical and family features. Our findings have important implications in the diagnosis and management of Lynch syndrome families.
  • Laurikkala, Johanna (Helsingin yliopisto, 2004)
  • Biala, Agnieszka (Helsingin yliopisto, 2011)
    Hypertension is a major risk factor for stroke, ischaemic heart disease, and the development of heart failure. Hypertension-induced heart failure is usually preceded by the development of left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH), which represents an adaptive and compensatory response to the increased cardiac workload. Biomechanical stress and neurohumoral activation are the most important triggers of pathologic hypertrophy and the transition of cardiac hypertrophy to heart failure. Non-clinical and clinical studies have also revealed derangements of energy metabolism in hypertensive heart failure. The goal of this study was to investigate in experimental models the molecular mechanisms and signalling pathways involved in hypertension-induced heart failure with special emphasis on local renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS), cardiac metabolism, and calcium sensitizers, a novel class of inotropic agents used currently in the treatment of acute decompensated heart failure. Two different animal models of hypertensive heart failure were used in the present study, i.e. hypertensive and salt-sensitive Dahl/Rapp rats on a high salt diet (a salt-sensitive model of hypertensive heart failure) and double transgenic rats (dTGR) harboring human renin and human angiotensinogen genes (a transgenic model of hypertensive heart failure with increased local RAAS activity). The influence of angiotensin II (Ang II) on cardiac substrate utilization and cardiac metabolomic profile was investigated by using gas chromatography coupled to time-of-flight mass spectrometry to detect 247 intermediary metabolites. It was found that Ang II could alter cardiac metabolomics both in normotensive and hypertensive rats in an Ang II receptor type 1 (AT1)-dependent manner. A distinct substrate use from fatty acid oxidation towards glycolysis was found in dTGR. Altered cardiac substrate utilization in dTGR was associated with mitochondrial dysfunction. Cardiac expression of the redox-sensitive metabolic sensor sirtuin1 (SIRT1) was increased in dTGR. Resveratrol supplementation prevented cardiovascular mortality and ameliorated Ang II-induced cardiac remodeling in dTGR via blood pressure-dependent pathways and mechanisms linked to increased mitochondrial biogenesis. Resveratrol dose-dependently increased SIRT1 activity in vitro. Oral levosimendan treatment was also found to improve survival and systolic function in dTGR via blood pressure-independent mechanisms, and ameliorate Ang II-induced coronary and cardiomyocyte damage. Finally, using Dahl/Rapp rats it was demonstrated that oral levosimendan as well as the AT1 receptor antagonist valsartan improved survival and prevented cardiac remodeling. The beneficial effects of levosimendan were associated with improved diastolic function without significantly improved systolic changes. These positive effects were potentiated when the drug combination was administered. In conclusion, the present study points to an important role for local RAAS in the pathophysiology of hypertension-induced heart failure as well as its involvement as a regulator of cardiac substrate utilization and mitochondrial function. Our findings suggest a therapeutic role for natural polyphenol resveratrol and calcium sensitizer, levosimendan, and the novel drug combination of valsartan and levosimendan, in prevention of hypertension-induced heart failure. The present study also provides a better understanding of the pathophysiology of hypertension-induced heart failure, and may help identify potential targets for novel therapeutic interventions.