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  • Jha, Sawan (Helsingin yliopisto, 2014)
    Lymphangiogenesis is the process that leads to the formation of lymphatic vessels from pre-existing vessels. Vascular endothelial growth factor C (VEGF-C), the ma- jor lymphangiogenic growth factor, is produced as an inactive precursor and needs to be proteolytically processed into a mature form in order to activate its receptors VEGFR-3 and VEGFR-2. A deficiency of VEGF-C during embryonic lymphangiogenesis results in embryonic lethality due to the lack of lymphatic vasculature. Hennekam lymphangiectasia-lymphedema syndrome (OMIM 235510) is in a subset of patients associated with mutations in the collagen- and calcium-binding EGF domains 1 (CCBE1 ) gene. CCBE1 and VEGF-C act at the same stage during embryonic lymphangiogenesis and their deficiency results in similar lymphatic defects. The mechanism behind the lymphatic phenotype caused by CCBE1 mutations is un- known. The aim of this study was to investigate the potential link between VEGF-C and CCBE1 that could contribute to the lymphatic phenotype. In this study, 293T cells were used to observe the effect of CCBE1 on VEGF-C pro- cessing. The co-transfection of constructs coding for CCBE1 and VEGF-C showed processing of the inactive pro-VEGF-C into the active, mature form. However, this processing was efficient only in 293T cells. When CCBE1 from 293T supernatant was purified, A disintegrin and metalloproteinase with thrombospondin type 1 motif 3 (ADAMTS3) co-purified with CCBE1. The levels of pro-VEGF-C and active VEGF-C were monitored by immunoblotting or immunoprecipitating metabolically labeled supernatant with specific antibodies or receptors followed by autoradiography. The activity of the processed VEGF-C was verified by proliferation of Ba/F3 cells stably expressing VEGFR-3/EpoR or VEGFR-2/EpoR chimeras. Furthermore, a VEGFR-3 phosphorylation assay was performed in PAE (Porcine Aortic Endotheial) cells to study details of the CCBE1-mediated regulation of VEGF-C. We found that CCBE1 increases the proteolytic processing of pro-VEGF-C, thereby resulting in increased activity of VEGF-C. CCBE1 itself has no effect on VEGF-C activity but regulates VEGF-C by modulating the activity of the ADAMTS3 protease. We also found that both pro- and mature- VEGF-C can bind to VEGFR-3 but only mature form is able to induce VEGFR-3-mediated signaling. In addition to cleaving VEGF-C, ADAMTS3 was found to directly or indirectly mediate CCBE1 cleavage. The N-terminal amino acid sequence of the ADAMTS3-processed VEGF-C confirmed that ADAMTS3 is the protease responsible for the activation of VEGF-C by 293 cells. Hence, we have identified a mechanism that regulates VEGF-C activity. This mechanism suggests the possible use of CCBE1 as a therapeutic means to treat diseases that involve the lymphatic system.
  • Voutilainen, Merja (Helsingin yliopisto, 2010)
    Parkinson s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder associated with a progressive loss of dopaminergic neurons of the substantia nigra (SN). Current therapies of PD do not stop the progression of the disease and the efficacy of these treatments wanes over time. Neurotrophic factors are naturally occurring proteins promoting the survival and differentiation of neurons and the maintenance of neuronal contacts. Neurotrophic factors are attractive candidates for neuroprotective or even neurorestorative treatment of PD. Thus, searching for and characterizing trophic factors are highly important approaches to degenerative diseases. CDNF (cerebral dopamine neurotrophic factor) and MANF (mesencephalic astrocyte-derived neurotrophic factor) are secreted proteins that constitute a novel, evolutionarily conserved neurotrophic factor family expressed in vertebrates and invertebrates. The present study investigated the neuroprotective and restorative effects of human CDNF and MANF in rats with unilateral partial lesion of dopamine neurons by 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) using both behavioral (amphetamine-induced rotation) and immunohistochemical analyses. We also investigated the distribution and transportation profiles of intrastriatally injected CDNF and MANF in rats. Intrastriatal CDNF and MANF protected nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons when administered six hours before or four weeks after the neurotoxin 6-OHDA. More importantly, the function of the lesioned nigrostriatal dopaminergic system was partially restored even when the neurotrophic factors were administered four weeks after 6-OHDA. A 14-day continuous infusion of CDNF but not of MANF restored the function of the midbrain neural circuits controlling movement when initiated two weeks after unilateral injection of 6-OHDA. Continuous infusion of CDNF also protected dopaminergic TH-positive cell bodies from toxin-induced degeneration in the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNpc) and fibers in the striatum. When injected into the striatum, CDNF and GDNF had similar transportation profiles from the striatum to the SNpc; thus CDNF may act via the same nerve tracts as GDNF. Intrastriatal MANF was transported to cortical areas which may reflect a mechanism of neurorestorative action that is different from that of CDNF and GDNF. CDNF and MANF were also shown to distribute more readily than GDNF. In conclusion, CDNF and MANF are potential therapeutic proteins for the treatment of PD.
  • Bäck, Susanne (Helsingin yliopisto, 2014)
    Neurodegenerative diseases are characterized by progressive loss of distinct neuronal populations. In Parkinson s disease (PD) the most prominent cell loss is seen in the dopamine (DA) neuron population in the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNpc). The resulting decrease in striatal DA levels causes dysregulation of neuronal circuits controlling movement and leads to motor symptoms typical to the disease. As for other neurodegenerative diseases, there are no available treatments that would interfere with the degenerative process in PD. The purpose of this work was therefore to test the therapeutic potential of long-term delivery of the neurotrophic factor (NTF) cerebral dopamine neurotrophic factor (CDNF) in the rat partial 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) lesion model of PD. When injected unilaterally in the striatum, 6-OHDA causes progressive dose-dependent loss of DA neurons in the SNpc accompanied by asymmetrical motor impairment. The 6-OHDA model used in our NTF studies (2x10 µg 6-OHDA) showed a stable lesion progression with a cell loss at two weeks post-lesion corresponding to that seen in PD at symptom onset. In the 6-OHDA model, the DAergic system is traditionally evaluated using immunodetection methods or measurements of tissue neurotransmitter levels. Imaging methods, such as single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), allows in vivo detection of neuronal circuits, and together with the DA transporter (DAT) radioligand 2β-carbomethoxy-3β-(4-[123I]iodophenyl)tropane ([123I]β-CIT), SPECT/CT provided reliable estimations of the DA cell degeneration showing high correlation to immunohistochemical findings. The method is sensitive and selective and provides substantial benefits in pre-clinical research allowing longitudinal studies in living animals. The neuroprotective effect of CDNF was studied by applying the NTF intrastriatally as two-week protein infusion with osmotic pumps, or as gene therapy with a recombinant adeno-associated viral vector in 6-OHDA-lesioned rats. Both CDNF delivery methods normalized the amphetamine-induced rotational asymmetry and provided partial protection of the tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) reactive DAergic cells in the SNpc and DA fibers in the striatum. As for GDNF, there were indications of retrograde transport of CDNF, but contrary to what has been reported for GDNF, CDNF did not affect the intact rat DAergic system. In addition, there were differences between the treatments in the capacity to induce sprouting of TH-reactive fibers. Our results confirm that CDNF can be considered as a potential therapy in PD, and that the neuroprotective mechanism of CDNF differs from that of GDNF.
  • Tammiruusu, Anne (Helsingin yliopisto, 2005)
  • Nybond, Susanna (Helsingin yliopisto, 2015)
    Due to the emergence of multidrug resistant bacteria, bacterial infections are still a major healthcare problem. Many factors have led to a discovery void of new antibacterial agents, rendering the current antibiotic pipeline inadequate for future medical needs. For example, the outcomes from pure biochemical high-throughput screening (HTS) assays have, in many cases, not led to successful clinical compounds. Therefore cell-based assays might be a better choice for primary screening. However, the antibacterial cell-based assays in the current use often require long incubation times and they are not always amenable for miniaturization and automation for HTS. In this work, two screening assays based on recombinant bioluminescent E. coli strains were optimized and implemented in the screening of chemical libraries and natural products in antibacterial drug discovery. One of the recombinant bacterial strains was a strain which is sensitive towards transcriptional and translational inhibitors. The assay based on this strain was successfully miniaturized into 384-format using automatized liquid handling and was validated with a proof-of-concept library containing known drugs. This provided a means to perform a larger scale high throughput screen of a compound library. Based on the HTS hit structures, a ligand-based in silico screening of a virtual chemical library was employed for hit enrichment. The most active hits and the in silico selected compounds were further investigated in more detail. Natural products have been an important source in drug discovery, especially in the discovery of antibiotics in the current use. However, matrix effects such as colour or turbidity of natural product extracts can potentially cause interference in conventional absorbance based microbial growth inhibition assays. Also, conventional antibacterial assays are usually not sensitive enough for detecting very small concentrations in fractionated natural product extracts. The feasibility of bioreporter -based assays in antimicrobial screening of natural products was demonstrated by screening an in-house natural product library. One of the assays was also implemented for investigating the antibacterial properties of an extract from a fungal culture filtrate, which demonstrated the sensitivity of the assay for identification of active components from fractionated samples. In conclusion, sensitive and reproducible bioassays amenable for further miniaturization and automation were developed for antibacterial drug discovery. Compared to conventional antimicrobial testing, the bioreporter-based methods offer important improvements such as simultaneous data acquirement on antimicrobial activity, first indication of mode of action and significant reduction of assay time to 2-4 h compared to 24 h in standard susceptibility assays. The developed bioluminescent assays led to the improvement of compound throughput in antimicrobial screening: from hundreds of samples (natural product extracts and fractions) in manually performed assays in 96-well plates, to thousands of test compounds (synthetic compound libraries) in 384-well format using automated liquid handling.
  • Kontturi, Leena-Stiina (Helsingin yliopisto, 2014)
    Cell therapy is defined as cell transplantation into the patient to treat a certain disease state. Therapies utilizing cells can be divided into two main categories, (1) tissue regeneration or engineering and (2) drug delivery. In tissue engineering, the transplanted cells are used to regenerate the functions of a diseased tissue. In drug delivery, the transplanted cells are used as biological factories that produce therapeutic molecules inside the body. For successful cell therapy applications, cells usually must be combined with biomaterials and bioactive factors to mimic the growth environment in vivo. The properties of these scaffolds are important for outcomes of the treatments, because the local environment determines the functionality of the cells. Thus, research on cell-biomaterial interactions is essential for the progress of cell based therapies. Hydrogels are promising cell therapy materials, because their structure resembles the natural tissue environment; they consist of long polymer chains with high water content and elastic properties, thereby enabling cellular functionality. The aim of this study was to investigate hydrogels for cell therapy applications. Firstly, we encapsulated human retinal pigment epithelial cell line (ARPE-19) genetically engineered to secrete an anti-angiogenic protein (1) into alginate-poly-L-lysine-alginate (APA) microcapsules and (2) into a composite hydrogel of cross-linked collagen and interpenetrating hyaluronic acid (HA). A custom-made cell encapsulation device was designed, built and optimized, and pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic (PK/PD) model was developed to investigate the intravitreal drug delivery of the anti-angiogenic protein by the encapsulated cells. Secondly, chondrocytes were encapsulated into the cross-linked collagen/HA hydrogel supplemented with transforming growth factor β1 (TGFβ1). Using the cell encapsulation device, cell microcapsules of symmetrical shape and narrow size distribution were produced. The encapsulated ARPE-19 cells remained viable and functional for at least five months. The cross-linked collagen-HA hydrogel was shown to be a suitable encapsulation matrix for ARPE-19 cells; the cells maintained viability and secreted the anti-angiogenic protein at a constant rate for at least 50 days. Moreover, the hydrogel composition could be modified to adjust the properties of the gel structure without compromising cell viability. This approach is suggested to have potential in the treatment of retinal neovascularization. The developed PK/PD model could be used to predict drug levels and therapeutic responses after intravitreal anti-angiogenic drug delivery. The simulations may augment the design of in vivo experiments. The collagen/HA matrix with TGFβ1 was suitable for chondrocyte encapsulation. The hydrogel supported viability and phenotypic cell stability. This hydrogel is strong, stable and biodegradable, and it can be delivered non-invasively as injection. Overall, it is potentially a useful delivery vehicle of chondrocytes for cartilage tissue engineering. In conclusion, ARPE-19 cells maintain viability in different hydrogels for prolonged periods and secrete the therapeutic transgene product constantly, supporting the suitability of ARPE-19 cells for cell therapy. The cross-linked collagen/HA hydrogel appears to be a potential matrix for cell therapy. It is an injectable system that supports functionality of cells, and it is applicable in drug delivery and tissue engineering.
  • Raatikainen-Ahokas, Anne (Helsingin yliopisto, 2014)
    Embryonic cells undergo sequential specification processes to generate multiple cell types of mature organs. Some cells retain pluripotency. They serve as stem or progenitor cells, and provide both new stem cells (self-renewal) and offspring for differentiation. The fate of some cells is to die by programmed cell death. In this thesis, the cell fates in nephrogenesis and spermatogenesis were studied. During kidney organogenesis, an outgrowth of the Wolffian duct, the ureteric bud, induces condensation of the metanephric mesenchyme into a cap condensate, the progenitor cell population that forms the epithelium of all future nephrons. The cap condensate is surrounded by stromal cells. The developmental fates of these cells that also surround the ureter and nascent nephrons, i.e. the kidney stroma, are poorly understood. Bone morphogenetic protein 4 (BMP4) inhibited the outgrowth of the ureteric bud from the Wolffian duct in organ culture. It also had an inhibitory effect on subsequent ureteric branching. The branching defect primarily reflected the effect of BMP4 on the mesenchymal components of the kidney. BMP4 promotes the recruitment of mesenchymal cells around the ureter and their differentiation into smooth muscle. This periureteric cell population likely has a regulatory function in subsequent ureteric growth and differentiation. The exogenous BMP4 also disrupted the cap condensates in kidney explants and large amounts of mesenchymal cells underwent apoptosis. BMP4 maintained the isolated metanephric mesenchymes while suppressing the nephrogenic potential, suggesting that BMP4 acts as a survival/differentiation factor for the stromal progenitors. The stromal cells are apparently essential for the formation and maintenance of the cap condensate. In some organs, such as the testis, the maintenance of stem cells throughout the life span is essential to the normal function, e.g. the formation of sperm cells. Spermatogonia with stem cell activity (SSCs) are among the undifferentiated spermatogonia located at the basement membrane of the seminiferous tubule. Daughters of SSCs both replenish the stem cell pool and enter the differentiation pathway into spermatozoa. Glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), essential for ureteric branching morphogenesis, is also crucial to the self-renewal of the SSCs. Haploinsufficiency of the Gdnf gene in Gdnf+/- mice caused segmental exhaustion of stem cells, resulting in germ cell loss in old mice. In mice overexpressing GDNF in the testis, spermatogenesis was arrested and large clusters of spermatogonia accumulated in prepubertal animals. Thus, high GDNF concentration promotes the propagation of undifferentiated spermatogonia, whereas low GDNF levels allow SCCs to differentiate in excess and make them prone to depletion. In conclusion, signalling molecules, such as BMP4 and GDNF, affect the cell fates both in nephrogenesis and spermatogenesis by maintaining the precursor cells and promoting their differentiation.
  • Pekkonen, Pirita (Helsingin yliopisto, 2015)
    Human tumorigenesis is a process in which a normal cell needs to acquire multiple characteristics to become malignant and metastatic. In short, these so called cancer hallmarks include increased proliferation and cell survival, as well as the ability to invade into the surroundings, induce angiogenesis, and finally metastasize to distant sites. These traits are regulated in a variety of different ways. However, some embryonic signaling pathways, including the Notch pathway, are able to regulate many of these processes. Furthermore, it has been shown that these signaling pathways can be deregulated in cancer, and that their untimely activation can lead to malignancies. In this study, Kaposi's sarcoma herpesvirus (KSHV) associated malignancies, namely Kaposi's sarcoma (KS) and primary effusion lymphoma (PEL), as well as melanoma have been used as model cancers. In all these malignancies, the tumor cells show alterations in cell identity and lineage marker expression, i.e. signs of cellular de- or transdifferentiation. In addition, the Notch pathway has been shown to be overly active in all of them. Thus, this thesis has focused on how the pro-tumorigenic traits are affected by cell plasticity and reprogramming in these cancers, and how the signaling pathways leading to these phenotypes, most notably Notch, are in turn regulated. Firstly, the results show that in vivo expression of a KSHV oncogene, viral (v-)cyclin, leads to activation of Notch signaling through Notch3 upregulation as well as fine-tuning of the NF-κB pathway through Cdk6 mediated phosphorylation. These changes in turn lead to defects in T-lymphocyte differentiation and immune functions, as well as to the development of T-cell lymphomas. Secondly, this work demonstrates that KSHV infection in primary lymphatic endothelial cells (LECs) in three dimensional (3D) cell culture model leads to activation of a morphogenic process, endothelial to mesenchymal transition (EndMT), and increased invasiveness through activation of the Notch pathway and matrix metalloproteinase MT1-MMP. Lastly, the data show that the changes in cell plasticity contributing to tumorigenic traits are not confined to virally induced cancers. Melanoma cell interaction with LECs leads to activation of the Notch pathway and increased adhesive, invasive, and metastatic properties of the tumor cells. In conclusion, the results show that regulation of cell plasticity through the Notch pathway takes place in different types of cancers, and it can affect several steps of tumorigenesis. A thorough and comprehensive understanding of the processes discovered herein may help develop better and more efficient treatments for these largely fatal malignancies.
  • Vellonen, Kati-Sisko (2010)
    Drug discovery and development from its very onset up to market approval is a long process lasting 10-15 years. New research tools are needed to accelerate and rationalize this process. Ocular drug research still relies heavily on animal testing with rabbits and other rodents. Computational methods and cell culture models are promising tools for early pharmacokinetic studies and may partly replace the animals in pharmacokinetic and toxicological studies. Computational methods are initially based on experimental data, but thereafter their application is straightforward and they can be used to reduce, partly replace and refine further experimental studies. Similarly, cell culture models may enable absorption and toxicity testing of drug candidates with continuously growing cells of human origin, and thereby reduce the need for animal experiments. The cornea is the main route of ocular drug absorption after topical administration, and the corneal epithelium is the most important barrier to drug permeation. Membrane transporter proteins play an important role in the general pharmacokinetics and toxicology. However, their role in ocular pharmacokinetics is still poorly understood. Based on literature analysis many ocular drugs seem to be substrates of transporters, but the expression of these proteins in the eye is largely unknown. The goal of this work was to develop and evaluate cellular and computational tools for ocular pharmacokinetics and toxicology, and to characterise the active drug transporters in the corneal epithelium. The expression of monocarboxylate transporters and ATP-binding cassette (ABC) class efflux proteins was studied in the corneal epithelium and human corneal epithelial (HCE) cell model. Human corneal epithelium expressed monocarboxylate transporters 1 and 4 (MCT1 and MCT4), efflux transporters multidrug resistance-associated protein 1 and 5 (MRP1 and MRP5), and breast cancer resistance protein (BCRP). Cultured human corneal epithelial cells over-expressed several ABC class efflux proteins and MCT1 and MCT4. The functionality of efflux and monocarboxylate transport was demonstrated in HCE cells and in the rabbit cornea ex vivo. The MTT test is a widely used cytotoxicity test in cell research. It was demonstrated that substrates and inhibitors of ABC class efflux proteins may interfere with the MTT test, presumably by inhibiting dye efflux from the cells. This may lead to an underestimation of toxicity in the MTT test. Quantitative structure property relationship (QSPR) models are commonly used in early drug discovery to predict ADME properties of novel compounds. Multivariate analysis was used to develop QSPR models for in silico prediction of the corneal permeability. Two factors, the distribution coefficient (logD7.4 /logD8.0) and hydrogen binding potential, were shown to be the parameters that determine the transcorneal permeability of a compound. These models were able to predict intracameral steady state drug concentrations in rabbit eyes. In conclusion, the new in silico QSPR model can make reliable predictions for passive drug permeability in the cornea, while the HCE model seems to over-express some membrane transporters as compared to the normal human corneal epithelium. Even if these investigated methods have some restrictions they are still very useful tools for drug discovery purposes.
  • Sipilä, Sampsa (Helsingin yliopisto, 2006)
    Distinct endogenous network events, generated independently of sensory input, are a general feature of various structures of the immature central nervous system. In the immature hippocampus, these type of events are seen as "giant depolarizing potentials" (GDPs) in intracellular recordings in vitro. GABA, the major inhibitory neurotransmitter of the adult brain, has a depolarizing action in immature neurons, and GDPs have been proposed to be driven by GABAergic transmission. Moreover, GDPs have been thought to reflect an early pattern that disappears during development in parallel with the maturation of hyperpolarizing GABAergic inhibition. However, the adult hippocampus in vivo also generates endogenous network events known as sharp (positive) waves (SPWs), which reflect synchronous discharges of CA3 pyramidal neurons and are thought to be involved in cognitive functions. In this thesis, mechanisms of GDP generation were studied with intra- and extracellular recordings in the neonatal rat hippocampus in vitro and in vivo. Immature CA3 pyramidal neurons were found to generate intrinsic bursts of spikes and to act as cellular pacemakers for GDP activity whereas depolarizing GABAergic signalling was found to have a temporally non-patterned facilitatory role in the generation of the network events. Furthermore, the data indicate that the intrinsic bursts of neonatal CA3 pyramidal neurons and, consequently, GDPs are driven by a persistent Na+ current and terminated by a slow Ca2+-dependent K+ current. Gramicidin-perforated patch recordings showed that the depolarizing driving force for GABAA receptor-mediated actions is provided by Cl- uptake via the Na-K-C1 cotransporter, NKCC1, in the immature CA3 pyramids. A specific blocker of NKCC1, bumetanide, inhibited SPWs and GDPs in the neonatal rat hippocampus in vivo and in vitro, respectively. Finally, pharmacological blockade of the GABA transporter-1 prolonged the decay of the large GDP-associated GABA transients but not of single postsynaptic GABAA receptor-mediated currents. As a whole the data in this thesis indicate that the mechanism of GDP generation, based on the interconnected network of bursting CA3 pyramidal neurons, is similar to that involved in adult SPW activity. Hence, GDPs do not reflect a network pattern that disappears during development but they are the in vitro counterpart of neonatal SPWs.
  • Linder, Matts (Helsingin yliopisto, 2009)
    One of the most important factors determining the development of atherosclerosis is the amount of LDL particles in the circulation. In general, LDL particles are clinically regarded as “bad cholesterol” since these particles get entrapped within the vascular wall, leading to atherosclerosis. Circulating HDL particles are conversely regarded as “good cholesterol” because of their ability to transport cholesterol from peripheral tissues to the liver for secretion as bile salts. Once inside the artery wall LDL particles are engulfed by macrophages, resulting in macrophage foam cells. If the macrophage foam cells are not able to efflux the cholesterol back into the bloodstream, the excessive cholesterol ultimately leads to cell death, and the deposition of cellular debris within the atherosclerotic lesion. The cells ability to secrete cholesterol is mainly dependent on the ABCA1 transporter (ATP-binding cassette transporter A1) which transfers cellular cholesterol to extracellular apoA-I (apolipoprotein A-I) particles, leading to the generation of nascent HDL particles. The process of atherosclerotic plaque development is therefore to a large extent a cellular one, in which the capacity of the macrophages in handling the excessive cholesterol load determines the progression of lesion development. In this work we have studied the cellular mechanisms that regulate the trafficking of LDL-derived cholesterol from endosomal compartments to other parts of the cell. As a basis for the study we have utilized cells from patients with Niemann-Pick type C disease, a genetic disorder resulting from mutations in the NPC1 and NPC2 genes. In these cells, cholesterol is entrapped within the endosomal compartment, and is not available for efflux. By identifying proteins that bypass the cholesterol trafficking defect, we were able to identify the small GTPase Rab8 as an important protein involved in ABCA1 dependent cholesterol efflux. In the study, we show that Rab8 regulates cholesterol efflux in human macrophages by facilitating intracellular cholesterol transport, as well as by regulating the plasma membrane availability of ABCA1. Collectively, these results give new insight in to atherosclerotic lesion development and intracellular cholesterol processing.
  • Kirjavainen, Anna (Helsingin yliopisto, 2014)
    Development of the sensory epithelia of the inner ear and their primary cell types, hair cells and supporting cells, is a complex process under tight molecular regulation. These cells arise from common progenitors that are guided to follow cell-type-specific differentiation program, and undergo prominent structural changes to reach mature morphologies. The mechanisms regulating this cellular differentiation in the developing inner ear are not fully understood. The focus of this thesis has been in understanding the molecular control of the stepwise development of hair cells and supporting cells. Sequential expression of transcription factors has a central role in the control of development of the cells and tissues. Here we show that transcription factor Prox1 participates in the molecular cascade directing cellular differentiation in the inner ear. During early development, Prox1 is expressed in the progenitors of hair cells and supporting cells, and later maintained only in the supporting cells. We found novel interactions between Prox1 and hair cell-specific transcription factors Atoh1, the master regulator of hair cell development, and Gfi1, an essential survival factor of the cochlear hair cells. When overexpressed in hair cells, Prox1 suppressed the expression of Atoh1 and Gfi1, illustrating the possibility of transcriptional reprogramming of hair cells. This downregulation had functional consequences, resulting in auditory hair cell death during a restricted period at late-embryogenesis. Furthermore, when we studied Gfi1-knock-in mice, the model in which auditory hair cells die shortly after differentiation, we found positive interaction between Gfi1 and p57Kip2. Thus, p57Kip2 is introduced as a new candidate to mediate the survival-promoting function of Gfi1 in the auditory hair cells. Rho GTPases integrate signals from different molecular pathways to regulate cell cytoskeleton, intercellular junctions and polarity, all properties that are heavily modulated in the epithelial cells of the developing inner ear. A member of Rho GTPase family, Cdc42, was found to be expressed in the developing auditory sensory epithelium. Analysis of Cdc42 mutant mice revealed a versatile role of this protein, demonstrating its importance in 1) the formation of proper cellular patterning in the auditory sensory epithelium, 2) the regulation of apical-basal and planar polarities of the sensory epithelial cells, and 3) the regulation of apical cytoskeleton in these cells. In the absence of Cdc42, mechanosensory hair bundles at the apices of hair cells failed to develop normally, indicating Cdc42 s significance in hearing function. In addition, Cdc42 regulates the maturation of adherens junctions and apical actin cytoskeleton in postnatal supporting cells. Cdc42-deficient supporting cells lacked the ability for normal wound healing, showing that properly developed apical module is needed for epithelium repair following injury to the hearing organ. This thesis presents new pieces to the molecular network controlling cellular differentiation of the inner ear sensory epithelia. Understanding the regulation of this stepwise development may have therapeutic value. It may help to explain the fundamental reasons why mammalian hair cells do not regenerate and, to identify the mechanisms and factors that could be applied to promote hair cell regeneration in the future.
  • Li, Xiao-Dong (Helsingin yliopisto, 2005)
  • Wigren, Henna-Kaisa (Helsingin yliopisto, 2009)
    Sleep is governed by a homeostatic process in which the duration and quality of previous wake regulate the subsequent sleep. Active wakefulness is characterized with high frequency cortical oscillations and depends on stimulating influence of the arousal systems, such as the cholinergic basal forebrain (BF), while cessation of the activity in the arousal systems is required for slow wave sleep (SWS) to occur. The site-specific accumulation of adenosine (a by-product of ATP breakdown) in the BF during prolonged waking /sleep deprivation (SD) is known to induce sleep, thus coupling energy demand to sleep promotion. The adenosine release in the BF is accompanied with increases in extracellular lactate and nitric oxide (NO) levels. This thesis was aimed at further understanding the cellular processes by which the BF is involved in sleep-wake regulation and how these processes are affected by aging. The BF function was studied simultaneously at three levels of organization: 1) locally at a cellular level by measuring energy metabolites 2) globally at a cortical level (the out-put area of the BF) by measuring EEG oscillations and 3) at a behavioral level by studying changes in vigilance states. Study I showed that wake-promoting BF activation, particularly with glutamate receptor agonist N-methyl-D-aspatate (NMDA), increased extracellular adenosine and lactate levels and led to a homeostatic increase in the subsequent sleep. Blocking NMDA activation during SD reduced the high frequency (HF) EEG theta (7-9 Hz) power and attenuated the subsequent sleep. In aging, activation of the BF during SD or experimentally with NMDA (studies III, IV), did not induce lactate or adenosine release and the increases in the HF EEG theta power during SD and SWS during the subsequent sleep were attenuated as compared to the young. These findings implicate that increased or continuous BF activity is important for active wake maintenance during SD as well as for the generation of homeostatic sleep pressure, and that in aging these mechanisms are impaired. Study II found that induction of the inducible NO synthase (iNOS) during SD is accompanied with activation of the AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) in the BF. Because decreased cellular energy charge is the most common cause for AMPK activation, this finding implicates that the BF is selectively sensitive to the metabolic demands of SD as increases were not found in the cortex. In aging (study III), iNOS expression and extracellular levels of NO and adenosine were not significantly increased during SD in the BF. Furthermore, infusion of NO donor into the BF did not lead to sleep promotion as it did in the young. These findings indicated that the NO (and adenosine) mediated sleep induction is impaired in aging and that it could at least partly be due to the reduced sensitivity of the BF to sleep-inducing factors. Taken together, these findings show that reduced sleep promotion by the BF contributes to the attenuated homeostatic sleep response in aging.
  • Spuul, Pirjo (Helsingin yliopisto, 2010)
    All positive-strand RNA viruses utilize cellular membranes for the assembly of their replication complexes, which results in extensive membrane modification in infected host cells. These alterations act as structural and functional scaffolds for RNA replication, providing protection for the viral double-stranded RNA against host defences. It is known that different positive-strand RNA viruses alter different cellular membranes. However, the origin of the targeted membranes, the mechanisms that direct replication proteins to specific membranes and the steps in the formation of the membrane bound replication complex are not completely understood. Alphaviruses (including Semliki Forest virus, SFV), members of family Togaviridae, replicate their RNA in association with membranes derived from the endosomal and lysosomal compartment, inducing membrane invaginations called spherules. Spherule structures have been shown to be the specific sites for RNA synthesis. Four replication proteins, nsP1-nsP4, are translated as a polyprotein (P1234) which is processed autocatalytically and gives rise to a membrane-bound replication complex. Membrane binding is mediated via nsP1 which possesses an amphipathic α-helix (binding peptide) in the central region of the protein. The aim of this thesis was to characterize the association of the SFV replication complex with cellular membranes and the modification of the membranes during virus infection. Therefore, it was necessary to set up the system for determining which viral components are needed for inducing the spherules. In addition, the targeting of the replication complex, the formation site of the spherules and their intracellular trafficking were studied in detail. The results of current work demonstrate that mutations in the binding peptide region of nsP1 are lethal for virus replication and change the localization of the polyprotein precursor P123. The replication complex is first targeted to the plasma membrane where membrane invaginations, spherules, are induced. Using a specific regulated endocytosis event the spherules are internalized from the plasma membrane in neutral carrier vesicles and transported via an actin-and microtubule-dependent manner to the pericentriolar area. Homotypic fusions and fusions with pre-existing acidic organelles lead to the maturation of previously described cytopathic vacuoles with hundreds of spherules on their limiting membranes. This work provides new insights into the membrane binding mechanism of SFV replication complex and its role in the virus life cycle. Development of plasmid-driven system for studying the formation of the replication complex described in this thesis allows various applications to address different steps in SFV life cycle and virus-host interactions in the future. This trans-replication system could be applied for many different viruses. In addition, the current work brings up new aspects of membranes and cellular components involved in SFV replication leading to further understanding in the formation and dynamics of the membrane-associated replication complex.
  • Hankaniemi, Minna (2012)
    Bone morphogenetic protein 15 (BMP15) and growth differentiation factor 9 (GDF9) are growth factors expressed by oocytes and are among the key regulators transmitting the signaling between the oocyte and the surrounding granulosa cells. Genetic studies have shown that these factors are essential regulators of normal fertility in mammals. BMP15 gene deficient mice exhibit a mild reduction in fertility, whereas sheep homozygous for a mutant form of BMP15 are sterile. In the case of GDF9, knockout mice and homozygous mutant sheep are also sterile the ovaries being non functional due to an early block in folliculogenesis. In humans, aberrant expression of these factors has been involved in premature ovarian failure (POF), polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or dizygotic twinning. ----- This thesis was aimed to define the signaling and activation of human BMP15 (hBMP15) and GDF9 (hGDF9) proteins. The lack of bioactive hGDF9 had restricted the in vitro studies previously and the first aim of this thesis was to produce and purify bioactive hGDF9 protein. We found that hGDF9 is secreted in a latent form. Although mouse GDF9 (mGDF9) and hBMP15 are produced in active form their bioactivity is lost when a C-terminal affinity purification tag is added. We found also, that an N-terminal epitope tag does not have a deleterious effect on the bioactivity of mGDF9 or hBMP15 and they can be purified using immobilized metal affinity (IMAC) and high performance liquid chromatography approaches. A purified wild type hGDF9 (hGDF9wt) mature region became available to us during this thesis project and we found that it is a highly bioactive and stable protein activating the Smad3/4 signaling pathway. Subsequently we produced and purified a bioactive wild type hBMP15 (hBMP15wt) form, which was highly bioactive and activated the Smad1/5/8 signaling pathway in human granulosa luteal (hGL) cells. Physico-chemical characterization of BMP15 revealed that it consists of P16 and P17 forms, where P16 seems to be phosphorylated and P17 glycosylated. ------ It has been shown previously that a recombinant BMP type II receptor ectodomain Fc fusion protein (BMPR2ecd Fc) is able to inhibit the actions of BMP15 and GDF9 in vitro. For studying the effect of BMPR2ecd Fc on mouse folliculogenesis, we produced and purified this protein. These in vivo studies demonstrated that by administering the BMPR2ecd-Fc protein, we were able to dose-dependently modulate ovarian folliculogenesis in mice. -------- In order to determine the cell surface receptor binding components for human BMP15, we engineered and produced a covalent dimer of hBMP15 and labeled it radioactively. We found that it behaves biologically in a similar manner as the hBMP15wt. Human BMP15 strongly bound to BMPR1B and BMPR2 on the COV434 cell surface, an association which was further verified in COS-7 cells by overexpression of these receptors. In conclusion, we have for the first time produced and characterized recombinant human GDF9 and BMP15 protein in native form and thus developed valuable tools for studies aiming at understanding their role in human reproductive medicine. The production and purification methods developed during this thesis are widely applicable for the isolation and characterization of comparable oocyte growth factors in other species and thus have wide applicability in reproductive biology studies in the future.
  • Rahikainen, Jenni (Helsingin yliopisto, 2013)
    Lignin, a major non-carbohydrate polymer in lignocellulosic plant biomass, restricts the action of hydrolytic enzymes in the enzymatic hydrolysis of lignocellulosic feedstocks. Non-productive enzyme adsorption onto lignin is a major inhibitory mechanism, which results in decreased hydrolysis rates and yields and difficulties in enzyme recycling. The mechanisms of non-productive binding are poorly understood; therefore, in this thesis, enzyme-lignin interactions were studied using isolated lignins from steam pretreated and non-treated spruce and wheat straw as well as monocomponent cellulases with different modular structures and temperature stabilities. The origin of the isolated lignin had an undisputable effect on non-productive binding. Ultrathin lignin films, prepared from steam pretreated and non-treated lignin preparations, were employed in QCM adsorption studies in which Trichoderma reesei Cel7A (TrCel7A) was found to bind more onto lignin isolated from steam pretreated biomass than onto lignin isolated from non-treated lignocellulosic biomass. Botanical differences in lignin chemistry had only a minor effect on nonproductive binding when enzyme binding to non-treated wheat straw and spruce lignin was compared. Increase in temperature was found to increase the inhibitory effect arising from non-productive enzyme binding to lignin. Different enzymes were shown to have a characteristic temperature at which the inhibition emerged. Thermostable enzymes were the most lignin-tolerant at high temperatures, suggesting that in addition to the surface properties of an enzyme, non-productive binding onto lignin may be influenced by stability of the enzyme structure. In addition, for lignin-bound T. reesei cellulases, increase in temperature resulted in loss of catalytic activity and tighter binding, suggesting that at high temperature enzyme binding to lignin was probably coupled to conformational changes in the protein folding. With TrCel7A, carbohydrate-binding module (CBM) was found to increase nonproductive adsorption to lignin. The Talaromyces emersonii Cel7A catalytic module was linked to a CBM from TrCel7A, giving rise to a fusion enzyme TeCel7A-CBM1. Despite a similar CBM, TeCel7A-CBM adsorbed significantly less to lignin than TrCel7A, indicating that the catalytic module (TeCel7A) had a strong contribution to the low binding. Probably, the contribution of CBM or catalytic core module in non-productive binding varies between different enzymes, and the role of the CBM is not always dominant. To date, very little attention has been paid to the role of electrostatic interactions in lignin-binding. In this work, binding of Melanocarpus albomyces Cel45A endoglucanase onto lignin was found to be very dependent on pH, suggesting that electrostatic interactions were involved in the binding. At high pH, significantly less non-productive binding occurred, probably due to increasing electrostatic repulsion between negatively charged enzymes and lignin. Modification of the charged chemical groups in enzymes or lignin may be a viable strategy to reduce nonproductive enzyme binding in the hydrolysis of lignocellulosic substrates.
  • Hiltunen, Miia (Helsingin yliopisto, 2013)
    Cellulose is the most abundant renewable natural polymer, with many attractive physical and chemical properties including hydrophilicity, biodegradability and biocompatibility. However, its effective use as bio-based material is limited due to its insolubility in water and organic solvents, as well as due to difficult processability. The main objective of this research was to utilize the new controlled/living free radical polymerization (CRP) methods in the modifications of various cellulosic materials, yielding new water-soluble cellulose based graft copolymers (cellulose-g-copolymers) with a uniform molecular structures. The recent developments in CRP methods have enabled the tailoring of macromolecules with sophisticated architectures including block, graft and star structures with predetermined molecular weights, terminal functionalities, and narrow molecular weight distributions. Modification by graft copolymerization using CRP methods provides one of the best ways to combine the advantages of both natural cellulose and synthetic polymers and therefore affect the properties of the cellulose derivatives. The cellulose-g-copolymers have various potential applications over a wide range of areas, such as sensor matrices, recognition devices, selective membranes, organic-inorganic complex materials, and bioactive and biocompatible materials. In this study novel water-soluble cellulose-g-copolymers were successfully synthesized via CRP methods (RAFT and ATRP/SET-LRP). In addition to unmodified cellulose (softwood dissolving pulp), cellulose ethers (carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) and ethyl hydroxyethyl cellulose (EHEC)) were also used as starting materials i.e. as backbones for the cellulose-g-copolymers. Homogeneous reaction conditions were used to confirm as uniform structure of the graft copolymers as possible. The influence of the side chain length and the grafting density on the aqueous solution and thermal properties of the graft copolymers were studied.