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  • Tikka, Saara (Helsingin yliopisto, 2009)
    Cerebral Autosomal Dominant Arteriopathy with Subcortical Infarcts and Leukoencephalopathy (CADASIL) is the most common hereditary vascular dementia. CADASIL is a systemic disease of small and medium-sized arteries although the symptoms are almost exclusively neurological, including migraineous headache, recurrent ischemic episodes, cognitive impairment and, finally, subcortical dementia. CADASIL is caused by over 170 different mutations in the NOTCH3 gene, which encodes a receptor expressed in adults predominantly in the vascular smooth muscle cells. The function of NOTCH3 is not crucial for embryonic development but is needed after birth. NOTCH3 directs postnatal arterial maturation and helps to maintain arterial integrity. It is involved in regulation of vascular tone and in the wound healing of a vascular injury. In addition, NOTCH3 promotes cell survival by inducing expression of anti-apoptotic proteins. NOTCH3 is a membrane-spanning protein with a large extracellular domain (N3ECD) containing 34 epidermal growth factor-like (EGF) repeats and a smaller intracellular domain with six ankyrin repeats. All CADASIL mutations are located in the EGF repeats and the majority of the mutations cause gain or loss of one cysteine residue in one of these repeats leading to an odd number of cysteine residues, which in turn leads to misfolding of N3ECD. This misfolding most likely alters the maturation, targetting, degradation and/or function of the NOTCH3 receptor. CADASIL mutations do not seem to affect the canonical NOTCH3 signalling pathway. The main pathological findings are the accumulation of the NOTCH3 extracellular domain on degenerating vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs), accumulation of granular osmiophilic material (GOM) in the close vicinity of VSMCs as well as fibrosis and thickening of arterial walls. Narrowing of the arterial lumen and local thrombosis cause insufficient blood flow, mainly in small arteries of the cerebral white matter, resulting in tissue damage and lacunar infarcts. CADASIL is suspected in patients with a suggestive family history and clinical picture as well as characteristic white matter alterations in magnetic resonance imaging. A definitive verification of the diagnosis can be achieved by identifying a pathogenic mutation in the NOTCH3 gene or through the detection of GOM by electron microscopy. To understand the pathology underlying CADASIL, we have generated a unique set of cultured vascular smooth muscle cell (VSMC) lines from umbilical cord, placental, systemic and cerebral arteries of CADASIL patients and controls. Analyses of these VSMCs suggest that mutated NOTCH3 is misfolded, thus causing endoplasmic reticulum stress, activation of the unfolded protein response and increased production of reactive oxygen species. In addition, mutation in NOTCH3 causes alterations in actin cytoskeletal structures and protein expression, increased branching and abnormal node formation. These changes correlate with NOTCH3 expression levels within different VSMCs lines, suggesting that the phenotypic differences of SMCs may affect the vulnerability of the VSMCs and, therefore, the pathogenic impact of mutated NOTCH3 appears to vary in the arteries of different locations. Furthermore, we identified PDGFR- as an immediate downstream target gene of NOTCH3 signalling. Activation of NOTCH induces up-regulation of the PDGFR- expression in control VSMCs, whereas this up-regulation is impaired in CADASIL VSMCs and might thus serve as an alternative molecular mechanism that contributes to CADASIL pathology. In addition, we have established the congruence between NOTCH3 mutations and electron microscopic detection of GOM with a view to constructing a strategy for CADASIL diagnostics. In cases where the genetic analysis is not available or the mutation is difficult to identify, a skin biopsy is an easy-to-perform and highly reliable diagnostic method. Importantly, it is invaluable in setting guidelines concerning how far one should proceed with the genetic analyses.
  • Varho, Vilja (Helsingin yliopisto, 2007)
    Wind power has grown fast internationally. It can reduce the environmental impact of energy production and increase energy security. Finland has turbine industry but wind electricity production has been slow, and nationally set capacity targets have not been met. I explored social factors that have affected the slow development of wind power in Finland by studying the perceptions of Finnish national level wind power actors. By that I refer to people who affect the development of wind power sector, such as officials, politicians, and representatives of wind industries and various organisations. The material consisted of interviews, a questionnaire, and written sources. The perceptions of wind power, its future, and methods to promote it were divided. They were studied through discourse analysis, content analysis, and scenario construction. Definition struggles affect views of the significance and potential of wind power in Finland, and also affect investments in wind power and wind power policy choices. Views of the future were demonstrated through scenarios. The views included scenarios of fast growth, but in the most pessimistic views, wind power was not thought to be competitive without support measures even in 2025, and the wind power capacity was correspondingly low. In such a scenario, policy tool choices were expected to remain similar to ones in use at the time of the interviews. So far, the development in Finland has followed closely this pessimistic scenario. Despite the scepticism about wind electricity production, wind turbine industry was seen as a credible industry. For many wind power actors as well as for the Finnish wind power policy, the turbine industry is a significant motive to promote wind power. Domestic electricity production and the export turbine industry are linked in discourse through so-called home market argumentation. Finnish policy tools have included subsidies, research and development funding, and information policies. The criteria used to evaluate policy measures were both process-oriented and value-based. Feed-in tariffs and green certificates that are common elsewhere have not been taken to use in Finland. Some interviewees considered such tools unsuitable for free electricity markets and for the Finnish policy style, dictatorial, and being against western values. Other interviewees supported their use because of their effectiveness. The current Finnish policy tools are not sufficiently effective to increase wind power production significantly. Marginalisation of wind power in discourses, pessimistic views of the future, and the view that the small consumer demand for wind electricity represents the political views of citizens towards promoting wind power, make it more difficult to take stronger policy measures to use. Wind power has not yet significantly contributed to the ecological modernisation of the energy sector in Finland, but the situation may change as the need to reduce emissions from energy production continues.
  • Schultner, Eva (Helsingin yliopisto, 2014)
    In complex societies like ant colonies individuals cooperate in the aim of maximizing offspring production. But cooperation is only flawless from afar. In fact, because adults can differ in their relatedness to brood they often have contrasting inclusive fitness interests, which may lead to outbreaks of social conflict. However, although conflicts in ant colonies typically arise over offspring production, the role of offspring as actors in social conflict has received little attention. The primary aim of this thesis was to investigate the role of larvae in ant societies, with particular emphasis on selfish larval behavior in the form of egg cannibalism. This thesis demonstrates that Formica ant larvae readily engage in egg cannibalism. Egg consumption allows larvae to increase survival and positively affects the expression of key growth-related genes. Levels of cannibalism across species decrease when relatedness between larvae and eggs is high, which suggests that cannibalism is a selfish trait that can underlie social control. Cannibalism appears to be plastic in F. aquilonia, where levels increase when larvae are presented with foreign eggs compared to sibling eggs. In addition, cannibalism intensity is highly dependent on larvae sex and size across eight species. I conclude that ant larvae are far from powerless. Instead, cannibalism may allow larvae to influence important determinants of individual fitness such as caste fate or size. By consuming eggs, larvae may furthermore affect overall colony fitness. For the first time, this thesis identifies larvae as individuals with selfish interests that have the power to act in social conflict, thus adding a new dimension to our understanding of colony dynamics in social insects. In order to understand how relatedness between individuals potentially impacts conflict in ant societies on a larger scale, this thesis furthermore focuses on the genetic network of native wood ant populations. The societies of these ants consist of many interconnected nests with hundreds of reproductive queens, where individuals move freely between nests and cooperate across nest boundaries. The combination of high queen numbers and free mixing of individuals results in extremely low relatedness within these so-called supercolonies. Here, cooperative worker behavior appears maladaptive because it may aid random individuals instead of relatives. I use network analysis to test for spatial and temporal variation in genetic structure, in order to provide a comprehensive picture of genetic substructure in native wood ant populations. I find that relatedness within supercolonies is low but positive when viewed on a population level, which may be due to limited dispersal range of individuals and ecological factors such as nest site limitation and competition against conspecifics. Genetic network analysis thus provides novel evidence that ant supercolonies can exhibit fine-scale genetic substructure, which may explain the maintenance of cooperation in these low-relatedness societies. Overall, these results offer a new perspective on the stability of cooperation in ant societies, and will hopefully contribute to our understanding of the evolutionary forces governing the balance between cooperation and conflict in other complex social systems.
  • Närhi, Katja (Helsingin yliopisto, 2012)
    Although mammary glands and hair are morphologically and functionally different organs, they share similar early developmental features and arise from ectoderm like other skin appendages. Their development begins by the formation of an epithelial placode and a mesenchymal dermal condensate and crosstalk between these tissue compartments directs the subsequent developmental steps resulting in epithelial morphogenesis and the generation of specific organ shapes. Different types of hair filaments are observed in various anatomical regions and are produced by hair follicles consisting of several epithelial cell layers and a dermal papilla. The mammary gland is constructed of a nipple rising above the skin and the glandular mammary tree producing milk. Both organs continue development postnatally; new hair is produced by repeated hair cycles lasting throughout the lifetime and postpubertal mammary ductal tree is remodelled upon pregnancy and following lactation and involution. Handful of conserved signaling pathways guides both the embryonic and postnatal developmental steps of skin appendages. Hair and mammary gland development are especially known to depend on signals from the -catenin-mediated Wnt pathway. The Wnt pathway is highly complex with multiple ligands, receptors and signaling modulators, and cross-talk with other signaling pathways is apparent. Here, I have examined the role of Wnt signaling in hair and mammary gland patterning and development and its relationship to other signaling molecules within this context. The study has involved three different mouse models in which Wnt signaling is modulated either by continuous activation of -catenin, inactivation of the Wnt and Bmp pathway regulator Sostdc1, or ablation of a Wnt target gene, Fgf20. Continuous Wnt/-catenin signaling in embryonic ectoderm in Catnbex3K14/+ mice caused precocious hair development and, the formation of ectopic and mispatterned hair placodes showing disturbed morphogenesis and hair filament formation. Fgf20-null mice showed a surprisingly early hair phenotype with a loss of expression of several dermal condensate markers but presence of grossly normal morphological patterning of placodes with altered placode marker expression patterns. Loss of Sostdc1 had very mild effects on pelage hair development but interestingly, Sostdc1 appears to play a role in determing correct vibrissal hair and nipple number and the regulation of mammary bud size/form, plausibly through inhibiting Wnt signaling.
  • Liljeroos, Lassi (Helsingin yliopisto, 2013)
    Paramyxoviridae constitute a family of pleomorphic, enveloped viruses including several human pathogens. Understanding of the structure and assembly of paramyxoviruses has been hindered by the lack of whole-virion three-dimensional structures. In this work, measles and human respiratory syncytial viruses were studied with three-dimensional electron microscopy and biochemical analysis of recombinant proteins. The analysis revealed significant differences in the structure and assembly of the two viruses. The differences were most notable in the way the matrix protein, the main factor driving budding from host cell, was organized inside the virions. In measles virions, the matrix was found to cover the genome-containing ribonucleocapsid, whereas in human respiratory syncytial virus the matrix was lining the inner surface of the membrane vesicle. These differences have implications on models of how each ribonucleoprotein complex assembles and how the viruses bud from the host cell. The early control of measles ribonucleoprotein assembly was subsequently investigated to further reveal the details of the precise manner in which the intricate molecular ballet of viral assembly is orchestrated inside the host cell. The results presented in this thesis expand the understanding of enveloped virus structure and assembly, which is important in rational approaches to fight the pathogenic members in the group.
  • Rainio, Johanna (Helsingin yliopisto, 2009)
    Growing human populations and increasing exploitation of natural resources threaten nature all over the world. Tropical countries are especially vulnerable to human impact because of the high number of species, most of these endemic and still unknown. Madagascar is one of the centers of high biodiversity and renowned for its unique species. However, during the last centuries many endemic species have gone extinct and more are endangered. Because of high natural values, Madagascar is one of the global conservation priorities. The establishment of Ranomafana National Park (RNP) was intended to preserve the unique nature of Madagascar. Containing several endemic and threatened species, Ranomafana has been selected as one of UNESCO’s World Natural Heritage sites. However, due to strong human pressures the region immediately surroundings the protected area has severely degraded. Aims of this thesis were to inventory carabid fauna in RNP and evaluate their use as indicators of the environmental change. Carabid beetles were collected from protected area (secondary and primary forests) and from its degraded surrounding area. Collecting was mostly conducted by hand during years 2000-2005. Species compositions between the protected area and its surroundings were compared, and species habitat preferences and seasonal variations were studied. In total, 4498 individuals representing 127 carabid species (of which 38 are new species) were collected. Species compositions within and outside of the protected area were markedly different. Most of the species preferred forest as their primary habitat and were mainly collected from trees and bushes. Their value as indicators is based on their different habitat requirements and sensitivity to environmental variables. Some of the species were found only in the protected forest, some occupied also the degraded forests and some preferred open areas. Carabid fauna is very species rich in Ranomafana and there are still many species to be found. Most of the species are arboreal and probably cannot survive in the deforested areas outside the park. This is very likely also the case for other species. Establishment and continued protection of RNP is probably the only way to conserve this globally important area. However, new occupations and land use methods are urgently needed by the local people for improving their own lives while maintaining the forest intact.
  • Huotari, Jussi (Helsingin yliopisto, 2011)
    Lakes serve as sites for terrestrially fixed carbon to be remineralized and transferred back to the atmosphere. Their role in regional carbon cycling is especially important in the Boreal Zone, where lakes can cover up to 20% of the land area. Boreal lakes are often characterized by the presence of a brown water colour, which implies high levels of dissolved organic carbon from the surrounding terrestrial ecosystem, but the load of inorganic carbon from the catchment is largely unknown. Organic carbon is transformed to methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) in biological processes that result in lake water gas concentrations that increase above atmospheric equilibrium, thus making boreal lakes as sources of these important greenhouse gases. However, flux estimates are often based on sporadic sampling and modelling and actual flux measurements are scarce. Thus, the detailed temporal flux dynamics of greenhouse gases are still largely unknown. ----- One aim here was to reveal the natural dynamics of CH4 and CO2 concentrations and fluxes in a small boreal lake. The other aim was to test the applicability of a measuring technique for CO2 flux, i.e. the eddy covariance (EC) technique, and a computational method for estimation of primary production and community respiration, both commonly used in terrestrial research, in this lake. Continuous surface water CO2 concentration measurements, also needed in free-water applications to estimate primary production and community respiration, were used over two open water periods in a study of CO2 concentration dynamics. Traditional methods were also used to measure gas concentration and fluxes. The study lake, Valkea-Kotinen, is a small, humic, headwater lake within an old-growth forest catchment with no local anthropogenic disturbance and thus possible changes in gas dynamics reflect the natural variability in lake ecosystems. CH4 accumulated under the ice and in the hypolimnion during summer stratification. The surface water CH4 concentration was always above atmospheric equilibrium and thus the lake was a continuous source of CH4 to the atmosphere. However, the annual CH4 fluxes were small, i.e. 0.11 mol m-2 yr-1, and the timing of fluxes differed from that of other published estimates. The highest fluxes are usually measured in spring after ice melt but in Lake Valkea-Kotinen CH4 was effectively oxidised in spring and highest effluxes occurred in autumn after summer stratification period. CO2 also accumulated under the ice and the hypolimnetic CO2 concentration increased steadily during stratification period. The surface water CO2 concentration was highest in spring and in autumn, whereas during the stable stratification it was sometimes under atmospheric equilibrium. It showed diel, daily and seasonal variation; the diel cycle was clearly driven by light and thus reflected the metabolism of the lacustrine ecosystem. However, the diel cycle was sometimes blurred by injection of hypolimnetic water rich in CO2 and the surface water CO2 concentration was thus controlled by stratification dynamics. The highest CO2 fluxes were measured in spring, autumn and during those hypolimnetic injections causing bursts of CO2 comparable with the spring and autumn fluxes. The annual fluxes averaged 77 (±11 SD) g C m-2 yr-1. In estimating the importance of the lake in recycling terrestrial carbon, the flux was normalized to the catchment area and this normalized flux was compared with net ecosystem production estimates of -50 to 200 g C m-2 yr-1 from unmanaged forests in corresponding temperature and precipitation regimes in the literature. Within this range the flux of Lake Valkea-Kotinen yielded from the increase in source of the surrounding forest by 20% to decrease in sink by 5%. The free water approach gave primary production and community respiration estimates of 5- and 16-fold, respectively, compared with traditional bottle incubations during a 5-day testing period in autumn. The results are in parallel with findings in the literature. Both methods adopted from the terrestrial community also proved useful in lake studies. A large percentage of the EC data was rejected, due to the unfulfilled prerequisites of the method. However, the amount of data accepted remained large compared with what would be feasible with traditional methods. Use of the EC method revealed underestimation of the widely used gas exchange model and suggests simultaneous measurements of actual turbulence at the water surface with comparison of the different gas flux methods to revise the parameterization of the gas transfer velocity used in the models.
  • Vitikainen, Emma (Helsingin yliopisto, 2010)
    Human actions cause destruction and fragmentation of natural habitats, predisposing populations to loss of genetic diversity and inbreeding, which may further decrease their fitness and survival. Understanding these processes is a main concern in conservation genetics. Yet data from natural populations is scarce, particularly on invertebrates, owing to difficulties in measuring both fitness and inbreeding in the wild. Ants are social insects, and a prime example of an ecologically important group for which the effects of inbreeding remain largely unstudied. Social insects serve key roles in all terrestrial ecosystems, and the division of labor between the females in the colonies queens reproduce, workers tend to the developing brood probably is central to their ecological success. Sociality also has important implications for the effects of inbreeding. Despite their relative abundance, the effective population sizes of social insects tend to be small, owing to the low numbers of reproductive individuals relative to the numbers of sterile workers. This may subject social insects to loss of genetic diversity and subsequent inbreeding depression. Moreover, both the workers and queens can be inbred, with different and possibly multiplicative consequences. The aim of this study was to investigate causes and consequences of inbreeding in a natural population of ants. I used a combination of long-term field and genetic data from colonies of the narrow-headed ant Formica exsecta to examine dispersal, mating behavior and the occurrence of inbreeding, and its consequences on individual and colony traits. Mating in this species takes place in nuptial flights that have been assumed to be population-wide and panmictic. My results, however, show that dispersal is local, with queens establishing new colonies as close as 60 meters from their natal colony. Even though actual sib-mating was rare, individuals from different but related colonies pair, which causes the population to be inbred. Furthermore, multiple mates of queens were related to each other, which also indicates localized mating flights. Hence, known mechanisms of inbreeding avoidance, dispersal and multiple mating, were not effective in this population, as neither reduced inbreeding level of the future colony. Inbreeding had negative consequences both at the individual and colony level. A queen that has mated with a related male produces inbred workers, which impairs the colony s reproductive success. The inbred colonies were less productive and, specifically, produced fewer new queens, possibly owing to effects of inbreeding on the caste determination of female larvae. A striking finding was that males raised in colonies with inbred workers were smaller, which reflects an effect of the social environment as males, being haploid, cannot be inbred themselves. The queens produced in the inbred colonies, in contrast, were not smaller, but their immune response was up-regulated. Inbreeding had no effect on queen dispersal, but inbred queens had a lower probability of successfully founding a new colony. Ultimately, queens that survived through the colony founding phase had a shorter lifespan. This supports the idea that inbreeding imposes a genetic stress, leading to inbreeding depression on both the queen and the colony level. My results show that inbreeding can have profound consequences on insects in the wild, and that in social species the effects of inbreeding may be multiplicative and mediated through the diversity of the social environment, as well as the genetic makeup of the individuals themselves. This emphasizes the need to take into account all levels of organization when assessing the effects of genetic diversity in social animals.
  • Pitala, Natalia (Helsingin yliopisto, 2007)
    Defence against pathogens is a vital need of all living organisms that has led to the evolution of complex immune mechanisms. However, although immunocompetence the ability to resist pathogens and control infection has in recent decades become a focus for research in evolutionary ecology, the variation in immune function observed in natural populations is relatively little understood. This thesis examines sources of this variation (environmental, genetic and maternal effects) during the nestling stage and its fitness consequences in wild populations of passerines: the blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) and the collared flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis). A developing organism may face a dilemma as to whether to allocate limited resources to growth or to immune defences. The optimal level of investment in immunity is shaped inherently by specific requirements of the environment. If the probability of contracting infection is low, maintaining high growth rates even at the expense of immune function may be advantageous for nestlings, as body mass is usually a good predictor of post-fledging survival. In experiments with blue tits and haematophagous hen fleas (Ceratophyllus gallinae) using two methods, methionine supplementation (to manipulate nestlings resource allocation to cellular immune function) and food supplementation (to increase resource availability), I confirmed that there is a trade-off between growth and immunity and that the abundance of ectoparasites is an environmental factor affecting allocation of resources to immune function. A cross-fostering experiment also revealed that environmental heterogeneity in terms of abundance of ectoparasites may contribute to maintaining additive genetic variation in immunity and other traits. Animal model analysis of extensive data collected from the population of collared flycatchers on Gotland (Sweden) allowed examination of the narrow-sense heritability of PHA-response the most commonly used index of cellular immunocompetence in avian studies. PHA-response is not heritable in this population, but is subject to a non-heritable origin (presumably maternal) effect. However, experimental manipulation of yolk androgen levels indicates that the mechanism of the maternal effect in PHA-response is not in ovo deposition of androgens. The relationship between PHA-response and recruitment was studied for over 1300 collared flycatcher nestlings. Multivariate selection analysis shows that it is body mass, not PHA-response, that is under direct selection. PHA-response appears to be related to recruitment because of its positive relationship with body mass. These results imply that either PHA-response fails to capture the immune mechanisms that are relevant for defence against pathogens encountered by fledglings or that the selection pressure from parasites is not as strong as commonly assumed.
  • Tammiruusu, Anne (Helsingin yliopisto, 2005)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Niemi, Jarkko (Helsingin yliopisto, 2007)
    Aerosol particles can cause detrimental environmental and health effects. The particles and their precursor gases are emitted from various anthropogenic and natural sources. It is important to know the origin and properties of aerosols to efficiently reduce their harmful effects. The diameter of aerosol particles (Dp) varies between ~0.001 and ~100 μm. Fine particles (PM2.5: Dp < 2.5 μm) are especially interesting because they are the most harmful and can be transported over long distances. The aim of this thesis is to study the impact on air quality by pollution episodes of long-range transported aerosols affecting the composition of the boundary-layer atmosphere in remote and relatively unpolluted regions of the world. The sources and physicochemical properties of aerosols were investigated in detail, based on various measurements (1) in southern Finland during selected long-range transport (LRT) pollution episodes and unpolluted periods and (2) over the Atlantic Ocean between Europe and Antarctica during a voyage. Furthermore, the frequency of LRT pollution episodes of fine particles in southern Finland was investigated over a period of 8 years, using long-term air quality monitoring data. In southern Finland, the annual mean PM2.5 mass concentrations were low but LRT caused high peaks of daily mean concentrations every year. At an urban background site in Helsinki, the updated WHO guideline value (24-h PM2.5 mean 25 μg/m3) was exceeded during 1-7 LRT episodes each year during 1999-2006. The daily mean concentrations varied between 25 and 49 μg/m3 during the episodes, which was 3-6 times higher than the mean concentration in the long term. The in-depth studies of selected LRT episodes in southern Finland revealed that biomass burning in agricultural fields and wildfires, occurring mainly in Eastern Europe, deteriorated air quality on a continental scale. The strongest LRT episodes of fine particles resulted from open biomass-burning fires but the emissions from other anthropogenic sources in Eastern Europe also caused significant LRT episodes. Particle mass and number concentrations increased strongly in the accumulation mode (Dp ~ 0.09-1 μm) during the LRT episodes. However, the concentrations of smaller particles (Dp < 0.09 μm) remained low or even decreased due to the uptake of vapours and molecular clusters by LRT particles. The chemical analysis of individual particles showed that the proportions of several anthropogenic particle types increased (e.g. tar balls, metal oxides/hydroxides, spherical silicate fly ash particles and various calcium-rich particles) in southern Finland during an LRT episode, when aerosols originated from the polluted regions of Eastern Europe and some open biomass-burning smoke was also brought in by LRT. During unpolluted periods when air masses arrived from the north, the proportions of marine aerosols increased. In unpolluted rural regions of southern Finland, both accumulation mode particles and small-sized (Dp ~ 1-3 μm) coarse mode particles originated mostly from LRT. However, the composition of particles was totally different in these size fractions. In both size fractions, strong internal mixing of chemical components was typical for LRT particles. Thus, the aging of particles has significant impacts on their chemical, hygroscopic and optical properties, which can largely alter the environmental and health effects of LRT aerosols. Over the Atlantic Ocean, the individual particle composition of small-sized (Dp ~ 1-3 μm) coarse mode particles was affected by continental aerosol plumes to distances of at least 100-1000 km from the coast (e.g. pollutants from industrialized Europe, desert dust from the Sahara and biomass-burning aerosols near the Gulf of Guinea). The rate of chloride depletion from sea-salt particles was high near the coasts of Europe and Africa when air masses arrived from polluted continental regions. Thus, the LRT of continental aerosols had significant impacts on the composition of the marine boundary-layer atmosphere and seawater. In conclusion, integration of the results obtained using different measurement techniques captured the large spatial and temporal variability of aerosols as observed at terrestrial and marine sites, and assisted in establishing the causal link between land-bound emissions, LRT and air quality.
  • Salusjärvi, Tuomas (Helsingin yliopisto, 2006)
    The work covered in this thesis is focused on the development of technology for bioconversion of glucose into D-erythorbic acid (D-EA) and 5-ketogluconic acid (5-KGA). The task was to show on proof-of-concept level the functionality of the enzymatic conversion or one-step bioconversion of glucose to these acids. The feasibility of both studies to be further developed for production processes was also evaluated. The glucose - D-EA bioconversion study was based on the use of a cloned gene encoding a D-EA forming soluble flavoprotein, D-gluconolactone oxidase (GLO). GLO was purified from Penicillium cyaneo-fulvum and partially sequenced. The peptide sequences obtained were used to isolate a cDNA clone encoding the enzyme. The cloned gene (GenBank accession no. AY576053) is homologous to the other known eukaryotic lactone oxidases and also to some putative prokaryotic lactone oxidases. Analysis of the deduced protein sequence of GLO indicated the presence of a typical secretion signal sequence at the N-terminus of the enzyme. No other targeting/anchoring signals were found, suggesting that GLO is the first known lactone oxidase that is secreted rather than targeted to the membranes of the endoplasmic reticulum or mitochondria. Experimental evidence supports this analysis, as near complete secretion of GLO was observed in two different yeast expression systems. Highest expression levels of GLO were obtained using Pichia pastoris as an expression host. Recombinant GLO was characterised and the suitability of purified GLO for the production of D-EA was studied. Immobilised GLO was found to be rapidly inactivated during D-EA production. The feasibility of in vivo glucose - D-EA conversion using a P. pastoris strain co-expressing the genes of GLO and glucose oxidase (GOD, E.C. 1.1.3.4) of A. niger was demonstrated. The glucose - 5-KGA bioconversion study followed a similar strategy to that used in the D-EA production research. The rationale was based on the use of a cloned gene encoding a membrane-bound pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ)-dependent gluconate 5-dehydrogenase (GA 5-DH). GA 5-DH was purified to homogeneity from the only source of this enzyme known in literature, Gluconobacter suboxydans, and partially sequenced. Using the amino acid sequence information, the GA 5-DH gene was cloned from a genomic library of G. suboxydans. The cloned gene was sequenced (GenBank accession no. AJ577472) and found to be an operon of two adjacent genes encoding two subunits of GA 5-DH. It turned out that GA 5-DH is a rather close homologue of a sorbitol dehydrogenase from another G. suboxydans strain. It was also found that GA 5-DH has significant polyol dehydrogenase activity. The G. suboxydans GA 5-DH gene was poorly expressed in E. coli. Under optimised conditions maximum expression levels of GA 5-DH did not exceed the levels found in wild-type G. suboxydans. Attempts to increase expression levels resulted in repression of growth and extensive cell lysis. However, the expression levels were sufficient to demonstrate the possibility of bioconversion of glucose and gluconate into 5-KGA using recombinant strains of E. coli. An uncharacterised homologue of GA 5-DH was identified in Xanthomonas campestris using in silico screening. This enzyme encoded by chromosomal locus NP_636946 was found by a sequencing project of X. campestris and named as a hypothetical glucose dehydrogenase. The gene encoding this uncharacterised enzyme was cloned, expressed in E. coli and found to encode a gluconate/polyol dehydrogenase without glucose dehydrogenase activity. Moreover, the X. campestris GA 5-DH gene was expressed in E. coli at nearly 30 times higher levels than the G. suboxydans GA 5-DH gene. Good expressability of the X. campestris GA-5DH gene makes it a valuable tool not only for 5-KGA production in the tartaric acid (TA) bioprocess, but possibly also for other bioprocesses (e.g. oxidation of sorbitol into L-sorbose). In addition to glucose - 5-KGA bioconversion, a preliminary study of the feasibility of enzymatic conversion of 5-KGA into TA was carried out. Here, the efficacy of the first step of a prospective two-step conversion route including a transketolase and a dehydrogenase was confirmed. It was found that transketolase convert 5-KGA into TA semialdehyde. A candidate for the second step was suggested to be succinic dehydrogenase, but this was not tested. The analysis of the two subprojects indicated that bioconversion of glucose to TA using X. campestris GA 5-DH should be prioritised first and the process development efforts in future should be focused on development of more efficient GA 5-DH production strains by screening a more suitable production host and by protein engineering.
  • Blom, Titta S. (Helsingin yliopisto, 2003)
  • Koskinen, Kaisa (Helsingin yliopisto, 2013)
    Microbes are essential for all life on Earth. They are found in all viable habitats from deep sea sediments and bedrock to high up in the atmosphere with a variety that exceeds by far the eukaryotic diversity. Ecosystem services provided by microorganisms, such as degradation of organic material and mediation of biogeochemical cycles are fundamentally important for the whole biosphere and its inhabitants. Microbes also form symbiotic relationships with multicellular organisms, and play important roles in nutrition and disease. Recent developments in molecular techniques, especially the next generation sequencing technologies and microarray applications, have opened new possibilities in studying diverse microbial communities. In this thesis, the aim was to determine the diversity and community structure of environmental samples collected from the northern Baltic Sea water column and anaerobic digestion reactor, and to assess how the prevailing abiotic factors affect the microbial community structure. We applied 16S rRNA and ITS gene amplicon sequencing method with 454 sequencing technology to form a detailed taxonomic description of studied communities. The produced sequence data was further utilised in designing probes for a new padlock probe based ligation detection reaction (LDR) microarray that could be employed for specific and sensitive taxonomic identification of microbial groups in diverse communities. The functionality, specificity and sensitivity of the microarray were assessed using artificial and real environmental samples. Additionally, selected amplicon sequencing data analysis methods were compared in order to discover which algorithms work most reliably. In this subproject, we aimed to clarify how significantly the selected analysis methods, specifically denoising and clustering algorithms, affect the results and how comparable the results derived from different analysis pipelines are. Amplicon sequencing revealed diverse microbial communities in the northern Baltic Sea water column and anaerobic digestion reactor. The pelagic bacterial communities in the northern Baltic Sea were strongly stratified, with aerobic Bacteria such as Pseudomonas and Flavobacterium dominating in the surface layer and Oleispira and sulfate-reducing bacteria in the anoxic deep waters. Based on the sequence data the diversity was assessed one order of magnitude less diverse compared to Atlantic and Pacific ocean bacterial communities. The anaerobic digestion reactor communities were dominated by Bacteria belonging to phyla Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes and Thermotogae and methanogenic Archaea, all essential and typical degraders in anaerobic digestion. The process also supported a diverse fungal community of phyla Ascomycota and Basidiomycota, including several taxa capable of degrading organic material in anaerobic conditions. The LDR microarray technology proved sensitive, specific and semiquantitative method for identifying microbes in diverse communities. The proof of principle tests and experiments with real environmental samples showed that if the probes are designed carefully, the detection is comparable to qPCR and amplicon sequencing. The detection limit was 0.01 fmol/µl/template. Data analysis method comparisons revealed prominent differences in observed operational taxonomic units and relative abundance of identified taxa. The majority of tested methods assessed the species richness too high. Using a functioning denoising method evened out the differences in the number of observed OTUs caused by various clustering algorithms. The ability to filter out the spurious taxa produced by amplification and sequencing, but still retain all the real diversity varied between methods. This study shows both the potential and the challenges in the use of amplicon sequencing and microarray technologies in studying diverse microbial communities. The results indicate that the padlock based LDR microarray can be designed for very accurate and sensitive identification of microbial groups of interest. The data suggest that amplicon sequencing is a powerful tool in identifying microbes and assessing the diversity but distinguishing between spurious and true community members remain a challenge. There is still work to be done in the development and application of data analysis tools.