News

group leader: Dr. Geffers

Recent Submissions

  • Critical Role of Zur and SmtB in Zinc Homeostasis of Mycobacterium smegmatis.

    Goethe, Elke; Laarmann, Kristin; Lührs, Janita; Jarek, Michael; Meens, Jochen; Lewin, Astrid; Goethe, Ralph (2020-04-21)
    Zinc homeostasis is crucial for bacterial cells, since imbalances affect viability. However, in mycobacteria, knowledge of zinc metabolism is incomplete. Mycobacterium smegmatis (MSMEG) is an environmental, nonpathogenic Mycobacterium that is widely used as a model organism to study mycobacterial metabolism and pathogenicity. How MSMEG maintains zinc homeostasis is largely unknown. SmtB and Zur are important regulators of bacterial zinc metabolism. In mycobacteria, these regulators are encoded by an operon, whereas in other bacterial species, SmtB and Zur are encoded on separate loci. Here, we show that the smtB-zur operon is consistently present within the genus Mycobacterium but otherwise found only in Nocardia, Saccharothrix, and Corynebacterium diphtheriae By RNA deep sequencing, we determined the Zur and SmtB regulons of MSMEG and compared them with transcriptional responses after zinc starvation or excess. We found an exceptional genomic clustering of genes whose expression was strongly induced by zur deletion and zinc starvation. These genes encoded zinc importers such as ZnuABC and three additional putative zinc transporters, including the porin MspD, as well as alternative ribosomal proteins. In contrast, only a few genes were affected by deletion of smtB and zinc excess. The zinc exporter ZitA was most prominently regulated by SmtB. Moreover, transcriptional analyses in combination with promoter and chromatin immunoprecipitation assays revealed a special regulation of the smtB-zur operon itself: an apparently zinc-independent, constitutive expression of smtB-zur resulted from sensitive coregulation by both SmtB and Zur. Overall, our data revealed yet unknown peculiarities of mycobacterial zinc homeostasis.IMPORTANCE Zinc is crucial for many biological processes, as it is an essential cofactor of enzymes and a structural component of regulatory and DNA binding proteins. Hence, all living cells require zinc to maintain constant intracellular levels. However, in excess, zinc is toxic. Therefore, cellular zinc homeostasis needs to be tightly controlled. In bacteria, this is achieved by transcriptional regulators whose activity is mediated via zinc-dependent conformational changes promoting or preventing their binding to DNA. SmtB and Zur are important antagonistically acting bacterial regulators in mycobacteria. They sense changes in zinc concentrations in the femtomolar range and regulate transcription of genes for zinc acquisition, storage, and export. Here, we analyzed the role of SmtB and Zur in zinc homeostasis in Mycobacterium smegmatis Our results revealed novel insights into the transcriptional processes of zinc homeostasis in mycobacteria and their regulation.
  • Non-Typeable Invade Choroid Plexus Epithelial Cells in a Polar Fashion.

    Wegele, Christian; Stump-Guthier, Carolin; Moroniak, Selina; Weiss, Christel; Rohde, Manfred; Ishikawa, Hiroshi; Schroten, Horst; Schwerk, Christian; Karremann, Michael; Borkowski, Julia (MDPI, 2020-08-10)
    Non-typeable Haemophilus influenzae (NTHI) is a pathogen of the human respiratory tract causing the majority of invasive H. influenzae infections. Severe invasive infections such as septicemia and meningitis occur rarely, but the lack of a protecting vaccine and the increasing antibiotic resistance of NTHI impede treatment and emphasize its relevance as a potential meningitis causing pathogen. Meningitis results from pathogens crossing blood-brain barriers and invading the immune privileged central nervous system (CNS). In this study, we addressed the potential of NTHI to enter the brain by invading cells of the choroid plexus (CP) prior to meningeal inflammation to enlighten NTHI pathophysiological mechanisms. A cell culture model of human CP epithelial cells, which form the blood-cerebrospinal fluid barrier (BCSFB) in vivo, was used to analyze adhesion and invasion by immunofluorescence and electron microscopy. NTHI invade CP cells in vitro in a polar fashion from the blood-facing side. Furthermore, NTHI invasion rates are increased compared to encapsulated HiB and HiF strains. Fimbriae occurrence attenuated adhesion and invasion. Thus, our findings underline the role of the BCSFB as a potential entry port for NTHI into the brain and provide strong evidence for a function of the CP during NTHI invasion into the CNS during the course of meningitis.
  • Fibrosis and Immune Cell Infiltration Are Separate Events Regulated by Cell-Specific Receptor Notch3 Expression.

    Brandt, Sabine; Ballhause, Tobias M; Bernhardt, Anja; Becker, Annika; Salaru, Delia; Le-Deffge, Hien Minh; Fehr, Alexander; Fu, Yan; Philipsen, Lars; Djudjaj, Sonja; et al. (2020-08-28)
    Kidney injuries that result in chronic inflammation initiate crosstalk between stressed resident cells and infiltrating immune cells. In animal models, whole-body receptor Notch3 deficiency protects from leukocyte infiltration and organ fibrosis. However, the relative contribution of Notch3 expression in tissue versus infiltrating immune cells is unknown.
  • Crypt residing bacteria and proximal colonic carcinogenesis in a mouse model of Lynch syndrome.

    Lang, Michaela; Baumgartner, Maximilian; Rożalska, Aleksandra; Frick, Adrian; Riva, Alessandra; Jarek, Michael; Berry, David; Gasche, Christoph (Wiley, 2020-05-18)
    Colorectal cancer is a multifactorial disease involving inherited DNA mutations, environmental factors, gut inflammation and intestinal microbiota. Certain germline mutations within the DNA mismatch repair system are associated with Lynch syndrome tumors including right-sided colorectal cancer with mucinous phenotype and presence of an inflammatory infiltrate. Such tumors are more often associated with bacterial biofilms, which may contribute to disease onset and progression. Inflammatory bowel diseases are also associated with colorectal cancer and intestinal dysbiosis. Herein we addressed the question, whether inflammation can aggravate colorectal cancer development under mismatch repair deficiency. MSH2loxP/loxP Vill-cre mice were crossed into the IL-10-/- background to study the importance of inflammation and mucosal bacteria as a driver of tumorigenesis in a Lynch syndrome mouse model. An increase in large bowel tumorigenesis was found in double knockout mice both under conventional housing and under specific pathogen-free conditions. This increase was mostly due to the development of proximal tumors, a hotspot for tumorigenesis in Lynch syndrome, and was associated with a higher degree of inflammation. Additionally, bacterial invasion into the mucus of tumor crypts was observed in the proximal tumors. Inflammation shifted fecal and mucosal microbiota composition and was associated with enrichment in Escherichia-Shigella as well as Akkermansia, Bacteroides and Parabacteroides genera in fecal samples. Tumor-bearing double knockout mice showed a similar enrichment for Escherichia-Shigella and Parabacteroides. Lactobacilli, Lachnospiraceae and Muribaculaceae family members were depleted upon inflammation. In summary, chronic inflammation aggravates colonic tumorigenesis under mismatch repair deficiency and is associated with a shift in microbiota composition.
  • Itaconate and derivatives reduce interferon responses and inflammation in influenza A virus infection.

    Sohail, Aaqib; Iqbal, Azeem A; Sahini, Nishika; Chen, Fangfang; Tantawy, Mohamed; Waqas, Fakhar; Winterhoff, Moritz; Ebensen, Thomas; Schultz, Kristin; Geffers, Robert; et al. (PLOS, 2022-01-13)
    Excessive inflammation is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in many viral infections including influenza. Therefore, there is a need for therapeutic interventions that dampen and redirect inflammatory responses and, ideally, exert antiviral effects. Itaconate is an immunomodulatory metabolite which also reprograms cell metabolism and inflammatory responses when applied exogenously. We evaluated effects of endogenous itaconate and exogenous application of itaconate and its variants dimethyl- and 4-octyl-itaconate (DI, 4OI) on host responses to influenza A virus (IAV). Infection induced expression of ACOD1, the enzyme catalyzing itaconate synthesis, in monocytes and macrophages, which correlated with viral replication and was abrogated by DI and 4OI treatment. In IAV-infected mice, pulmonary inflammation and weight loss were greater in Acod1-/- than in wild-type mice, and DI treatment reduced pulmonary inflammation and mortality. The compounds reversed infection-triggered interferon responses and modulated inflammation in human cells supporting non-productive and productive infection, in peripheral blood mononuclear cells, and in human lung tissue. Itaconates reduced ROS levels and STAT1 phosphorylation, whereas AKT phosphorylation was reduced by 4OI and DI but increased by itaconate. Single-cell RNA sequencing identified monocytes as the main target of infection and the exclusive source of ACOD1 mRNA in peripheral blood. DI treatment silenced IFN-responses predominantly in monocytes, but also in lymphocytes and natural killer cells. Ectopic synthesis of itaconate in A549 cells, which do not physiologically express ACOD1, reduced infection-driven inflammation, and DI reduced IAV- and IFNγ-induced CXCL10 expression in murine macrophages independent of the presence of endogenous ACOD1. The compounds differed greatly in their effects on cellular gene homeostasis and released cytokines/chemokines, but all three markedly reduced release of the pro-inflammatory chemokines CXCL10 (IP-10) and CCL2 (MCP-1). Viral replication did not increase under treatment despite the dramatically repressed IFN responses. In fact, 4OI strongly inhibited viral transcription in peripheral blood mononuclear cells, and the compounds reduced viral titers (4OI>Ita>DI) in A549 cells whereas viral transcription was unaffected. Taken together, these results reveal itaconates as immunomodulatory and antiviral interventions for influenza virus infection.
  • Inhibition of MCL1 induces apoptosis in anaplastic large cell lymphoma and in primary effusion lymphoma.

    Quentmeier, Hilmar; Geffers, Robert; Hauer, Vivien; Nagel, Stefan; Pommerenke, Claudia; Uphoff, Cord C; Zaborski, Margarete; Drexler, Hans G; HZI,Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung GmbH, Inhoffenstr. 7,38124 Braunschweig, Germany. (Nature, 2022-01-20)
    Overexpression of antiapoptotic BCL2 family proteins occurs in various hematologic malignancies and contributes to tumorigenesis by inhibiting the apoptotic machinery of the cells. Antagonizing BH3 mimetics provide an option for medication, with venetoclax as the first drug applied for chronic lymphocytic leukemia and for acute myeloid leukemia. To find additional hematologic entities with ectopic expression of BCL2 family members, we performed expression screening of cell lines applying the LL-100 panel. Anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) and primary effusion lymphoma (PEL), 2/22 entities covered by this panel, stood out by high expression of MCL1 and low expression of BCL2. The MCL1 inhibitor AZD-5991 induced apoptosis in cell lines from both malignancies, suggesting that this BH3 mimetic might be efficient as drug for these diseases. The ALCL cell lines also expressed BCLXL and BCL2A1, both contributing to survival of the cells. The combination of specific BH3 mimetics yielded synergistic effects, pointing to a novel strategy for the treatment of ALCL. The PI3K/mTOR inhibitor BEZ-235 could also efficiently be applied in combination with AZD-5991, offering an alternative to avoid thrombocytopenia which is associated with the use of BCLXL inhibitors.
  • SARS-CoV-2 infection triggers profibrotic macrophage responses and lung fibrosis.

    Wendisch, Daniel; Dietrich, Oliver; Mari, Tommaso; von Stillfried, Saskia; Ibarra, Ignacio L; Mittermaier, Mirja; Mache, Christin; Chua, Robert Lorenz; Knoll, Rainer; Timm, Sara; et al. (Cell Press, 2021-11-27)
    COVID-19-induced "acute respiratory distress syndrome" (ARDS) is associated with prolonged respiratory failure and high mortality, but the mechanistic basis of lung injury remains incompletely understood. Here, we analyze pulmonary immune responses and lung pathology in two cohorts of patients with COVID-19 ARDS using functional single-cell genomics, immunohistology, and electron microscopy. We describe an accumulation of CD163-expressing monocyte-derived macrophages that acquired a profibrotic transcriptional phenotype during COVID-19 ARDS. Gene set enrichment and computational data integration revealed a significant similarity between COVID-19-associated macrophages and profibrotic macrophage populations identified in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. COVID-19 ARDS was associated with clinical, radiographic, histopathological, and ultrastructural hallmarks of pulmonary fibrosis. Exposure of human monocytes to SARS-CoV-2, but not influenza A virus or viral RNA analogs, was sufficient to induce a similar profibrotic phenotype in vitro. In conclusion, we demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 triggers profibrotic macrophage responses and pronounced fibroproliferative ARDS.
  • Interaction of myxobacteria-derived outer membrane vesicles with biofilms: antiadhesive and antibacterial effects.

    Goes, Adriely; Vidakovic, Lucia; Drescher, Knut; Fuhrmann, Gregor; HIPS, Helmholtz-Institut für Pharmazeutische Forschung Saarland, Universitätscampus E8.1 66123 Saarbrücken, Germany.; TWINCORE, Zentrum für experimentelle und klinische Infektionsforschung GmbH,Feodor-Lynen Str. 7, 30625 Hannover, Germany.; HZI,Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung GmbH, Inhoffenstr. 7,38124 Braunschweig, Germany. (Royal Society of Chemistry, 2021-08-02)
    Bacterial biofilms are widespread in nature and in medical settings and display a high tolerance to antibiotics and disinfectants. Extracellular vesicles have been increasingly studied to characterise their origins and assess their potential for use as a versatile drug delivery system; however, it remains unclear whether they also have antibiofilm effects. Outer membrane vesicles are lipid vesicles shed by Gram-negative bacteria and, in the case of myxobacteria, carry natural antimicrobial compounds produced by these microorganisms. In this study, we demonstrate that vesicles derived from the myxobacteria Cystobacter velatus Cbv34 and Cystobacter ferrugineus Cbfe23 are highly effective at inhibiting the formation and disrupting biofilms by different bacterial species.
  • Congenital deficiency reveals critical role of ISG15 in skin homeostasis.

    Malik, Muhammad Nasir Hayat; Waqas, Syed F Hassnain; Zeitvogel, Jana; Cheng, Jingyuan; Geffers, Robert; Gouda, Zeinab Abu-Elbaha; Elsaman, Ahmed Mahrous; Radwan, Ahmed R; Schefzyk, Matthias; Braubach, Peter; et al. (Society of clinical investigation, 2021-11-30)
    Ulcerating skin lesions are manifestations of human ISG15 deficiency, a type I interferonopathy. However, chronic inflammation may not be their exclusive cause. We describe two siblings with recurrent skin ulcers that healed with scar formation upon corticosteroid treatment. Both had a homozygous nonsense mutation in the ISG15 gene, leading to unstable ISG15 protein lacking the functional domain. We characterized ISG15-/- dermal fibroblasts, HaCaT keratinocytes, and human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived vascular endothelial cells. ISG15-deficient cells exhibited the expected hyperinflammatory phenotype, but also dysregulated expression of molecules critical for connective tissue and epidermis integrity, including reduced collagens and adhesion molecules, but increased matrix metalloproteases. ISG15-/- fibroblasts exhibited elevated ROS levels and reduced ROS scavenger expression. As opposed to hyperinflammation, defective collagen and integrin synthesis was not rescued by conjugation-deficient ISG15. Cell migration was retarded in ISG15-/- fibroblasts and HaCaT keratinocytes, but normalized under ruxolitinib treatment. Desmosome density was reduced in an ISG15-/- 3D epidermis model. Additionally, there were loose architecture and reduced collagen and desmoglein expression, which could be reversed by treatment with ruxolitinib/doxycycline/TGF-β1. These results reveal critical roles of ISG15 in maintaining cell migration and epidermis and connective tissue homeostasis, whereby the latter likely requires its conjugation to yet unidentified targets.
  • Dysregulated Immunometabolism Is Associated with the Generation of Myeloid-Derived Suppressor Cells in Staphylococcus aureus Chronic Infection.

    Dietrich, Oliver; Heinz, Alexander; Goldmann, Oliver; Geffers, Robert; Beineke, Andreas; Hiller, Karsten; Saliba, Antoine-Emmanuel; Medina, Eva; HZI,Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung GmbH, Inhoffenstr. 7,38124 Braunschweig, Germany. (Karger, 2021-11-11)
    Myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) are a compendium of immature myeloid cells that exhibit potent T-cell suppressive capacity and expand during pathological conditions such as cancer and chronic infections. Although well-characterized in cancer, the physiology of MDSCs in the infection setting remains enigmatic. Here, we integrated single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) and functional metabolic profiling to gain deeper insights into the factors governing the generation and maintenance of MDSCs in chronic Staphylococcus aureus infection. We found that MDSCs originate not only in the bone marrow but also at extramedullary sites in S. aureus-infected mice. scRNA-seq showed that infection-driven MDSCs encompass a spectrum of myeloid precursors in different stages of differentiation, ranging from promyelocytes to mature neutrophils. Furthermore, the scRNA-seq analysis has also uncovered valuable phenotypic markers to distinguish mature myeloid cells from immature MDSCs. Metabolic profiling indicates that MDSCs exhibit high glycolytic activity and high glucose consumption rates, which are required for undergoing terminal maturation. However, rapid glucose consumption by MDSCs added to infection-induced perturbations in the glucose supplies in infected mice hinders the terminal maturation of MDSCs and promotes their accumulation in an immature stage. In a proof-of-concept in vivo experiment, we demonstrate the beneficial effect of increasing glucose availability in promoting MDSC terminal differentiation in infected mice. Our results provide valuable information of how metabolic alterations induced by infection influence reprogramming and differentiation of MDSCs.
  • Loss of Hem1 disrupts macrophage function and impacts migration, phagocytosis, and integrin-mediated adhesion.

    Stahnke, Stephanie; Döring, Hermann; Kusch, Charly; de Gorter, David J J; Dütting, Sebastian; Guledani, Aleks; Pleines, Irina; Schnoor, Michael; Sixt, Michael; Geffers, Robert; et al. (Wiley-VCH, 2021-03-11)
    Hematopoietic-specific protein 1 (Hem1) is an essential subunit of the WAVE regulatory complex (WRC) in immune cells. WRC is crucial for Arp2/3 complex activation and the protrusion of branched actin filament networks. Moreover, Hem1 loss of function in immune cells causes autoimmune diseases in humans. Here, we show that genetic removal of Hem1 in macrophages diminishes frequency and efficacy of phagocytosis as well as phagocytic cup formation in addition to defects in lamellipodial protrusion and migration. Moreover, Hem1-null macrophages displayed strong defects in cell adhesion despite unaltered podosome formation and concomitant extracellular matrix degradation. Specifically, dynamics of both adhesion and de-adhesion as well as concomitant phosphorylation of paxillin and focal adhesion kinase (FAK) were significantly compromised. Accordingly, disruption of WRC function in non-hematopoietic cells coincided with both defects in adhesion turnover and altered FAK and paxillin phosphorylation. Consistently, platelets exhibited reduced adhesion and diminished integrin αIIbβ3 activation upon WRC removal. Interestingly, adhesion phenotypes, but not lamellipodia formation, were partially rescued by small molecule activation of FAK. A full rescue of the phenotype, including lamellipodia formation, required not only the presence of WRCs but also their binding to and activation by Rac. Collectively, our results uncover that WRC impacts on integrin-dependent processes in a FAK-dependent manner, controlling formation and dismantling of adhesions, relevant for properly grabbing onto extracellular surfaces and particles during cell edge expansion, like in migration or phagocytosis.
  • Fibroblast GATA-4 and GATA-6 promote myocardial adaptation to pressure overload by enhancing cardiac angiogenesis.

    Dittrich, Gesine M; Froese, Natali; Wang, Xue; Kroeger, Hannah; Wang, Honghui; Szaroszyk, Malgorzata; Malek-Mohammadi, Mona; Cordero, Julio; Keles, Merve; Korf-Klingebiel, Mortimer; et al. (Springer Nature, 2021-04-19)
    Heart failure due to high blood pressure or ischemic injury remains a major problem for millions of patients worldwide. Despite enormous advances in deciphering the molecular mechanisms underlying heart failure progression, the cell-type specific adaptations and especially intercellular signaling remain poorly understood. Cardiac fibroblasts express high levels of cardiogenic transcription factors such as GATA-4 and GATA-6, but their role in fibroblasts during stress is not known. Here, we show that fibroblast GATA-4 and GATA-6 promote adaptive remodeling in pressure overload induced cardiac hypertrophy. Using a mouse model with specific single or double deletion of Gata4 and Gata6 in stress activated fibroblasts, we found a reduced myocardial capillarization in mice with Gata4/6 double deletion following pressure overload, while single deletion of Gata4 or Gata6 had no effect. Importantly, we confirmed the reduced angiogenic response using an in vitro co-culture system with Gata4/6 deleted cardiac fibroblasts and endothelial cells. A comprehensive RNA-sequencing analysis revealed an upregulation of anti-angiogenic genes upon Gata4/6 deletion in fibroblasts, and siRNA mediated downregulation of these genes restored endothelial cell growth. In conclusion, we identified a novel role for the cardiogenic transcription factors GATA-4 and GATA-6 in heart fibroblasts, where both proteins act in concert to promote myocardial capillarization and heart function by directing intercellular crosstalk.
  • Role of endothelial microRNA 155 on capillary leakage in systemic inflammation.

    Etzrodt, Valerie; Idowu, Temitayo O; Schenk, Heiko; Seeliger, Benjamin; Prasse, Antje; Thamm, Kristina; Pape, Thorben; Müller-Deile, Janina; van Meurs, Matijs; Thum, Thomas; et al. (BMC, 2021-02-22)
    Background: Capillary leakage is a key contributor to the pathological host response to infections. The underlying mechanisms remain incompletely understood, and the role of microRNAs (MIR) has not been investigated in detail. We hypothesized that specific MIRs might be regulated directly in the endothelium thereby contributing to vascular leakage. Methods: SmallRNA sequencing of endotoxemic murine pulmonary endothelial cells (ECs) was done to detect regulated vascular MIRs. In vivo models: transgenic zebrafish (flk1:mCherry/l-fabp:eGFP-DPB), knockout/wildtype mouse (B6.Cg-Mir155tm1.1Rsky/J); disease models: LPS 17.5 mg/kgBW and cecal ligation and puncture (CLP); in vitro models: stimulated human umbilical vein EC (HUVECs), transendothelial electrical resistance. Results: Endothelial MIR155 was identified as a promising candidate in endotoxemic murine pulmonary ECs (25 × upregulation). Experimental overexpression in a transgenic zebrafish line and in HUVECs was sufficient to induce spontaneous vascular leakage. To the contrary, genetic MIR155 reduction protects against permeability both in vitro and in endotoxemia in vivo in MIR155 heterozygote knockout mice thereby improving survival by 40%. A tight junction protein, Claudin-1, was down-regulated both in endotoxemia and by experimental MIR155 overexpression. Translationally, MIR155 was detectable at high levels in bronchoalveolar fluid of patients with ARDS compared to healthy human subjects. Conclusions: We found that MIR155 is upregulated in the endothelium in mouse and men as part of a systemic inflammatory response and might contribute to the pathophysiology of vascular leakage in a Claudin-1-dependent manner. Future studies have to clarify whether MIR155 could be a potential therapeutic target.
  • No impact of a short-term climatic "El Niño" fluctuation on gut microbial diversity in populations of the Galápagos marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus).

    Ibáñez, Alejandro; Bletz, Molly C; Quezada, Galo; Geffers, Robert; Jarek, Michael; Vences, Miguel; Steinfartz, Sebastian; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Springer, 2021-02-02)
    Gut microorganisms are crucial for many biological functions playing a pivotal role in the host's well-being. We studied gut bacterial community structure of marine iguana populations across the Galápagos archipelago. Marine iguanas depend heavily on their specialized gut microbiome for the digestion of dietary algae, a resource whose growth was strongly reduced by severe "El Niño"-related climatic fluctuations in 2015/2016. As a consequence, marine iguana populations showed signs of starvation as expressed by a poor body condition. Body condition indices (BCI) varied between island populations indicating that food resources (i.e., algae) are affected differently across the archipelago during 'El Niño' events. Though this event impacted food availability for marine iguanas, we found that reductions in body condition due to "El Niño"-related starvation did not result in differences in bacterial gut community structure. Species richness of gut microorganisms was instead correlated with levels of neutral genetic diversity in the distinct host populations. Our data suggest that marine iguana populations with a higher level of gene diversity and allelic richness may harbor a more diverse gut microbiome than those populations with lower genetic diversity. Since low values of these diversity parameters usually correlate with small census and effective population sizes, we use our results to propose a novel hypothesis according to which small and genetically less diverse host populations might be characterized by less diverse microbiomes. Whether such genetically depauperate populations may experience additional threats from reduced dietary flexibility due to a limited intestinal microbiome is currently unclear and calls for further investigation.
  • p53-Independent Induction of p21 Fails to Control Regeneration and Hepatocarcinogenesis in a Murine Liver Injury Model.

    Buitrago-Molina, Laura Elisa; Marhenke, Silke; Becker, Diana; Geffers, Robert; Itzel, Timo; Teufel, Andreas; Jaeschke, Hartmut; Lechel, André; Unger, Kristian; Markovic, Jovana; et al. (Elsevier, 2021-01-21)
    Background & aims: A coordinated stress and regenerative response is important after hepatocyte damage. Here, we investigate the phenotypes that result from genetic abrogation of individual components of the checkpoint kinase 2/transformation-related protein 53 (p53)/cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 1A (p21) pathway in a murine model of metabolic liver injury. Methods: Nitisinone was reduced or withdrawn in Fah-/- mice lacking Chk2, p53, or p21, and survival, tumor development, liver injury, and regeneration were analyzed. Partial hepatectomies were performed and mice were challenged with the Fas antibody Jo2. Results: In a model of metabolic liver injury, loss of p53, but not Chk2, impairs the oxidative stress response and aggravates liver damage, indicative of a direct p53-dependent protective effect on hepatocytes. Cell-cycle control during chronic liver injury critically depends on the presence of both p53 and its downstream effector p21. In p53-deficient hepatocytes, unchecked proliferation occurs despite a strong induction of p21, showing a complex interdependency between p21 and p53. The increased regenerative potential in the absence of p53 cannot fully compensate the surplus injury and is not sufficient to promote survival. Despite the distinct phenotypes associated with the loss of individual components of the DNA damage response, gene expression patterns are dominated by the severity of liver injury, but reflect distinct effects of p53 on proliferation and the anti-oxidative stress response. Conclusions: Characteristic phenotypes result from the genetic abrogation of individual components of the DNA damage-response cascade in a liver injury model. The extent to which loss of gene function can be compensated, or affects injury and proliferation, is related to the level at which the cascade is interrupted. Accession numbers of repository for expression microarray data: GSE156983, GSE156263, GSE156852, and GSE156252.
  • Serum Response Factor (SRF) Drives the Transcriptional Upregulation of the MDM4 Oncogene in HCC.

    Pellegrino, Rossella; Thavamani, Abhishek; Calvisi, Diego F; Budczies, Jan; Neumann, Ariane; Geffers, Robert; Kroemer, Jasmin; Greule, Damaris; Schirmacher, Peter; Nordheim, Alfred; et al. (MDPI, 2021-01-08)
    Different molecular mechanisms support the overexpression of the mouse double minute homolog 4 (MDM4), a functional p53 inhibitor, in human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). However, the transcription factors (TFs) leading to its transcriptional upregulation remain unknown. Following promoter and gene expression analyses, putative TFs were investigated using gene-specific siRNAs, cDNAs, luciferase reporter assays, chromatin immunoprecipitation, and XI-011 drug treatment in vitro. Additionally, MDM4 expression was investigated in SRF-VP16iHep transgenic mice. We observed a copy-number-independent upregulation of MDM4 in human HCCs. Serum response factor (SRF), ELK1 and ELK4 were identified as TFs activating MDM4 transcription. While SRF was constitutively detected in TF complexes at the MDM4 promoter, presence of ELK1 and ELK4 was cell-type dependent. Furthermore, MDM4 was upregulated in SRF-VP16-driven murine liver tumors. The pharmacological inhibitor XI-011 exhibited anti-MDM4 activity by downregulating the TFs driving MDM4 transcription, which decreased HCC cell viability and increased apoptosis. In conclusion, SRF drives transcriptional MDM4 upregulation in HCC, acting in concert with either ELK1 or ELK4. The transcriptional regulation of MDM4 may be a promising target for precision oncology of human HCC, as XI-011 treatment exerts anti-MDM4 activity independent from the MDM4 copy number and the p53 status.
  • 3D culture conditions support Kaposi's sarcoma herpesvirus (KSHV) maintenance and viral spread in endothelial cells.

    Dubich, Tatyana; Dittrich, Anne; Bousset, Kristine; Geffers, Robert; Büsche, Guntram; Köster, Mario; Hauser, Hansjörg; Schulz, Thomas F; Wirth, Dagmar; HZI,Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung GmbH, Inhoffenstr. 7,38124 Braunschweig, Germany. (Springer International, 2021-01-23)
    Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) is a human tumorigenic virus and the etiological agent of an endothelial tumor (Kaposi's sarcoma) and two B cell proliferative diseases (primary effusion lymphoma and multicentric Castleman's disease). While in patients with late stage of Kaposi's sarcoma the majority of spindle cells are KSHV-infected, viral copies are rapidly lost in vitro, both upon culture of tumor-derived cells or from newly infected endothelial cells. We addressed this discrepancy by investigating a KSHV-infected endothelial cell line in various culture conditions and in tumors of xenografted mice. We show that, in contrast to two-dimensional endothelial cell cultures, KSHV genomes are maintained under 3D cell culture conditions and in vivo. Additionally, an increased rate of newly infected cells was detected in 3D cell culture. Furthermore, we show that the PI3K/Akt/mTOR and ATM/γH2AX pathways are modulated and support an improved KSHV persistence in 3D cell culture. These mechanisms may contribute to the persistence of KSHV in tumor tissue in vivo and provide a novel target for KS specific therapeutic interventions. KEY MESSAGES: In vivo maintenance of episomal KSHV can be mimicked in 3D spheroid cultures 3D maintenance of KSHV is associated with an increased de novo infection frequency PI3K/Akt/mTOR and ATM/ γH2AX pathways contribute to viral maintenance.
  • Germline variation of Ribonuclease H2 genes in ovarian cancer patients.

    Polaczek, Rahel; Schürmann, Peter; Speith, Lisa-Marie; Geffers, Robert; Dürst, Matthias; Hillemanns, Peter; Park-Simon, Tjoung-Won; Liebrich, Clemens; Dörk, Thilo; HZI,Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung GmbH, Inhoffenstr. 7,38124 Braunschweig, Germany. (BMC, 2020-12-22)
    Epithelial ovarian carcinoma (EOC) is a genetically heterogeneous disease that is partly driven by molecular defects in mismatch repair (MMR) or homology-directed DNA repair (HDR). Ribonuclease H2 serves to remove mis-incorporated ribonucleotides from DNA which alleviates HDR mechanisms and guides the MMR machinery. Although Ribonuclease H2 has been implicated in cancer, the role of germline variants for ovarian cancer is unknown. In the present case-control study, we sequenced the coding and flanking untranslated regions of the RNASEH2A, RNASEH2B and RNASEH2C genes, encoding all three subunits of Ribonuclease H2, in a total of 602 German patients with EOC and of 940 healthy females from the same population. We identified one patient with a truncating variant in RNASEH2B, p.C44X, resulting in a premature stop codon. This patient had high-grade serous EOC with an 8 years survival after platinum/taxane-based therapy. Subsequent analysis of TCGA data similarly showed a significantly longer progression-free survival in ovarian cancer patients with low RNASEH2B or RNASEH2C expression levels. In conclusion, loss-of-function variants in Ribonuclease H2 genes are not common predisposing factors in ovarian cancer but the possibility that they modulate therapeutic platinum response deserves further investigation.
  • Simultaneous Presence of Bacteriochlorophyll and Xanthorhodopsin Genes in a Freshwater Bacterium.

    Kopejtka, Karel; Tomasch, Jürgen; Zeng, Yonghui; Selyanin, Vadim; Dachev, Marko; Piwosz, Kasia; Tichý, Martin; Bína, David; Gardian, Zdenko; Bunk, Boyke; et al. (ASM, 2020-12-22)
    Photoheterotrophic bacteria represent an important part of aquatic microbial communities. There exist two fundamentally different light-harvesting systems: bacteriochlorophyll-containing reaction centers or rhodopsins. Here, we report a photoheterotrophic Sphingomonas strain isolated from an oligotrophic lake, which contains complete sets of genes for both rhodopsin-based and bacteriochlorophyll-based phototrophy. Interestingly, the identified genes were not expressed when cultured in liquid organic media. Using reverse transcription quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR), RNA sequencing, and bacteriochlorophyll a quantification, we document that bacteriochlorophyll synthesis was repressed by high concentrations of glucose or galactose in the medium. Coactivation of photosynthesis genes together with genes for TonB-dependent transporters suggests the utilization of light energy for nutrient import. The photosynthetic units were formed by ring-shaped light-harvesting complex 1 and reaction centers with bacteriochlorophyll a and spirilloxanthin as the main light-harvesting pigments. The identified rhodopsin gene belonged to the xanthorhodopsin family, but it lacks salinixanthin antenna. In contrast to bacteriochlorophyll, the expression of xanthorhodopsin remained minimal under all experimental conditions tested. Since the gene was found in the same operon as a histidine kinase, we propose that it might serve as a light sensor. Our results document that photoheterotrophic Sphingomonas bacteria use the energy of light under carbon-limited conditions, while under carbon-replete conditions, they cover all their metabolic needs through oxidative phosphorylation.IMPORTANCE Phototrophic organisms are key components of many natural environments. There exist two main phototrophic groups: species that collect light energy using various kinds of (bacterio)chlorophylls and species that utilize rhodopsins. Here, we present a freshwater bacterium Sphingomonas sp. strain AAP5 which contains genes for both light-harvesting systems. We show that bacteriochlorophyll-based reaction centers are repressed by light and/or glucose. On the other hand, the rhodopsin gene was not expressed significantly under any of the experimental conditions. This may indicate that rhodopsin in Sphingomonas may have other functions not linked to bioenergetics.
  • Opuntisines, 14-membered cyclopeptide alkaloids from fruits of Opuntia stricta var. dillenii isolated by high-performance countercurrent chromatography.

    Surup, Frank; Minh Thi Tran, Thu; Pfütze, Sebastian; Budde, Jarmo; Moussa-Ayoub, Tamer E; Rohn, Sascha; Jerz, Gerold; HZI,Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung GmbH, Inhoffenstr. 7,38124 Braunschweig, Germany. (Elsevier, 2020-07-13)
    Extracts of Opuntia stricta var. dillenii fruits were fractionated by semi-preparative high-performance countercurrent chromatography (HPCCC) to study the secondary metabolite formation, whereby HPCCC showed a superior separation capacity to fractionate minor metabolites compared to HPLC. A family of new peptides was detected in semi-polar fractions when monitoring the HPCCC separation by off-line injections of fractions to ESI-MS/MS. Planar structures of the major compounds, two 14-ring-membered cyclopeptide alkaloids, which were named opuntisines A and B, were elucidated by 1D- and 2D-NMR spectroscopy and HR-ESI-MS/MS spectrometry, while a combination of chemical derivatisation and degradation revealed the stereo-configurations. Specifically, the methods of Marfey and Mosher indicated l-Glu, l-Ile, l-Phe and 1S-configurations, respectively; ROESY correlations revealed 8S, 9S. The novel opuntisine A showed moderate activity against the Gram-negative bacterium Escherichia coli, but no further antibacterial, antifungal nor cytotoxic effects. This bioactive natural product class is reported for the first time in the plant family Cactaceae.

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