• Evolution of cytokine production capacity in ancient and modern European populations.

      Domínguez-Andrés, Jorge; Kuijpers, Yunus; Bakker, Olivier B; Jaeger, Martin; Xu, Cheng-Jian; Van der Meer, Jos Wm; Jakobsson, Mattias; Bertranpetit, Jaume; Joosten, Leo Ab; Li, Yang; et al. (eLife Sciences Publications, 2021-09-07)
      As our ancestors migrated throughout different continents, natural selection increased the presence of alleles advantageous in the new environments. Heritable variations that alter the susceptibility to diseases vary with the historical period, the virulence of the infections, and their geographical spread. In this study we built polygenic scores for heritable traits that influence the genetic adaptation in the production of cytokines and immune-mediated disorders, including infectious, inflammatory, and autoimmune diseases, and applied them to the genomes of several ancient European populations. We observed that the advent of the Neolithic was a turning point for immune-mediated traits in Europeans, favoring those alleles linked with the development of tolerance against intracellular pathogens and promoting inflammatory responses against extracellular microbes. These evolutionary patterns are also associated with an increased presence of traits related to inflammatory and auto-immune diseases.
    • Therapeutic HNF4A mRNA attenuates liver fibrosis in a preclinical model.

      Yang, Taihua; Poenisch, Marion; Khanal, Rajendra; Hu, Qingluan; Dai, Zhen; Li, Ruomeng; Song, Guangqi; Yuan, Qinggong; Yao, Qunyan; Shen, Xizhong; et al. (Elsevier, 2021-08-25)
      Background & aims: Therapeutic targeting of injuries that require transient restoration of proteins by mRNA delivery is an attractive approach that, until recently, has remained poorly explored. In this study, we examined the therapeutic utility of mRNA delivery for liver fibrosis and cirrhosis. Specifically, we aimed to demonstrate the therapeutic efficacy of human hepatocyte nuclear factor alpha (HNF4A) mRNA in mouse models of fibrosis and cirrhosis. Methods: We investigated restoration of hepatocyte functions by HNF4A mRNA transfection in vitro, and analyzed the attenuation of liver fibrosis and cirrhosis in multiple mouse models, by delivering hepatocyte-targeted biodegradable lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) encapsulating HNF4A mRNA. To identify potential mechanisms of action, we performed microarray-based gene expression profiling, single-cell RNA sequencing, and chromatin immunoprecipitation. We used primary liver cells and human liver buds for additional functional validation. Results: Expression of HNF4A mRNA led to restoration of the metabolic activity of fibrotic primary murine and human hepatocytes in vitro. Repeated in vivo delivery of LNP-encapsulated HNF4A mRNA induced a robust inhibition of fibrogenesis in 4 independent mouse models of hepatotoxin- and cholestasis-induced liver fibrosis. Mechanistically, we discovered that paraoxonase 1 is a direct target of HNF4A and it contributes to HNF4A-mediated attenuation of liver fibrosis via modulation of liver macrophages and hepatic stellate cells. Conclusion: Collectively, our findings provide the first direct preclinical evidence of the applicability of HNF4A mRNA therapeutics for the treatment of fibrosis in the liver. Lay summary: Liver fibrosis and cirrhosis remain unmet medical needs and contribute to high mortality worldwide. Herein, we take advantage of a promising therapeutic approach to treat liver fibrosis and cirrhosis. We demonstrate that restoration of a key gene, HNF4A, via mRNA encapsulated in lipid nanoparticles decreased injury in multiple mouse models of fibrosis and cirrhosis. Our study provides proof-of-concept that mRNA therapy is a promising strategy for reversing liver fibrosis and cirrhosis.
    • Transient Depletion of Foxp3 Regulatory T Cells Selectively Promotes Aggressive β Cell Autoimmunity in Genetically Susceptible DEREG Mice.

      Watts, Deepika; Janßen, Marthe; Jaykar, Mangesh; Palmucci, Francesco; Weigelt, Marc; Petzold, Cathleen; Hommel, Angela; Sparwasser, Tim; Bonifacio, Ezio; Kretschmer, Karsten; et al. (Frontiers, 2021-08-10)
      Type 1 diabetes (T1D) represents a hallmark of the fatal multiorgan autoimmune syndrome affecting humans with abrogated Foxp3+ regulatory T (Treg) cell function due to Foxp3 gene mutations, but whether the loss of Foxp3+ Treg cell activity is indeed sufficient to promote β cell autoimmunity requires further scrutiny. As opposed to human Treg cell deficiency, β cell autoimmunity has not been observed in non-autoimmune-prone mice with constitutive Foxp3 deficiency or after diphtheria toxin receptor (DTR)-mediated ablation of Foxp3+ Treg cells. In the spontaneous nonobese diabetic (NOD) mouse model of T1D, constitutive Foxp3 deficiency did not result in invasive insulitis and hyperglycemia, and previous studies on Foxp3+ Treg cell ablation focused on Foxp3DTR NOD mice, in which expression of a transgenic BDC2.5 T cell receptor (TCR) restricted the CD4+ TCR repertoire to a single diabetogenic specificity. Here we revisited the effect of acute Foxp3+ Treg cell ablation on β cell autoimmunity in NOD mice in the context of a polyclonal TCR repertoire. For this, we took advantage of the well-established DTR/GFP transgene of DEREG mice, which allows for specific ablation of Foxp3+ Treg cells without promoting catastrophic autoimmune diseases. We show that the transient loss of Foxp3+ Treg cells in prediabetic NOD.DEREG mice is sufficient to precipitate severe insulitis and persistent hyperglycemia within 5 days after DT administration. Importantly, DT-treated NOD.DEREG mice preserved many clinical features of spontaneous diabetes progression in the NOD model, including a prominent role of diabetogenic CD8+ T cells in terminal β cell destruction. Despite the severity of destructive β cell autoimmunity, anti-CD3 mAb therapy of DT-treated mice interfered with the progression to overt diabetes, indicating that the novel NOD.DEREG model can be exploited for preclinical studies on T1D under experimental conditions of synchronized, advanced β cell autoimmunity. Overall, our studies highlight the continuous requirement of Foxp3+ Treg cell activity for the control of genetically pre-installed autoimmune diabetes.
    • MicroRNA-125b-5p Regulates Hepatocyte Proliferation During the Termination Phase of Liver Regeneration.

      Yang, Dakai; Dai, Zhen; Yang, Taihua; Balakrishnan, Asha; Yuan, Qinggong; Vondran, Florian W R; Manns, Michael P; Ott, Michael; Cantz, Tobias; Sharma, Amar Deep; et al. (Wiley, 2020-09-15)
      The ability of the liver to regenerate and restore mass limits the increasing mortality rate due to life-threatening liver diseases. Successful liver regeneration is accomplished in multiple stages, of which the priming and proliferation phases are well studied. However, the regulatory pathways, specifically microRNA (miRNA)-mediated posttranscriptional regulation, which prevent uncontrolled proliferation and mediate the termination of liver regeneration, are not well understood. We identified differentially regulated miRNAs during the termination phase after 2/3 partial hepatectomy (PH) in mice, which is a well-established mouse model of liver regeneration. We further evaluated the function of differentially regulated miRNAs in primary mouse hepatocytes by using mimics and inhibitors and in vivo by using adeno-associated virus (AAV) serotype 8. A candidate miRNA target was identified by messenger RNA array in silico analyses and validated in primary mouse and human hepatocytes. Using miRNA profiling, we discovered miR-125b-5p as a novel regulator of hepatocyte proliferation in the late phase of liver regeneration. AAV-mediated miR-125b-5p delivery in mice enhanced the endogenous regenerative capacity and resulted in improved restoration of liver mass after 2/3 PH. Further, we found that ankyrin repeat and BTB/POZ domain containing protein 1 (Abtb1) is a direct target of miR-125b-5p in primary mouse and human hepatocytes and contributes to the pro-proliferative activity of miR-125b-5p by forkhead box G1 (FOXG1) and the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 1A (p21) pathway. Conclusion: miR-125b-5p has an important role in regulating hepatocyte proliferation in the termination phase of liver regeneration and may serve as a potential therapeutic target in various liver diseases that often exhibit deregulated hepatocyte proliferation.
    • Staphylococcus epidermidis Phages Transduce Antimicrobial Resistance Plasmids and Mobilize Chromosomal Islands.

      Fišarová, Lenka; Botka, Tibor; Du, Xin; Mašlaňová, Ivana; Bárdy, Pavol; Pantůček, Roman; Benešík, Martin; Roudnický, Pavel; Winstel, Volker; Larsen, Jesper; et al. (American Society of Microbiology, 2021-05-12)
      Staphylococcus epidermidis is a leading opportunistic pathogen causing nosocomial infections that is notable for its ability to form a biofilm and for its high rates of antibiotic resistance. It serves as a reservoir of multiple antimicrobial resistance genes that spread among the staphylococcal population by horizontal gene transfer such as transduction. While phage-mediated transduction is well studied in Staphylococcus aureus, S. epidermidis transducing phages have not been described in detail yet. Here, we report the characteristics of four phages, 27, 48, 456, and 459, previously used for S. epidermidis phage typing, and the newly isolated phage E72, from a clinical S. epidermidis strain. The phages, classified in the family Siphoviridae and genus Phietavirus, exhibited an S. epidermidis-specific host range, and together they infected 49% of the 35 strains tested. A whole-genome comparison revealed evolutionary relatedness to transducing S. aureus phietaviruses. In accordance with this, all the tested phages were capable of transduction with high frequencies up to 10-4 among S. epidermidis strains from different clonal complexes. Plasmids with sizes from 4 to 19 kb encoding resistance to streptomycin, tetracycline, and chloramphenicol were transferred. We provide here the first evidence of a phage-inducible chromosomal island transfer in S. epidermidis Similarly to S. aureus pathogenicity islands, the transfer was accompanied by phage capsid remodeling; however, the interfering protein encoded by the island was distinct. Our findings underline the role of S. epidermidis temperate phages in the evolution of S. epidermidis strains by horizontal gene transfer, which can also be utilized for S. epidermidis genetic studies.IMPORTANCE Multidrug-resistant strains of S. epidermidis emerge in both nosocomial and livestock environments as the most important pathogens among coagulase-negative staphylococcal species. The study of transduction by phages is essential to understanding how virulence and antimicrobial resistance genes spread in originally commensal bacterial populations. In this work, we provide a detailed description of transducing S. epidermidis phages. The high transduction frequencies of antimicrobial resistance plasmids and the first evidence of chromosomal island transfer emphasize the decisive role of S. epidermidis phages in attaining a higher pathogenic potential of host strains. To date, such importance has been attributed only to S. aureus phages, not to those of coagulase-negative staphylococci. This study also proved that the described transducing bacteriophages represent valuable genetic modification tools in S. epidermidis strains where other methods for gene transfer fail.
    • Integration of metabolomics, genomics, and immune phenotypes reveals the causal roles of metabolites in disease.

      Chu, Xiaojing; Jaeger, Martin; Beumer, Joep; Bakker, Olivier B; Aguirre-Gamboa, Raul; Oosting, Marije; Smeekens, Sanne P; Moorlag, Simone; Mourits, Vera P; Koeken, Valerie A C M; et al. (BMC, 2021-07-06)
      Background: Recent studies highlight the role of metabolites in immune diseases, but it remains unknown how much of this effect is driven by genetic and non-genetic host factors. Result: We systematically investigate circulating metabolites in a cohort of 500 healthy subjects (500FG) in whom immune function and activity are deeply measured and whose genetics are profiled. Our data reveal that several major metabolic pathways, including the alanine/glutamate pathway and the arachidonic acid pathway, have a strong impact on cytokine production in response to ex vivo stimulation. We also examine the genetic regulation of metabolites associated with immune phenotypes through genome-wide association analysis and identify 29 significant loci, including eight novel independent loci. Of these, one locus (rs174584-FADS2) associated with arachidonic acid metabolism is causally associated with Crohn's disease, suggesting it is a potential therapeutic target. Conclusion: This study provides a comprehensive map of the integration between the blood metabolome and immune phenotypes, reveals novel genetic factors that regulate blood metabolite concentrations, and proposes an integrative approach for identifying new disease treatment targets.
    • Structure-Activity Relationship and Mode-of-Action Studies Highlight 1-(4-Biphenylylmethyl)-1H-imidazole-Derived Small Molecules as Potent CYP121 Inhibitors.

      Walter, Isabell; Adam, Sebastian; Gentilini, Maria Virginia; Kany, Andreas M; Brengel, Christian; Thomann, Andreas; Sparwasser, Tim; Köhnke, Jesko; Hartmann, Rolf W; 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. (Wiley-VCH, 2021-05-19)
      CYP121 of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) is an essential target for the development of novel potent drugs against tuberculosis (TB). Besides known antifungal azoles, further compounds of the azole class were recently identified as CYP121 inhibitors with antimycobacterial activity. Herein, we report the screening of a similarity-oriented library based on the former hit compound, the evaluation of affinity toward CYP121, and activity against M. bovis BCG. The results enabled a comprehensive SAR study, which was extended through the synthesis of promising compounds and led to the identification of favorable features for affinity and/or activity and hit compounds with 2.7-fold improved potency. Mode of action studies show that the hit compounds inhibit substrate conversion and highlighted CYP121 as the main antimycobacterial target of our compounds. Exemplified complex crystal structures of CYP121 with three inhibitors reveal a common binding site. Engaging in both hydrophobic interactions as well as hydrogen bonding to the sixth iron ligand, our compounds block a solvent channel leading to the active site heme. Additionally, we report the first CYP inhibitors that are able to reduce the intracellular replication of M. bovis BCG in macrophages, emphasizing their potential as future drug candidates against TB.
    • Direct conversion of porcine primary fibroblasts into hepatocyte-like cells.

      Fráguas-Eggenschwiler, Mariane; Eggenschwiler, Reto; Söllner, Jenny-Helena; Cortnumme, Leon; Vondran, Florian W R; Cantz, Tobias; Ott, Michael; Niemann, Heiner; HZI,Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung GmbH, Inhoffenstr. 7,38124 Braunschweig, Germany. (Nature Research, 2021-04-29)
      The pig is an important model organism for biomedical research, mainly due to its extensive genetic, physiological and anatomical similarities with humans. Until date, direct conversion of somatic cells into hepatocyte-like cells (iHeps) has only been achieved in rodents and human cells. Here, we employed lentiviral vectors to screen a panel of 12 hepatic transcription factors (TF) for their potential to convert porcine fibroblasts into hepatocyte-like cells. We demonstrate for the first time, hepatic conversion of porcine somatic cells by over-expression of CEBPα, FOXA1 and HNF4α2 (3TF-piHeps). Reprogrammed 3TF-piHeps display a hepatocyte-like morphology and show functional characteristics of hepatic cells, including albumin secretion, Dil-AcLDL uptake, storage of lipids and glycogen and activity of cytochrome P450 enzymes CYP1A2 and CYP2C33 (CYP2C9 in humans). Moreover, we show that markers of mature hepatocytes are highly expressed in 3TF-piHeps, while fibroblastic markers are reduced. We envision piHeps as useful cell sources for future studies on drug metabolism and toxicity as well as in vitro models for investigation of pig-to-human infectious diseases.
    • NeutrobodyPlex-monitoring SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing immune responses using nanobodies.

      Wagner, Teresa R; Ostertag, Elena; Kaiser, Philipp D; Gramlich, Marius; Ruetalo, Natalia; Junker, Daniel; Haering, Julia; Traenkle, Bjoern; Becker, Matthias; Dulovic, Alex; et al. (EMBO Press, 2021-04-27)
      In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an ongoing need for diagnostic tools to monitor the immune status of large patient cohorts and the effectiveness of vaccination campaigns. Here, we present 11 unique nanobodies (Nbs) specific for the SARS-CoV-2 spike receptor-binding domain (RBD), of which 8 Nbs potently inhibit the interaction of RBD with angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) as the major viral docking site. Following detailed epitope mapping and structural analysis, we select two inhibitory Nbs, one of which binds an epitope inside and one of which binds an epitope outside the RBD:ACE2 interface. Based on these, we generate a biparatopic nanobody (bipNb) with viral neutralization efficacy in the picomolar range. Using bipNb as a surrogate, we establish a competitive multiplex binding assay ("NeutrobodyPlex") for detailed analysis of the presence and performance of neutralizing RBD-binding antibodies in serum of convalescent or vaccinated patients. We demonstrate that NeutrobodyPlex enables high-throughput screening and detailed analysis of neutralizing immune responses in infected or vaccinated individuals, to monitor immune status or to guide vaccine design.
    • Conservation of the HBV RNA element epsilon in nackednaviruses reveals ancient origin of protein-primed reverse transcription.

      Beck, Jürgen; Seitz, Stefan; Lauber, Chris; Nassal, Michael; TWINCORE, Zentrum für experimentelle und klinische Infektionsforschung GmbH,Feodor-Lynen Str. 7, 30625 Hannover, Germany. (Academy of Sciences, 2021-03-30)
      Hepadnaviruses, with the human hepatitis B virus as prototype, are small, enveloped hepatotropic DNA viruses which replicate by reverse transcription of an RNA intermediate. Replication is initiated by a unique protein-priming mechanism whereby a hydroxy amino acid side chain of the terminal protein (TP) domain of the viral polymerase (P) is extended into a short DNA oligonucleotide, which subsequently serves as primer for first-strand synthesis. A key component in the priming of reverse transcription is the viral RNA element epsilon, which contains the replication origin and serves as a template for DNA primer synthesis. Here, we show that recently discovered non-enveloped fish viruses, termed nackednaviruses [C. Lauber et al., Cell Host Microbe 22, 387-399 (2017)], employ a fundamentally similar replication mechanism despite their huge phylogenetic distance and major differences in genome organization and viral lifestyle. In vitro cross-priming studies revealed that few strategic nucleotide substitutions in epsilon enable site-specific protein priming by heterologous P proteins, demonstrating that epsilon is functionally conserved since the two virus families diverged more than 400 Mya. In addition, other cis elements crucial for the hepadnavirus-typical replication of pregenomic RNA into relaxed circular double-stranded DNA were identified at conserved positions in the nackednavirus genomes. Hence, the replication mode of both hepadnaviruses and nackednaviruses was already established in their Paleozoic common ancestor, making it a truly ancient and evolutionary robust principle of genome replication that is more widespread than previously thought.
    • Clarithromycin impairs tissue-resident memory and Th17 responses to macrolide-resistant Streptococcus pneumoniae infections.

      Lindenberg, Marc; Almeida, Luis; Dhillon-LaBrooy, Ayesha; Siegel, Ekkehard; Henriques-Normark, Birgitta; Sparwasser, Tim; TWINCORE, Zentrum für experimentelle und klinische Infektionsforschung GmbH,Feodor-Lynen Str. 7, 30625 Hannover, Germany. (Springer, 2021-02-17)
      The increasing prevalence of antimicrobial resistance in pathogens is a growing public health concern, with the potential to compromise the success of infectious disease treatments in the future. Particularly, the number of infections by macrolide antibiotics-resistant Streptococcus pneumoniae is increasing. We show here that Clarithromycin impairs both the frequencies and number of interleukin (IL)-17 producing T helper (Th) 17 cells within the lungs of mice infected with a macrolide-resistant S. pneumoniae serotype 15A strain. Subsequently, the tissue-resident memory CD4+ T cell (Trm) response to a consecutive S. pneumoniae infection was impaired. The number of lung resident IL-17+ CD69+ Trm was diminished upon Clarithromycin treatment during reinfection. Mechanistically, Clarithromycin attenuated phosphorylation of the p90-S6-kinase as part of the ERK pathway in Th17 cells. Moreover, a strong increase in the mitochondrial-mediated maximal respiratory capacity was observed, while mitochondrial protein translation and mTOR sisgnaling were unimpaired. Therefore, treatment with macrolide antibiotics may favor the spread of antimicrobial-resistant pathogens not only by applying a selection pressure but also by decreasing the natural T cell immune response. Clinical administration of macrolide antibiotics as standard therapy procedure during initial hospitalization should be reconsidered accordingly and possibly be withheld until microbial resistance is determined. KEY MESSAGES: • Macrolide-resistant S. pneumoniae infection undergoes immunomodulation by Clarithromycin • Clarithromycin treatment hinders Th17 and tissue-resident memory responses • Macrolide antibiotics impair Th17 differentiation in vitro by ERK-pathway inhibition.
    • Selective Host Cell Death by Staphylococcus aureus : A Strategy for Bacterial Persistence.

      Missiakas, Dominique; Winstel, Volker; TWINCORE, Zentrum für experimentelle und klinische Infektionsforschung GmbH,Feodor-Lynen Str. 7, 30625 Hannover, Germany. (Frontiers, 2021-01-21)
      Host cell death programs are fundamental processes that shape cellular homeostasis, embryonic development, and tissue regeneration. Death signaling and downstream host cell responses are not only critical to guide mammalian development, they often act as terminal responses to invading pathogens. Here, we briefly review and contrast how invading pathogens and specifically Staphylococcus aureus manipulate apoptotic, necroptotic, and pyroptotic cell death modes to establish infection. Rather than invading host cells, S. aureus subverts these cells to produce diffusible molecules that cause death of neighboring hematopoietic cells and thus shapes an immune environment conducive to persistence. The exploitation of cell death pathways by S. aureus is yet another virulence strategy that must be juxtaposed to mechanisms of immune evasion, autophagy escape, and tolerance to intracellular killing, and brings us closer to the true portrait of this pathogen for the design of effective therapeutics and intervention strategies.
    • Regulatory T Cells in an Endogenous Mouse Lymphoma Recognize Specific Antigen Peptides and Contribute to Immune Escape.

      Ahmetlić, Fatima; Riedel, Tanja; Hömberg, Nadine; Bauer, Vera; Trautwein, Nico; Geishauser, Albert; Sparwasser, Tim; Stevanović, Stefan; Röcken, Martin; Mocikat, Ralph; et al. (American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), 2019-03-20)
      Foxp3+ regulatory T cells (Tregs) sustain immune homeostasis and may contribute to immune escape in malignant disease. As a prerequisite for developing immunologic approaches in cancer therapy, it is necessary to understand the ontogeny and the antigenic specificities of tumor-infiltrating Tregs. We addressed this question by using a λ-MYC transgenic mouse model of endogenously arising B-cell lymphoma, which mirrors key features of human Burkitt lymphoma. We show that Foxp3+ Tregs suppress antitumor responses in endogenous lymphoma. Ablation of Foxp3+ Tregs significantly delayed tumor development. The ratio of Treg to effector T cells was elevated in growing tumors, which could be ascribed to differential proliferation. The Tregs detected were mainly natural Tregs that apparently recognized self-antigens. We identified MHC class II-restricted nonmutated self-epitopes, which were more prevalent in lymphoma than in normal B cells and could be recognized by Tregs. These epitopes were derived from proteins that are associated with cellular processes related to malignancy and may be overexpressed in the tumor.
    • HBV evolution and genetic variability: Impact on prevention, treatment and development of antivirals.

      Glebe, Dieter; Goldmann, Nora; Lauber, Chris; Seitz, Stefan; TWINCORE, Zentrum für experimentelle und klinische Infektionsforschung GmbH,Feodor-Lynen Str. 7, 30625 Hannover, Germany. (Elsevier, 2020-11-06)
      Hepatitis B virus (HBV) poses a major global health burden with 260 million people being chronically infected and 890,000 dying annually from complications in the course of the infection. HBV is a small enveloped virus with a reverse-transcribed DNA genome that infects hepatocytes and can cause acute and chronic infections of the liver. HBV is endemic in humans and apes representing the prototype member of the viral family Hepadnaviridae and can be divided into 10 genotypes. Hepadnaviruses have been found in all vertebrate classes and constitute an ancient viral family that descended from non-enveloped progenitors more than 360 million years ago. The de novo emergence of the envelope protein gene was accompanied with the liver-tropism and resulted in a tight virus-host association. The oldest HBV genomes so far have been isolated from human remains of the Bronze Age and the Neolithic (~7000 years before present). Despite the remarkable stability of the hepadnaviral genome over geological eras, HBV is able to rapidly evolve within an infected individual under pressure of the immune response or during antiviral treatment. Treatment with currently available antivirals blocking intracellular replication of HBV allows controlling of high viremia and improving liver health during long-term therapy of patients with chronic hepatitis B (CHB), but they are not sufficient to cure the disease. New therapy options that cover all HBV genotypes and emerging viral variants will have to be developed soon. In addition to the antiviral treatment of chronically infected patients, continued efforts to expand the global coverage of the currently available HBV vaccine will be one of the key factors for controlling the rising global spread of HBV. Certain improvements of the vaccine (e.g. inclusion of PreS domains) could counteract known problems such as low or no responsiveness of certain risk groups and waning anti-HBs titers leading to occult infections, especially with HBV genotypes E or F. But even with an optimal vaccine and a cure for hepatitis B, global eradication of HBV would be difficult to achieve because of an existing viral reservoir in primates and bats carrying closely related hepadnaviruses with zoonotic potential.
    • Cholesterol sensing by CD81 is important for hepatitis C virus entry.

      Palor, Machaela; Stejskal, Lenka; Mandal, Piya; Lenman, Annasara; Alberione, Maria Pia; Kirui, Jared; Moeller, Rebecca; Ebner, Stefan; Meissner, Felix; Gerold, Gisa; et al. (DeGruyter, 2020-09-08)
      CD81 plays a role in a variety of physiological and pathological processes. Recent structural analysis of CD81 indicates that it contains an intramembrane cholesterol-binding pocket and that interaction with cholesterol may regulate a conformational switch in the extracellular domain of CD81. Therefore, CD81 possesses a potential cholesterol sensing mechanism; however, its relevance for protein function is thus far unknown. In this study we investigate CD81 cholesterol sensing in the context of its activity as a receptor for hepatitis C virus. Structure-led mutagenesis of the cholesterol-binding pocket reduced CD81-cholesterol association, but had disparate effects on HCV, both reducing and enhancing CD81 receptor activity. We reasoned that this could be explained by alterations in the consequences of cholesterol binding. To investigate this further we performed molecular dynamic simulations of CD81 with and without cholesterol; this identified an allosteric mechanism by which cholesterol binding regulates the conformation of CD81. To test this, we designed further mutations to force CD81 into either the open (cholesterol unbound) or closed (cholesterol bound) conformation. The open mutant of CD81 exhibited reduced receptor activity whereas the closed mutant was enhanced. These data are consistent with cholesterol switching CD81 between a receptor active and inactive state. CD81 interactome analysis also suggests that conformational switching may modulate the assembly of CD81-partner networks. This work furthers our understanding of the molecular mechanism of CD81 cholesterol sensing, how this relates to HCV entry and CD81's function as a molecular scaffold; these insights are relevant to CD81's varied roles in health and disease.
    • MicroRNA-342-3p is a potent tumour suppressor in hepatocellular carcinoma

      Komoll, Ronja Melinda; Hu, Qingluan; Olarewaju, Olaniyi; von Döhlen, Lena; Yuan, Qinggong; Xie, Yu; Tsay, Hsin Chieh; Daon, Joel; Qin, Renyi; Manns, Michael P; et al. (2021-01-01)
      Background & aims: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a cancer with multiple aetiologies and widespread prevalence. Largely refractory to current treatments, HCC is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are important regulators in HCCs. We aimed to identify tumour suppressor miRNAs during tumour regression in a conditional c-MYC-driven mouse model (LT2/MYC) of HCC, and to evaluate their therapeutic potential for HCC treatment. Methods: We performed miRNA expression profiling of developed and regressing LT2/MYC tumours and in-depth in vitro gain- and loss-of-function analyses. The effect of adeno-associated virus (AAV) vector-mediated miR-342-3p treatment was evaluated in 3 HCC mouse models. Results: We identified miR-342-3p as a tumour suppressor miRNA in HCC, with increased expression in regressing tumours. Forced miR-342-3p expression in hepatoma cells showed significantly decreased cell proliferation, migration, and colony formation. In vivo administration of AAV-miR-342-3p led to significant attenuation of tumour development and increased overall survival. We identified monocarboxylic acid transporter 1 (MCT1) as a bona fide target of miR-342-3p in HCC. We show that the tumour suppressor role of miR-342-3p is executed partly by modulating the lactate transport function of MCT1. Importantly, we find miR-342-3p downregulated in tumours from patients with HCC compared with matched non-tumour tissues, inversely correlating with MCT1 expression. We observed similar findings in TCGA-LIHC data. Conclusions: In our study, we identified and validated miR-342-3p as a tumour suppressor miRNA in HCC. We demonstrated its therapeutic efficacy in significantly attenuating tumour development, and prolonging survival, in different HCC mouse models. Identification of miR-342-3p as an effective tumour suppressor opens a therapeutic avenue for miRNA-mediated attenuation of HCC development. Lay summary: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common type of liver cancer, affects diverse populations and has a global impact, being the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. There are currently no systemic therapies for HCC that can significantly prolong long-term survival. Thus, novel effective treatment options are urgently required. To understand the molecular basis of tumour regression, we compared tumours and regressing liver tumours in mice. We show that a small non-coding miRNA, miR-342-3p, is a tumour suppressor in HCC. Expression of miR-342-3p is low in tumours and high in regressing tumours. When miR-342-3p is delivered to mouse livers with HCC, it can significantly slow down liver tumour development and improve survival. Our study highlights the promising therapeutic potential of miR-342-3p intervention in HCC.
    • MicroRNA-221: A Fine Tuner and Potential Biomarker of Chronic Liver Injury.

      Markovic, Jovana; Sharma, Amar Deep; Balakrishnan, Asha; HZI,Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung GmbH, Inhoffenstr. 7,38124 Braunschweig, Germany. (MDPI, 2020-07-23)
      The last decade has witnessed significant advancements in our understanding of how small noncoding RNAs, such as microRNAs (miRNAs), regulate disease progression. One such miRNA, miR-221, has been shown to play a key role in the progression of liver fibrosis, a common feature of most liver diseases. Many reports have demonstrated the upregulation of miR-221 in liver fibrosis caused by multiple etiologies such as viral infections and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. Inhibition of miR-221 via different strategies has shown promising results in terms of the suppression of fibrogenic gene signatures in vitro, as well as in vivo, in independent mouse models of liver fibrosis. In addition, miR-221 has also been suggested as a noninvasive serum biomarker for liver fibrosis and cirrhosis. In this review, we discuss the biology of miR-221, its significance and use as a biomarker during progression of liver fibrosis, and finally, potential and robust approaches that can be utilized to suppress liver fibrosis via inhibition of miR-221.
    • Notch and TLR signaling coordinate monocyte cell fate and inflammation.

      Gamrekelashvili, Jaba; Kapanadze, Tamar; Sablotny, Stefan; Ratiu, Corina; Dastagir, Khaled; Lochner, Matthias; Karbach, Susanne; Wenzel, Philip; Sitnow, Andre; Fleig, Susanne; et al. (elife Sciences, 2020-07-29)
      Conventional Ly6Chi monocytes have developmental plasticity for a spectrum of differentiated phagocytes. Here we show, using conditional deletion strategies in a mouse model of Toll-like receptor (TLR) 7-induced inflammation, that the spectrum of developmental cell fates of Ly6Chi monocytes, and the resultant inflammation, is coordinately regulated by TLR and Notch signaling. Cell-intrinsic Notch2 and TLR7-Myd88 pathways independently and synergistically promote Ly6Clo patrolling monocyte development from Ly6Chi monocytes under inflammatory conditions, while impairment in either signaling axis impairs Ly6Clo monocyte development. At the same time, TLR7 stimulation in the absence of functional Notch2 signaling promotes resident tissue macrophage gene expression signatures in monocytes in the blood and ectopic differentiation of Ly6Chi monocytes into macrophages and dendritic cells, which infiltrate the spleen and major blood vessels and are accompanied by aberrant systemic inflammation. Thus, Notch2 is a master regulator of Ly6Chi monocyte cell fate and inflammation in response to TLR signaling.
    • Strategic Anti-SARS-CoV-2 Serology Testing in a Low Prevalence Setting: The COVID-19 Contact (CoCo) Study in Healthcare Professionals.

      Behrens, Georg M N; Cossmann, Anne; Stankov, Metodi V; Schulte, Bianca; Streeck, Hendrik; Förster, Reinhold; Bosnjak, Berislav; Willenzon, Stefanie; Boeck, Anna-Lena; Thu Tran, Anh; et al. (Springer Healthcare, 2020-09-04)
      Background: Serology testing is explored for epidemiological research and to inform individuals after suspected infection. During the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, frontline healthcare professionals (HCP) may be at particular risk for infection. No longitudinal data on functional seroconversion in HCP in regions with low COVID-19 prevalence and low pre-test probability exist. Methods: In a large German university hospital, we performed weekly questionnaire assessments and anti-severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) immunoglobulin G (IgG) measurements with various commercial tests, a novel surrogate virus neutralisation test, and a neutralisation assay using live SARS-CoV-2. Results: From baseline to week 6, 1080 screening measurements for anti-SARS CoV-2 (S1) IgG from 217 frontline HCP (65% female) were performed. Overall, 75.6% of HCP reported at least one symptom of respiratory infection. Self-perceived infection probability declined over time (from mean 20.1% at baseline to 12.4% in week 6, p < 0.001). In sera of convalescent patients with PCR-confirmed COVID-19, we measured high anti-SARS-CoV-2 IgG levels, obtained highly concordant results from enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) using e.g. the spike 1 (S1) protein domain and the nucleocapsid protein (NCP) as targets, and confirmed antiviral neutralisation. However, in HCP the cumulative incidence for anti-SARS-CoV-2 (S1) IgG was 1.86% for positive and 0.93% for equivocal positive results over the study period of 6 weeks. Except for one HCP, none of the eight initial positive results were confirmed by alternative serology tests or showed in vitro neutralisation against live SARS-CoV-2. The only true seroconversion occurred without symptoms and mounted strong functional humoral immunity. Thus, the confirmed cumulative incidence for neutralizing anti-SARS-CoV-2 IgG was 0.47%. Conclusion: When assessing anti-SARS-CoV-2 immune status in individuals with low pre-test probability, we suggest confirming positive results from single measurements by alternative serology tests or functional assays. Our data highlight the need for a methodical serology screening approach in regions with low SARS-CoV-2 infection rates.
    • Staphylococcus aureus Alpha-Toxin Limits Type 1 While Fostering Type 3 Immune Responses.

      Bonifacius, Agnes; Goldmann, Oliver; Floess, Stefan; Holtfreter, Silva; Robert, Philippe A; Nordengrün, Maria; Kruse, Friederike; Lochner, Matthias; Falk, Christine S; Schmitz, Ingo; et al. (Frontiers, 2020-08-07)
      Staphylococcus aureus can cause life-threatening diseases, and hospital- as well as community-associated antibiotic-resistant strains are an emerging global public health problem. Therefore, prophylactic vaccines or immune-based therapies are considered as alternative treatment opportunities. To develop such novel treatment approaches, a better understanding of the bacterial virulence and immune evasion mechanisms and their potential effects on immune-based therapies is essential. One important staphylococcal virulence factor is alpha-toxin, which is able to disrupt the epithelial barrier in order to establish infection. In addition, alpha-toxin has been reported to modulate other cell types including immune cells. Since CD4+ T cell-mediated immunity is required for protection against S. aureus infection, we were interested in the ability of alpha-toxin to directly modulate CD4+ T cells. To address this, murine naïve CD4+ T cells were differentiated in vitro into effector T cell subsets in the presence of alpha-toxin. Interestingly, alpha-toxin induced death of Th1-polarized cells, while cells polarized under Th17 conditions showed a high resistance toward increasing concentrations of this toxin. These effects could neither be explained by differential expression of the cellular alpha-toxin receptor ADAM10 nor by differential activation of caspases, but might result from an increased susceptibility of Th1 cells toward Ca2+-mediated activation-induced cell death. In accordance with the in vitro findings, an alpha-toxin-dependent decrease of Th1 and concomitant increase of Th17 cells was observed in vivo during S. aureus bacteremia. Interestingly, corresponding subsets of innate lymphoid cells and γδ T cells were similarly affected, suggesting a more general effect of alpha-toxin on the modulation of type 1 and type 3 immune responses. In conclusion, we have identified a novel alpha-toxin-dependent immunomodulatory strategy of S. aureus, which can directly act on CD4+ T cells and might be exploited for the development of novel immune-based therapeutic approaches to treat infections with antibiotic-resistant S. aureus strains.