Bachelor of Science, University Of Cape Town (2004)
Doctor of Philosophy, University of Cambridge (2011)
Cell-specific expression of many genes is conveyed by multiple enhancers, with each individual enhancer controlling a particular expression domain. In contrast, multiple enhancers drive similar expression patterns of some genes involved in embryonic development, suggesting regulatory redundancy. Work in Drosophila has indicated that functionally overlapping enhancers canalize development by buffering gene expression against environmental and genetic disturbances. However, little is known about regulatory redundancy in vertebrates and in genes mainly expressed during adulthood. Here we study nPE1 and nPE2, two phylogenetically conserved mammalian enhancers that drive expression of the proopiomelanocortin gene (Pomc) to the same set of hypothalamic neurons. The simultaneous deletion of both enhancers abolished Pomc expression at all ages and induced a profound metabolic dysfunction including early-onset extreme obesity. Targeted inactivation of either nPE1 or nPE2 led to very low levels of Pomc expression during early embryonic development indicating that both enhancers function synergistically. In adult mice, however, Pomc expression is controlled additively by both enhancers, with nPE1 being responsible for ∼80% and nPE2 for ∼20% of Pomc transcription. Consequently, nPE1 knockout mice exhibit mild obesity whereas nPE2-deficient mice maintain a normal body weight. These results suggest that nPE2-driven Pomc expression is compensated by nPE1 at later stages of development, essentially rescuing the earlier phenotype of nPE2 deficiency. Together, these results reveal that cooperative interactions between the enhancers confer robustness of Pomc expression against gene regulatory disturbances and preclude deleterious metabolic phenotypes caused by Pomc deficiency in adulthood. Thus, our study demonstrates that enhancer redundancy can be used by genes that control adult physiology in mammals and underlines the potential significance of regulatory sequence mutations in common diseases.
View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pgen.1004935
View details for PubMedID 25671638
Peptides derived from the pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) precursor are critical for normal regulation of many physiological parameters, and POMC deficiency results in severe obesity and metabolic dysfunction. Conversely, augmentation of CNS melanocortin function is a promising therapeutic avenue for obesity and diabetes, but is confounded by detrimental cardiovascular effects including hypertension. Since the hypothalamic population of POMC-expressing neurons is neurochemically and neuroanatomically heterogeneous, there is interest in the possible dissociation of functionally distinct POMC neuron subpopulations. We utilized a Cre recombinase-dependent and hypothalamus-specific reactivatable Pomc(NEO) allele to restrict Pomc expression to hypothalamic neurons expressing leptin receptor (Lepr) in mice. In contrast to mice with total hypothalamic Pomc deficiency, which are severely obese, mice with Lepr-restricted Pomc expression displayed fully normal body weight, food consumption, glucose homeostasis, and locomotor activity. Thus, Lepr(+) Pomc neurons, which constitute approximately two-thirds of the total Pomc neuron population, are sufficient for normal regulation of these parameters. This functional dissociation approach represents a promising avenue for isolating therapeutically relevant Pomc neuron subpopulations.
View details for DOI 10.1210/en.2014-1373
View details for PubMedID 25594696
Isolated dystonia is a disorder characterized by involuntary twisting postures arising from sustained muscle contractions. Although autosomal-dominant mutations in TOR1A, THAP1, and GNAL have been found in some cases, the molecular mechanisms underlying isolated dystonia are largely unknown. In addition, although emphasis has been placed on dominant isolated dystonia, the disorder is also transmitted as a recessive trait, for which no mutations have been defined. Using whole-exome sequencing in a recessive isolated dystonia-affected kindred, we identified disease-segregating compound heterozygous mutations in COL6A3, a collagen VI gene associated previously with muscular dystrophy. Genetic screening of a further 367 isolated dystonia subjects revealed two additional recessive pedigrees harboring compound heterozygous mutations in COL6A3. Strikingly, all affected individuals had at least one pathogenic allele in exon 41, including an exon-skipping mutation that induced an in-frame deletion. We tested the hypothesis that disruption of this exon is pathognomonic for isolated dystonia by inducing a series of in-frame deletions in zebrafish embryos. Consistent with our human genetics data, suppression of the exon 41 ortholog caused deficits in axonal outgrowth, whereas suppression of other exons phenocopied collagen deposition mutants. All recessive mutation carriers demonstrated early-onset segmental isolated dystonia without muscular disease. Finally, we show that Col6a3 is expressed in neurons, with relevant mRNA levels detectable throughout the adult mouse brain. Taken together, our data indicate that loss-of-function mutations affecting a specific region of COL6A3 cause recessive isolated dystonia with underlying neurodevelopmental deficits and highlight the brain extracellular matrix as a contributor to dystonia pathogenesis.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.ajhg.2015.04.010
View details for PubMedID 26004199
As patients decline from health to type 2 diabetes, glucose-stimulated insulin secretion (GSIS) typically becomes impaired. Although GSIS is driven predominantly by direct sensing of a rise in blood glucose by pancreatic β-cells, there is growing evidence that hypothalamic neurons control other aspects of peripheral glucose metabolism. Here we investigated the role of the brain in the modulation of GSIS. To examine the effects of increasing or decreasing hypothalamic glucose sensing on glucose tolerance and insulin secretion, glucose or inhibitors of glucokinase, respectively, were infused into the third ventricle during intravenous glucose tolerance tests (IVGTTs). Glucose-infused rats displayed improved glucose handling, particularly within the first few minutes of the IVGTT, with a significantly lower area under the excursion curve within the first 10 min (AUC0-10). This was explained by increased insulin secretion. In contrast, infusion of the glucokinase inhibitors glucosamine or mannoheptulose worsened glucose tolerance and decreased GSIS in the first few minutes of IVGTT. Our data suggest a role for brain glucose sensors in the regulation of GSIS, particularly during the early phase. We propose that pharmacological agents targeting hypothalamic glucose-sensing pathways may represent novel therapeutic strategies for enhancing early phase insulin secretion in type 2 diabetes.
View details for DOI 10.2337/db11-1050
View details for Web of Science ID 000299798100009
View details for PubMedID 22210318
Maintaining glucose levels within the appropriate physiological range is necessary for survival. The identification of specific neuronal populations, within discreet brain regions, sensitive to changes in glucose concentration has led to the hypothesis of a central glucose-sensing system capable of directly modulating feeding behaviour. Glucokinase (GK) has been identified as a glucose-sensor responsible for detecting such changes both within the brain and the periphery. We previously reported that antagonism of centrally expressed GK by administration of glucosamine (GSN) was sufficient to induce protective glucoprivic feeding in rats. Here we examine a neurochemical mechanism underlying this effect and report that GSN stimulated food intake is highly correlated with the induction of the neuronal activation marker cFOS within two nuclei with a demonstrated role in central glucose sensing and appetite, the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus (ARC) and lateral hypothalamic area (LHA). Furthermore, GSN stimulated cFOS within the ARC was observed in orexigenic neurons expressing the endogenous melanocortin receptor antagonist agouti-related peptide (AgRP) and neuropeptide Y (NPY), but not those expressing the anorectic endogenous melanocortin receptor agonist alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone (α-MSH). In the LHA, GSN stimulated cFOS was found within arousal and feeding associated orexin/hypocretin (ORX), but not orexigenic melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH) expressing neurons. Our data suggest that GK within these specific feeding and arousal related populations of AgRP/NPY and ORX neurons may play a modulatory role in the sensing of and appetitive response to hypoglycaemia.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.bbr.2011.03.043
View details for Web of Science ID 000291418400034
View details for PubMedID 21440571
Serotonin (5-HT) and leptin play important roles in the modulation of energy balance. Here we investigated mechanisms by which leptin might interact with CNS 5-HT pathways to influence appetite. Although some leptin receptor (LepRb) neurons lie close to 5-HT neurons in the dorsal raphe (DR), 5-HT neurons do not express LepRb. Indeed, while leptin hyperpolarizes some non-5-HT DR neurons, leptin does not alter the activity of DR 5-HT neurons. Furthermore, 5-HT depletion does not impair the anorectic effects of leptin. The serotonin transporter-cre allele (Sert(cre)) is expressed in 5-HT (and developmentally in some non-5-HT) neurons. While Sert(cre) promotes LepRb excision in a few LepRb neurons in the hypothalamus, it is not active in DR LepRb neurons, and neuron-specific Sert(cre)-mediated LepRb inactivation in mice does not alter body weight or adiposity. Thus, leptin does not directly influence 5-HT neurons and does not meaningfully modulate important appetite-related determinants via 5-HT neuron function.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cmet.2011.03.016
View details for Web of Science ID 000290291300012
View details for PubMedID 21531340
An inverse relationship between brain serotonin and food intake and body weight has been known for more than 30 years. Specifically, augmentation of brain serotonin inhibits food intake, while depletion of brain serotonin promotes hyperphagia and weight gain. Through the decades, serotonin receptors have been identified and their function in the serotonergic regulation of food intake clarified. Recent refined genetic studies now indicate that a primary mechanism through which serotonin influences appetite and body weight is via serotonin 2C receptor (5-HT(2C)R) and serotonin 1B receptor (5-HT(1B)R) influencing the activity of endogenous melanocortin receptor agonists and antagonists at the melanocortin 4 receptor (MC4R). However, other mechanisms are also possible and the challenge of future research is to delineate them in the complete elucidation of the complex neurocircuitry underlying the serotonergic control of appetite and body weight.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.pbb.2010.09.003
View details for Web of Science ID 000284965800009
View details for PubMedID 20837046
Agonists of the nociceptin/orphanin FQ (N/OFQ) peptide (NOP) receptor stimulate food intake. Concordantly, neuroanatomical localization of NOP receptor mRNA has revealed it to be highly expressed in brain regions associated with the regulation of energy balance. However, the specific mechanisms and neurochemical pathways through which physiological N/OFQ influences appetite are not well understood. To investigate this, we examined nutritional state-associated changes in NOP receptor mRNA levels throughout the rostrocaudal extent of the rat brain using in situ hybridization histochemistry (ISHH) and quantitative densitometry analysis. We observed a significant downregulation of NOP receptor mRNA in the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) of fasted rats compared to free-feeding rats. In contrast, no difference in NOP receptor mRNA expression was observed in the supraoptic, parventricular, ventromedial, arcuate or dorsomedial nuclei of the hypothalamus, the red nucleus, the locus coeruleus or the hypoglossal nucleus in the fasted or fed state. These data suggest that the endogenous N/OFQ system is responsive to changes in energy balance and that NOP receptors specifically within the DRN may be physiologically relevant to N/OFQ's effects on appetite.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.bbr.2009.09.017
View details for Web of Science ID 000272071100022
View details for PubMedID 19765615
The rise in the global prevalence of human obesity has emphasized the need for a greater understanding of the physiological mechanisms that underlie energy homeostasis. Numerous circulating nutritional cues and central neuromodulatory signals are integrated within the brain to regulate both short- and long-term nutritional state. The central melanocortin system represents a crucial point of convergence for these signals and, thus, has a fundamental role in regulating body weight. The melanocortin ligands, synthesized in discrete neuronal populations within the hypothalamus and brainstem, modulate downstream homeostatic signalling via their action at central melanocortin-3 and -4 receptors. Intimately involved in both ingestive behaviour and energy expenditure, the melanocortin system has garnered much interest as a potential therapeutic target for human obesity.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.tem.2009.02.002
View details for Web of Science ID 000268216700001
View details for PubMedID 19541496
Pharmacological compounds enhancing serotonergic tone significantly decrease food intake and are among the most clinically efficacious treatments for obesity. However, the central mechanisms through which serotonergic compounds modulate feeding behavior have not been fully defined. The primary relay center receiving visceral gastrointestinal information in the central nervous system is the nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS) in the caudal brainstem. Here we investigated whether the classic anorectic serotonin receptor agonist m-chloro-phenylpiperazine (mCPP) enhances the activity of metabolically sensitive NTS neurons. Using c-fos immunoreactivity (FOS-IR) as a marker of neuronal activation in rats, we observed that mCPP significantly and dose-dependently activated a discrete population of caudal NTS neurons at the level of the area postrema (AP). In particular, this pattern of FOS-IR induction was consistent with the location of catecholamine-containing neurons. Dual-labeling performed with FOS-IR and the catecholamine biosynthetic enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) revealed that mCPP induced FOS-IR in 83.7% of TH-IR containing neurons in the NTS at the level of the AP. The degree of activation of TH neurons was strongly negatively correlated with food intake. Moreover, this activation was specific to catecholamine neurons, with negligible induction of cocaine- and amphetamine-regulated transcript (CART), cholecystokinin (CCK), glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1), or neurotensin neurons. NTS catecholaminergic neurons relay visceral gastrointestinal signals to both the lateral hypothalamus (LHA) and paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVH), where these signals are integrated into autonomic and hormonal responses regulating food intake. The data presented here identify a novel mechanism through which a serotonin receptor agonist acting in the caudal brainstem may regulate ingestive behavior.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.bbr.2008.07.039
View details for Web of Science ID 000261865100020
View details for PubMedID 18762217
Obesity and nutrient homeostasis are linked by mechanisms that are not fully elucidated. Here we describe a secreted protein, adropin, encoded by a gene, Energy Homeostasis Associated (Enho), expressed in liver and brain. Liver Enho expression is regulated by nutrition: lean C57BL/6J mice fed high-fat diet (HFD) exhibited a rapid increase, while fasting reduced expression compared to controls. However, liver Enho expression declines with diet-induced obesity (DIO) associated with 3 months of HFD or with genetically induced obesity, suggesting an association with metabolic disorders in the obese state. In DIO mice, transgenic overexpression or systemic adropin treatment attenuated hepatosteatosis and insulin resistance independently of effects on adiposity or food intake. Adropin regulated expression of hepatic lipogenic genes and adipose tissue peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma, a major regulator of lipogenesis. Adropin may therefore be a factor governing glucose and lipid homeostasis, which protects against hepatosteatosis and hyperinsulinemia associated with obesity.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cmet.2008.10.011
View details for Web of Science ID 000261379600006
View details for PubMedID 19041763
The neurotransmitter serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine) is a well-established modulator of energy balance. Both pharmacological and genetic evidence implicate the serotonin 2C receptor (5-HT(2C)R) as a critical receptor mediator of serotonin's effects on ingestive behavior. Here we characterized the effect of the novel and selective 5-HT(2C)R agonist BVT.X on energy balance in obese and lean mice and report that BVT.X significantly reduces acute food intake without altering locomotor activity or oxygen consumption. In an effort to elucidate the mechanism of this effect, we examined the chemical phenotype of 5-HT(2C)R-expressing neurons in a critical brain region affecting feeding behavior, the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus. We show that 5-HT(2C)Rs are coexpressed with neurons containing proopiomelanocortin, known to potently affect appetite, in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus of the mouse. We then demonstrate that prolonged infusion with BVT.X in obese mice significantly increases Pomc mRNA and reduces body weight, percent body fat, and initial food intake. To evaluate the functional importance of melanocortin circuitry in the effect of BVT.X on ingestive behavior, we assessed mice with disrupted melanocortin pathways. We report that mice lacking the melanocortin 4 receptor are not responsive to BVT.X-induced hypophagia, demonstrating that melanocortins acting on melanocortin 4 receptor are a requisite downstream pathway for 5-HT(2C)R agonists to exert effects on food intake. The data presented here not only indicate that the novel 5-HT(2C)R agonist BVT.X warrants further investigation as a treatment for obesity but also elucidate specific neuronal pathways potently affecting energy balance through which 5-HT(2C)R agonists regulate ingestive behavior.
View details for DOI 10.1210/en.2007-1321
View details for Web of Science ID 000253421900055
View details for PubMedID 18039773
The burden of type 2 diabetes and its associated premature morbidity and mortality is rapidly growing, and the need for novel efficacious treatments is pressing. We report here that serotonin 2C receptor (5-HT(2C)R) agonists, typically investigated for their anorectic properties, significantly improve glucose tolerance and reduce plasma insulin in murine models of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Importantly, 5-HT(2C)R agonist-induced improvements in glucose homeostasis occurred at concentrations of agonist that had no effect on ingestive behavior, energy expenditure, locomotor activity, body weight, or fat mass. We determined that this primary effect on glucose homeostasis requires downstream activation of melanocortin-4 receptors (MC4Rs), but not MC3Rs. These findings suggest that pharmacological targeting of 5-HT(2C)Rs may enhance glucose tolerance independently of alterations in body weight and that this may prove an effective and mechanistically novel strategy in the treatment of type 2 diabetes.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cmet.2007.10.008
View details for Web of Science ID 000250809700010
View details for PubMedID 17983585
The neurotransmitter serotonin is an important regulator of energy balance. In the brain, serotonergic fibres from midbrain raphe nuclei project to key feeding centres, where serotonin acts on specific receptors to modulate the activity of various downstream neuropeptide systems and autonomic pathways and thus affects ingestive behaviour and energy expenditure. Serotonin, released by intestinal enterochromaffin cells, also appears to regulate energy homeostasis through peripheral mechanisms. Serotonergic effects on energy balance lead to secondary effects on glucose homeostasis, based on a well-established link between obesity and insulin resistance. However, serotonergic pathways may also directly affect glucose homeostasis through regulation of autonomic efferents and/or action on peripheral tissues. Several serotonergic compounds have been evaluated for clinical use in the treatment of obesity and type 2 diabetes; results of these trials are discussed here. Finally, future directions in the elucidation of serotonergic metabolic regulation are discussed.
View details for PubMedID 17316471
The central melanocortin system plays a critical role in energy homeostasis. It is well established that melanocortin-containing neurons are nutritionally regulated and that genetic alterations in the melanocortin system produce profound effects on food intake, energy expenditure, and body weight. Within the brain, melanocortin-producing neurons originate in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus (ARC) and the nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS) in the brainstem and project to various nuclei modulating energy balance. A large body of pharmacological and genetic evidence implicates the central melanocortin 4 receptors (MC4Rs) in the effects of melanocortin peptides on ingestive behaviour, energy expenditure, and body weight. Preclinical studies with endogenous and synthetic melanocortin ligands demonstrate that they produce potent effects on food intake and energy expenditure. Clinical studies thus far have been somewhat less successful and have been hampered by the induction of side effects, which present obstacles to the development of successful therapeutic agents. However, various promising strategies are being pursued to overcome these limitations, including the synthesis of more selective and potent melanocortin analogs.
View details for PubMedID 17584129