register interest

Dr Ben Davies

Research Area: Cell and Molecular Biology
Technology Exchange: ES cell / homologous recombination and Transgenesis
Scientific Themes: Physiology, Cellular & Molecular Biology
Keywords: Transgenic, Knock-out, Knock-down, Genetically modified, Embryonic Stem cell and Animal Model
Web Links:
Fluorescent 1 and 2 cell embryos

Fluorescent 1 and 2 cell embryos

A single ES cell colony expressing Green Fluorescent Protein growing on a fibroblast feeder layer

A single ES cell colony expressing Green Fluorescent Protein growing on a fibroblast feeder layer

Microinjection of embryonic stem cells into a blastocyst

Microinjection of embryonic stem cells into a blastocyst

Genetically modified models represent one of the most powerful methods of functional gene analysis in vivo. Furthermore, the ability to introduce specific mutations into the genome enables models of human disease to be generated, facilitating insights into the pathophysiology of disease and providing a model with which therapeutic strategies and diagnostic tools can be optimized.

Our group provides groups within Oxford University access to transgenic technologies both on a fee-for-service type arrangement and on a collaborative basis. Technologies offered include embryo microinjection, embryonic stem cell transfection, Knock-out/-in construct design and in vivo shRNA mediated gene Knock-down. In addition, embryo rederivation and cryoconservation services are offered to facilitate the management, transfer and security of genetically modified strains.

The research activity of the group is focused on the development of novel methodologies for the generation of genetically modified models. The aims being to improve the reliability of the technology and to reduce the animal cost of research involving genetically modified models.

Name Department Institution Country
Professor Peter Donnelly FRS Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics Oxford University, Henry Wellcome Building of Genomic Medicine United Kingdom
Professor Simon Myers Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics Oxford University, Henry Wellcome Building of Genomic Medicine United Kingdom
Prof Doug Higgs FRS (RDM) Nuffield Division of Clinical Laboratory Sciences Oxford University, Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine United Kingdom
Prof Mark McCarthy (RDM) OCDEM Oxford University, Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism United Kingdom
Prof Anna L Gloyn (RDM) OCDEM Oxford University, Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism United Kingdom
Professor Robert Kleta UCL United Kingdom
Professor William Brown University of Nottingham United Kingdom
Davies B, Brown LA, Cais O, Watson J, Clayton AJ, Chang VT, Biggs D, Preece C, Hernandez-Pliego P, Krohn J et al. 2017. A point mutation in the ion conduction pore of AMPA receptor GRIA3 causes dramatically perturbed sleep patterns as well as intellectual disability. Hum Mol Genet, 26 (20), pp. 3869-3882. | Show Abstract | Read more

The discovery of genetic variants influencing sleep patterns can shed light on the physiological processes underlying sleep. As part of a large clinical sequencing project, WGS500, we sequenced a family in which the two male children had severe developmental delay and a dramatically disturbed sleep-wake cycle, with very long wake and sleep durations, reaching up to 106-h awake and 48-h asleep. The most likely causal variant identified was a novel missense variant in the X-linked GRIA3 gene, which has been implicated in intellectual disability. GRIA3 encodes GluA3, a subunit of AMPA-type ionotropic glutamate receptors (AMPARs). The mutation (A653T) falls within the highly conserved transmembrane domain of the ion channel gate, immediately adjacent to the analogous residue in the Grid2 (glutamate receptor) gene, which is mutated in the mouse neurobehavioral mutant, Lurcher. In vitro, the GRIA3(A653T) mutation stabilizes the channel in a closed conformation, in contrast to Lurcher. We introduced the orthologous mutation into a mouse strain by CRISPR-Cas9 mutagenesis and found that hemizygous mutants displayed significant differences in the structure of their activity and sleep compared to wild-type littermates. Typically, mice are polyphasic, exhibiting multiple sleep bouts of sleep several minutes long within a 24-h period. The Gria3A653T mouse showed significantly fewer brief bouts of activity and sleep than the wild-types. Furthermore, Gria3A653T mice showed enhanced period lengthening under constant light compared to wild-type mice, suggesting an increased sensitivity to light. Our results suggest a role for GluA3 channel activity in the regulation of sleep behavior in both mice and humans.

Hanssen LLP, Kassouf MT, Oudelaar AM, Biggs D, Preece C, Downes DJ, Gosden M, Sharpe JA, Sloane-Stanley JA, Hughes JR et al. 2017. Tissue-specific CTCF-cohesin-mediated chromatin architecture delimits enhancer interactions and function in vivo. Nat Cell Biol, 19 (8), pp. 952-961. | Show Abstract | Read more

The genome is organized via CTCF-cohesin-binding sites, which partition chromosomes into 1-5 megabase (Mb) topologically associated domains (TADs), and further into smaller sub-domains (sub-TADs). Here we examined in vivo an ∼80 kb sub-TAD, containing the mouse α-globin gene cluster, lying within a ∼1 Mb TAD. We find that the sub-TAD is flanked by predominantly convergent CTCF-cohesin sites that are ubiquitously bound by CTCF but only interact during erythropoiesis, defining a self-interacting erythroid compartment. Whereas the α-globin regulatory elements normally act solely on promoters downstream of the enhancers, removal of a conserved upstream CTCF-cohesin boundary extends the sub-TAD to adjacent upstream CTCF-cohesin-binding sites. The α-globin enhancers now interact with the flanking chromatin, upregulating expression of genes within this extended sub-TAD. Rather than acting solely as a barrier to chromatin modification, CTCF-cohesin boundaries in this sub-TAD delimit the region of chromatin to which enhancers have access and within which they interact with receptive promoters.

Vieira JM, Howard S, Villa Del Campo C, Bollini S, Dubé KN, Masters M, Barnette DN, Rohling M, Sun X, Hankins LE et al. 2017. BRG1-SWI/SNF-dependent regulation of the Wt1 transcriptional landscape mediates epicardial activity during heart development and disease. Nat Commun, 8 pp. 16034. | Show Abstract | Read more

Epicardium-derived cells (EPDCs) contribute cardiovascular cell types during development and in adulthood respond to Thymosin β4 (Tβ4) and myocardial infarction (MI) by reactivating a fetal gene programme to promote neovascularization and cardiomyogenesis. The mechanism for epicardial gene (re-)activation remains elusive. Here we reveal that BRG1, the essential ATPase subunit of the SWI/SNF chromatin-remodelling complex, is required for expression of Wilms' tumour 1 (Wt1), fetal EPDC activation and subsequent differentiation into coronary smooth muscle, and restores Wt1 activity upon MI. BRG1 physically interacts with Tβ4 and is recruited by CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein β (C/EBPβ) to discrete regulatory elements in the Wt1 locus. BRG1-Tβ4 co-operative binding promotes optimal transcription of Wt1 as the master regulator of embryonic EPDCs. Moreover, chromatin immunoprecipitation-sequencing reveals BRG1 binding at further key loci suggesting SWI/SNF activity across the fetal epicardial gene programme. These findings reveal essential functions for chromatin-remodelling in the activation of EPDCs during cardiovascular development and repair.

Cebrian-Serrano A, Davies B. 2017. CRISPR-Cas orthologues and variants: optimizing the repertoire, specificity and delivery of genome engineering tools. Mamm Genome, 28 (7-8), pp. 247-261. | Show Abstract | Read more

Robust and cost-effective genome editing in a diverse array of cells and model organisms is now possible thanks to the discovery of the RNA-guided endonucleases of the CRISPR-Cas system. The commonly used Cas9 of Streptococcus pyogenes shows high levels of activity but, depending on the application, has been associated with some shortcomings. Firstly, the enzyme has been shown to cause mutagenesis at genomic sequences resembling the target sequence. Secondly, the stringent requirement for a specific motif adjacent to the selected target site can limit the target range of this enzyme. Lastly, the physical size of Cas9 challenges the efficient delivery of genomic engineering tools based on this enzyme as viral particles for potential therapeutic applications. Related and parallel strategies have been employed to address these issues. Taking advantage of the wealth of structural information that is becoming available for CRISPR-Cas effector proteins, Cas9 has been redesigned by mutagenizing key residues contributing to activity and target recognition. The protein has also been shortened and redesigned into component subunits in an attempt to facilitate its efficient delivery. Furthermore, the CRISPR-Cas toolbox has been expanded by exploring the properties of Cas9 orthologues and other related effector proteins from diverse bacterial species, some of which exhibit different target site specificities and reduced molecular size. It is hoped that the improvements in accuracy, target range and efficiency of delivery will facilitate the therapeutic application of these site-specific nucleases.

Cebrian-Serrano A, Zha S, Hanssen L, Biggs D, Preece C, Davies B. 2017. Maternal Supply of Cas9 to Zygotes Facilitates the Efficient Generation of Site-Specific Mutant Mouse Models. PLoS One, 12 (1), pp. e0169887. | Show Abstract | Read more

Genome manipulation in the mouse via microinjection of CRISPR/Cas9 site-specific nucleases has allowed the production time for genetically modified mouse models to be significantly reduced. Successful genome manipulation in the mouse has already been reported using Cas9 supplied by microinjection of a DNA construct, in vitro transcribed mRNA and recombinant protein. Recently the use of transgenic strains of mice overexpressing Cas9 has been shown to facilitate site-specific mutagenesis via maternal supply to zygotes and this route may provide an alternative to exogenous supply. We have investigated the feasibility of supplying Cas9 genetically in more detail and for this purpose we report the generation of a transgenic mice which overexpress Cas9 ubiquitously, via a CAG-Cas9 transgene targeted to the Gt(ROSA26)Sor locus. We show that zygotes prepared from female mice harbouring this transgene are sufficiently loaded with maternally contributed Cas9 for efficient production of embryos and mice harbouring indel, genomic deletion and knock-in alleles by microinjection of guide RNAs and templates alone. We compare the mutagenesis rates and efficacy of mutagenesis using this genetic supply with exogenous Cas9 supply by either mRNA or protein microinjection. In general, we report increased generation rates of knock-in alleles and show that the levels of mutagenesis at certain genome target sites are significantly higher and more consistent when Cas9 is supplied genetically relative to exogenous supply.

Lakhal-Littleton S, Wolna M, Chung YJ, Christian HC, Heather LC, Brescia M, Ball V, Diaz R, Santos A, Biggs D et al. 2016. An essential cell-autonomous role for hepcidin in cardiac iron homeostasis. Elife, 5 (NOVEMBER2016), | Show Abstract | Read more

Hepcidin is the master regulator of systemic iron homeostasis. Derived primarily from the liver, it inhibits the iron exporter ferroportin in the gut and spleen, the sites of iron absorption and recycling respectively. Recently, we demonstrated that ferroportin is also found in cardiomyocytes, and that its cardiac-specific deletion leads to fatal cardiac iron overload. Hepcidin is also expressed in cardiomyocytes, where its function remains unknown. To define the function of cardiomyocyte hepcidin, we generated mice with cardiomyocyte-specific deletion of hepcidin, or knock-in of hepcidin-resistant ferroportin. We find that while both models maintain normal systemic iron homeostasis, they nonetheless develop fatal contractile and metabolic dysfunction as a consequence of cardiomyocyte iron deficiency. These findings are the first demonstration of a cell-autonomous role for hepcidin in iron homeostasis. They raise the possibility that such function may also be important in other tissues that express both hepcidin and ferroportin, such as the kidney and the brain.

Sacilotto N, Chouliaras KM, Nikitenko LL, Lu YW, Fritzsche M, Wallace MD, Nornes S, García-Moreno F, Payne S, Bridges E et al. 2016. MEF2 transcription factors are key regulators of sprouting angiogenesis. Genes Dev, 30 (20), pp. 2297-2309. | Show Abstract | Read more

Angiogenesis, the fundamental process by which new blood vessels form from existing ones, depends on precise spatial and temporal gene expression within specific compartments of the endothelium. However, the molecular links between proangiogenic signals and downstream gene expression remain unclear. During sprouting angiogenesis, the specification of endothelial cells into the tip cells that lead new blood vessel sprouts is coordinated by vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGFA) and Delta-like ligand 4 (Dll4)/Notch signaling and requires high levels of Notch ligand DLL4. Here, we identify MEF2 transcription factors as crucial regulators of sprouting angiogenesis directly downstream from VEGFA. Through the characterization of a Dll4 enhancer directing expression to endothelial cells at the angiogenic front, we found that MEF2 factors directly transcriptionally activate the expression of Dll4 and many other key genes up-regulated during sprouting angiogenesis in both physiological and tumor vascularization. Unlike ETS-mediated regulation, MEF2-binding motifs are not ubiquitous to all endothelial gene enhancers and promoters but are instead overrepresented around genes associated with sprouting angiogenesis. MEF2 target gene activation is directly linked to VEGFA-induced release of repressive histone deacetylases and concurrent recruitment of the histone acetyltransferase EP300 to MEF2 target gene regulatory elements, thus establishing MEF2 factors as the transcriptional effectors of VEGFA signaling during angiogenesis.

Siggs OM, Stockenhuber A, Deobagkar-Lele M, Bull KR, Crockford TL, Kingston BL, Crawford G, Anzilotti C, Steeples V, Ghaffari S et al. 2016. Mutation of Fnip1 is associated with B-cell deficiency, cardiomyopathy, and elevated AMPK activity. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 113 (26), pp. E3706-E3715. | Show Abstract | Read more

Folliculin (FLCN) is a tumor-suppressor protein mutated in the Birt-Hogg-Dubé (BHD) syndrome, which associates with two paralogous proteins, folliculin-interacting protein (FNIP)1 and FNIP2, forming a complex that interacts with the AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). Although it is clear that this complex influences AMPK and other metabolic regulators, reports of its effects have been inconsistent. To address this issue, we created a recessive loss-of-function variant of Fnip1 Homozygous FNIP1 deficiency resulted in profound B-cell deficiency, partially restored by overexpression of the antiapoptotic protein BCL2, whereas heterozygous deficiency caused a loss of marginal zone B cells. FNIP1-deficient mice developed cardiomyopathy characterized by left ventricular hypertrophy and glycogen accumulation, with close parallels to mice and humans bearing gain-of-function mutations in the γ2 subunit of AMPK. Concordantly, γ2-specific AMPK activity was elevated in neonatal FNIP1-deficient myocardium, whereas AMPK-dependent unc-51-like autophagy activating kinase 1 (ULK1) phosphorylation and autophagy were increased in FNIP1-deficient B-cell progenitors. These data support a role for FNIP1 as a negative regulator of AMPK.

Becker PW, Sacilotto N, Nornes S, Neal A, Thomas MO, Liu K, Preece C, Ratnayaka I, Davies B, Bou-Gharios G, De Val S. 2016. An Intronic Flk1 Enhancer Directs Arterial-Specific Expression via RBPJ-Mediated Venous Repression. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol, 36 (6), pp. 1209-1219. | Show Abstract | Read more

OBJECTIVE: The vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) receptor Flk1 is essential for vascular development, but the signaling and transcriptional pathways by which its expression is regulated in endothelial cells remain unclear. Although previous studies have identified 2 Flk1 regulatory enhancers, these are dispensable for Flk1 expression, indicating that additional enhancers contribute to Flk1 regulation in endothelial cells. In the present study, we sought to identify Flk1 enhancers contributing to expression in endothelial cells. APPROACH AND RESULTS: A region of the 10th intron of the Flk1 gene (Flk1in10) was identified as a putative enhancer and tested in mouse and zebrafish transgenic models. This region robustly directed reporter gene expression in arterial endothelial cells. Using a combination of targeted mutagenesis of transcription factor-binding sites and gene silencing of transcription factors, we found that Gata and Ets factors are required for Flk1in10 enhancer activity in all endothelial cells. Furthermore, we showed that activity of the Flk1in10 enhancer is restricted to arteries through repression of gene expression in venous endothelial cells by the Notch pathway transcriptional regulator Rbpj. CONCLUSIONS: This study demonstrates a novel mechanism of arterial-venous identity acquisition, indicates a direct link between the Notch and VEGF signaling pathways, and illustrates how cis-regulatory diversity permits differential expression outcomes from a limited repertoire of transcriptional regulators.

Davies B, Hatton E, Altemose N, Hussin JG, Pratto F, Zhang G, Hinch AG, Moralli D, Biggs D, Diaz R et al. 2016. Re-engineering the zinc fingers of PRDM9 reverses hybrid sterility in mice. Nature, 530 (7589), pp. 171-176. | Show Abstract | Read more

The DNA-binding protein PRDM9 directs positioning of the double-strand breaks (DSBs) that initiate meiotic recombination in mice and humans. Prdm9 is the only mammalian speciation gene yet identified and is responsible for sterility phenotypes in male hybrids of certain mouse subspecies. To investigate PRDM9 binding and its role in fertility and meiotic recombination, we humanized the DNA-binding domain of PRDM9 in C57BL/6 mice. This change repositions DSB hotspots and completely restores fertility in male hybrids. Here we show that alteration of one Prdm9 allele impacts the behaviour of DSBs controlled by the other allele at chromosome-wide scales. These effects correlate strongly with the degree to which each PRDM9 variant binds both homologues at the DSB sites it controls. Furthermore, higher genome-wide levels of such 'symmetric' PRDM9 binding associate with increasing fertility measures, and comparisons of individual hotspots suggest binding symmetry plays a downstream role in the recombination process. These findings reveal that subspecies-specific degradation of PRDM9 binding sites by meiotic drive, which steadily increases asymmetric PRDM9 binding, has impacts beyond simply changing hotspot positions, and strongly support a direct involvement in hybrid infertility. Because such meiotic drive occurs across mammals, PRDM9 may play a wider, yet transient, role in the early stages of speciation.

Armitage AE, Lim PJ, Frost JN, Pasricha SR, Soilleux EJ, Evans E, Morovat A, Santos A, Diaz R, Biggs D et al. 2016. Induced Disruption of the Iron-Regulatory Hormone Hepcidin Inhibits Acute Inflammatory Hypoferraemia. J Innate Immun, 8 (5), pp. 517-528. | Show Abstract | Read more

Withdrawal of iron from serum (hypoferraemia) is a conserved innate immune antimicrobial strategy that can withhold this critical nutrient from invading pathogens, impairing their growth. Hepcidin (Hamp1) is the master regulator of iron and its expression is induced by inflammation. Mice lacking Hamp1 from birth rapidly accumulate iron and are susceptible to infection by blood-dwelling siderophilic bacteria such as Vibrio vulnificus. In order to study the innate immune role of hepcidin against a background of normal iron status, we developed a transgenic mouse model of tamoxifen-sensitive conditional Hamp1 deletion (termed iHamp1-KO mice). These mice attain adulthood with an iron status indistinguishable from littermate controls. Hamp1 disruption and the consequent decline of serum hepcidin concentrations occurred within hours of a single tamoxifen dose. We found that the TLR ligands LPS and Pam3CSK4 and heat-killed Brucella abortus caused an equivalent induction of inflammation in control and iHamp1-KO mice. Pam3CSK4 and B. abortus only caused a drop in serum iron in control mice, while hypoferraemia due to LPS was evident but substantially blunted in iHamp1-KO mice. Our results characterise a powerful new model of rapidly inducible hepcidin disruption, and demonstrate the critical contribution of hepcidin to the hypoferraemia of inflammation.

Dolatshad H, Biggs D, Diaz R, Hortin N, Preece C, Davies B. 2015. A versatile transgenic allele for mouse overexpression studies Mammalian Genome, 26 (11-12), pp. 598-608. | Show Abstract | Read more

© 2015, The Author(s). For the analysis of gene function in vivo, gene overexpression in the mouse provides an alternative to loss-of-function knock-out approaches and can help reveal phenotypes where compensatory mechanisms are at play. Furthermore, when multiple lines overexpressing a gene-of-interest at varying levels are studied, the consequences of differences in gene dosage can be explored. Despite these advantages, inherent shortcomings in the methodologies used for the generation of gain-of-function transgenic mouse models have limited their application to functional gene analysis, and the necessity for multiple lines comes at a significant animal and financial cost. The targeting of transgenic overexpression constructs at single copy into neutral genomic loci is the preferred method for the generation of such models, which avoids the unpredictable outcomes associated with conventional random integration. However, despite the increased reliability that targeted transgenic methodologies provide, only one expression level results, as defined by the promoter used. Here, we report a new versatile overexpression allele, the promoter-switch allele, which couples PhiC31 integrase-targeted transgenesis with Flp recombinase promoter switching and Cre recombinase activation. These recombination switches allow the conversion of different overexpression alleles, combining the advantages of transgenic targeting with tunable transgene expression. With this approach, phenotype severity can be correlated with transgene expression in a single mouse model, providing a cost-effective solution amenable to systematic gain-of-function studies.

Dolatshad H, Biggs D, Diaz R, Hortin N, Preece C, Davies B. 2015. A versatile transgenic allele for mouse overexpression studies. Mamm Genome, 26 (11-12), pp. 598-608. | Show Abstract | Read more

For the analysis of gene function in vivo, gene overexpression in the mouse provides an alternative to loss-of-function knock-out approaches and can help reveal phenotypes where compensatory mechanisms are at play. Furthermore, when multiple lines overexpressing a gene-of-interest at varying levels are studied, the consequences of differences in gene dosage can be explored. Despite these advantages, inherent shortcomings in the methodologies used for the generation of gain-of-function transgenic mouse models have limited their application to functional gene analysis, and the necessity for multiple lines comes at a significant animal and financial cost. The targeting of transgenic overexpression constructs at single copy into neutral genomic loci is the preferred method for the generation of such models, which avoids the unpredictable outcomes associated with conventional random integration. However, despite the increased reliability that targeted transgenic methodologies provide, only one expression level results, as defined by the promoter used. Here, we report a new versatile overexpression allele, the promoter-switch allele, which couples PhiC31 integrase-targeted transgenesis with Flp recombinase promoter switching and Cre recombinase activation. These recombination switches allow the conversion of different overexpression alleles, combining the advantages of transgenic targeting with tunable transgene expression. With this approach, phenotype severity can be correlated with transgene expression in a single mouse model, providing a cost-effective solution amenable to systematic gain-of-function studies.

Lakhal-Littleton S, Wolna M, Carr CA, Miller JJ, Christian HC, Ball V, Santos A, Diaz R, Biggs D, Stillion R et al. 2015. Cardiac ferroportin regulates cellular iron homeostasis and is important for cardiac function. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 112 (10), pp. 3164-3169. | Show Abstract | Read more

Iron is essential to the cell. Both iron deficiency and overload impinge negatively on cardiac health. Thus, effective iron homeostasis is important for cardiac function. Ferroportin (FPN), the only known mammalian iron-exporting protein, plays an essential role in iron homeostasis at the systemic level. It increases systemic iron availability by releasing iron from the cells of the duodenum, spleen, and liver, the sites of iron absorption, recycling, and storage respectively. However, FPN is also found in tissues with no known role in systemic iron handling, such as the heart, where its function remains unknown. To explore this function, we generated mice with a cardiomyocyte-specific deletion of Fpn. We show that these animals have severely impaired cardiac function, with a median survival of 22 wk, despite otherwise unaltered systemic iron status. We then compared their phenotype with that of ubiquitous hepcidin knockouts, a recognized model of the iron-loading disease hemochromatosis. The phenotype of the hepcidin knockouts was far milder, with normal survival up to 12 mo, despite far greater iron loading in the hearts. Histological examination demonstrated that, although cardiac iron accumulates within the cardiomyocytes of Fpn knockouts, it accumulates predominantly in other cell types in the hepcidin knockouts. We conclude, first, that cardiomyocyte FPN is essential for intracellular iron homeostasis and, second, that the site of deposition of iron within the heart determines the severity with which it affects cardiac function. Both findings have significant implications for the assessment and treatment of cardiac complications of iron dysregulation.

Liu KX, Edwards B, Lee S, Finelli MJ, Davies B, Davies KE, Oliver PL. 2015. Neuron-specific antioxidant OXR1 extends survival of a mouse model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Brain, 138 (Pt 5), pp. 1167-1181. | Show Abstract | Read more

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a devastating neurodegenerative disorder characterized by the progressive loss of spinal motor neurons. While the aetiological mechanisms underlying the disease remain poorly understood, oxidative stress is a central component of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and contributes to motor neuron injury. Recently, oxidation resistance 1 (OXR1) has emerged as a critical regulator of neuronal survival in response to oxidative stress, and is upregulated in the spinal cord of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Here, we tested the hypothesis that OXR1 is a key neuroprotective factor during amyotrophic lateral sclerosis pathogenesis by crossing a new transgenic mouse line that overexpresses OXR1 in neurons with the SOD1(G93A) mouse model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Interestingly, we report that overexpression of OXR1 significantly extends survival, improves motor deficits, and delays pathology in the spinal cord and in muscles of SOD1(G93A) mice. Furthermore, we find that overexpression of OXR1 in neurons significantly delays non-cell-autonomous neuroinflammatory response, classic complement system activation, and STAT3 activation through transcriptomic analysis of spinal cords of SOD1(G93A) mice. Taken together, these data identify OXR1 as the first neuron-specific antioxidant modulator of pathogenesis and disease progression in SOD1-mediated amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and suggest that OXR1 may serve as a novel target for future therapeutic strategies.

Davies B, Hatton E, Hussin J, Altemose N, Pratto F, Moralli D, Gupta A, Biggs D, Brick K, Green C et al. 2014. Reprogramming meiotic recombination in the mouse TRANSGENIC RESEARCH, 23 (5), pp. 854-854.

Hortin N, Diaz R, Biggs D, Preece C, Brown W, Davies B. 2014. Integrases for genome engineering TRANSGENIC RESEARCH, 23 (5), pp. 855-855.

Xu Z, Thomas L, Davies B, Chalmers R, Smith M, Brown W. 2013. Accuracy and efficiency define Bxb1 integrase as the best of fifteen candidate serine recombinases for the integration of DNA into the human genome. BMC Biotechnol, 13 (1), pp. 87. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Phage-encoded serine integrases, such as φC31 integrase, are widely used for genome engineering. Fifteen such integrases have been described but their utility for genome engineering has not been compared in uniform assays. RESULTS: We have compared fifteen serine integrases for their utility for DNA manipulations in mammalian cells after first demonstrating that all were functional in E. coli. Chromosomal recombination reporters were used to show that seven integrases were active on chromosomally integrated DNA in human fibroblasts and mouse embryonic stem cells. Five of the remaining eight enzymes were active on extra-chromosomal substrates thereby demonstrating that the ability to mediate extra-chromosomal recombination is no guide to ability to mediate site-specific recombination on integrated DNA. All the integrases that were active on integrated DNA also promoted DNA integration reactions that were not mediated through conservative site-specific recombination or damaged the recombination sites but the extent of these aberrant reactions varied over at least an order of magnitude. Bxb1 integrase yielded approximately two-fold more recombinants and displayed about two fold less damage to the recombination sites than the next best recombinase; φC31 integrase. CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that the Bxb1 and φC31 integrases are the reagents of choice for genome engineering in vertebrate cells and that DNA damage repair is a major limitation upon the utility of this class of site-specific recombinase.

Zeron-Medina J, Wang X, Repapi E, Campbell MR, Su D, Castro-Giner F, Davies B, Peterse EF, Sacilotto N, Walker GJ et al. 2013. A polymorphic p53 response element in KIT ligand influences cancer risk and has undergone natural selection. Cell, 155 (2), pp. 410-422. | Show Abstract | Read more

The ability of p53 to regulate transcription is crucial for tumor suppression and implies that inherited polymorphisms in functional p53-binding sites could influence cancer. Here, we identify a polymorphic p53 responsive element and demonstrate its influence on cancer risk using genome-wide data sets of cancer susceptibility loci, genetic variation, p53 occupancy, and p53-binding sites. We uncover a single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in a functional p53-binding site and establish its influence on the ability of p53 to bind to and regulate transcription of the KITLG gene. The SNP resides in KITLG and associates with one of the largest risks identified among cancer genome-wide association studies. We establish that the SNP has undergone positive selection throughout evolution, signifying a selective benefit, but go on to show that similar SNPs are rare in the genome due to negative selection, indicating that polymorphisms in p53-binding sites are primarily detrimental to humans.

Sacilotto N, Monteiro R, Fritzsche M, Becker PW, Sanchez-Del-Campo L, Liu K, Pinheiro P, Ratnayaka I, Davies B, Goding CR et al. 2013. Analysis of Dll4 regulation reveals a combinatorial role for Sox and Notch in arterial development. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 110 (29), pp. 11893-11898. | Show Abstract | Read more

The mechanisms by which arterial fate is established and maintained are not clearly understood. Although a number of signaling pathways and transcriptional regulators have been implicated in arterio-venous differentiation, none are essential for arterial formation, and the manner in which widely expressed factors may achieve arterial-specific gene regulation is unclear. Using both mouse and zebrafish models, we demonstrate here that arterial specification is regulated combinatorially by Notch signaling and SoxF transcription factors, via direct transcriptional gene activation. Through the identification and characterization of two arterial endothelial cell-specific gene enhancers for the Notch ligand Delta-like ligand 4 (Dll4), we show that arterial Dll4 expression requires the direct binding of both the RBPJ/Notch intracellular domain and SOXF transcription factors. Specific combinatorial, but not individual, loss of SOXF and RBPJ DNA binding ablates all Dll4 enhancer-transgene expression despite the presence of multiple functional ETS binding sites, as does knockdown of sox7;sox18 in combination with loss of Notch signaling. Furthermore, triple knockdown of sox7, sox18 and rbpj also results in ablation of endogenous dll4 expression. Fascinatingly, this combinatorial ablation leads to a loss of arterial markers and the absence of a detectable dorsal aorta, demonstrating the essential roles of SoxF and Notch, together, in the acquisition of arterial identity.

Lakhal-Littleton S, Biggs D, Diaz R, Santos A, Preece C, Davies B, Robbins P. 2013. THE ROLES OF HEPCIDIN AND FERROPORTIN IN AUTOCRINE REGULATION OF IRON LEVELS AMERICAN JOURNAL OF HEMATOLOGY, 88 (5), pp. E49-E49.

Adam J, Yang M, Bauerschmidt C, Kitagawa M, O'Flaherty L, Maheswaran P, Özkan G, Sahgal N, Baban D, Kato K et al. 2013. A role for cytosolic fumarate hydratase in urea cycle metabolism and renal neoplasia. Cell Rep, 3 (5), pp. 1440-1448. | Show Abstract | Read more

The identification of mutated metabolic enzymes in hereditary cancer syndromes has established a direct link between metabolic dysregulation and cancer. Mutations in the Krebs cycle enzyme, fumarate hydratase (FH), predispose affected individuals to leiomyomas, renal cysts, and cancers, though the respective pathogenic roles of mitochondrial and cytosolic FH isoforms remain undefined. On the basis of comprehensive metabolomic analyses, we demonstrate that FH1-deficient cells and tissues exhibit defects in the urea cycle/arginine metabolism. Remarkably, transgenic re-expression of cytosolic FH ameliorated both renal cyst development and urea cycle defects associated with renal-specific FH1 deletion in mice. Furthermore, acute arginine depletion significantly reduced the viability of FH1-deficient cells in comparison to controls. Our findings highlight the importance of extramitochondrial metabolic pathways in FH-associated oncogenesis and the urea cycle/arginine metabolism as a potential therapeutic target.

Stevenson M, Carlisle R, Davies B, Preece C, Hammett M, Liu WL, Fisher KD, Ryan A, Scrable H, Seymour LW. 2013. Development of a Positive-readout Mouse Model of siRNA Pharmacodynamics. Mol Ther Nucleic Acids, 2 (NOV), pp. e133. | Show Abstract | Read more

Development of RNAi-based therapeutics has the potential to revolutionize treatment options for a range of human diseases. However, as with gene therapy, a major barrier to progress is the lack of methods to achieve and measure efficient delivery for systemic administration. We have developed a positive-readout pharmacodynamic transgenic reporter mouse model allowing noninvasive real-time assessment of siRNA activity. The model combines a luciferase reporter gene under the control of regulatory elements from the lac operon of Escherichia coli. Introduction of siRNA targeting lac repressor results in increased luciferase expression in cells where siRNA is biologically active. Five founder luciferase-expressing and three founder Lac-expressing lines were generated and characterized. Mating of ubiquitously expressing luciferase and lac lines generated progeny in which luciferase expression was significantly reduced compared with the parental line. Administration of isopropyl β-D-1-thiogalactopyranoside either in drinking water or given intraperitoneally increased luciferase expression in eight of the mice examined, which fell rapidly when withdrawn. Intraperitoneal administration of siRNA targeting lac in combination with Lipofectamine 2000 resulted in increased luciferase expression in the liver while control nontargeting siRNA had no effect. We believe a sensitive positive readout pharmacodynamics reporter model will be of use to the research community in RNAi-based vector development.Molecular Therapy-Nucleic Acids (2013) 2, e133; doi:10.1038/mtna.2013.63; published online 19 November 2013.

Davies B, Davies G, Preece C, Puliyadi R, Szumska D, Bhattacharya S. 2013. Site specific mutation of the Zic2 locus by microinjection of TALEN mRNA in mouse CD1, C3H and C57BL/6J oocytes. PLoS One, 8 (3), pp. e60216. | Show Abstract | Read more

Transcription Activator-Like Effector Nucleases (TALENs) consist of a nuclease domain fused to a DNA binding domain which is engineered to bind to any genomic sequence. These chimeric enzymes can be used to introduce a double strand break at a specific genomic site which then can become the substrate for error-prone non-homologous end joining (NHEJ), generating mutations at the site of cleavage. In this report we investigate the feasibility of achieving targeted mutagenesis by microinjection of TALEN mRNA within the mouse oocyte. We achieved high rates of mutagenesis of the mouse Zic2 gene in all backgrounds examined including outbred CD1 and inbred C3H and C57BL/6J. Founder mutant Zic2 mice (eight independent alleles, with frameshift and deletion mutations) were created in C3H and C57BL/6J backgrounds. These mice transmitted the mutant alleles to the progeny with 100% efficiency, allowing the creation of inbred lines. Mutant mice display a curly tail phenotype consistent with Zic2 loss-of-function. The efficiency of site-specific germline mutation in the mouse confirm TALEN mediated mutagenesis in the oocyte to be a viable alternative to conventional gene targeting in embryonic stem cells where simple loss-of-function alleles are required. This technology enables allelic series of mutations to be generated quickly and efficiently in diverse genetic backgrounds and will be a valuable approach to rapidly create mutations in mice already bearing one or more mutant alleles at other genetic loci without the need for lengthy backcrossing.

Chen CM, Bentham J, Cosgrove C, Braganca J, Cuenda A, Bamforth SD, Schneider JE, Watkins H, Keavney B, Davies B, Bhattacharya S. 2012. Functional significance of SRJ domain mutations in CITED2. PLoS One, 7 (10), pp. e46256. | Show Abstract | Read more

CITED2 is a transcriptional co-activator with 3 conserved domains shared with other CITED family members and a unique Serine-Glycine Rich Junction (SRJ) that is highly conserved in placental mammals. Loss of Cited2 in mice results in cardiac and aortic arch malformations, adrenal agenesis, neural tube and placental defects, and partially penetrant defects in left-right patterning. By screening 1126 sporadic congenital heart disease (CHD) cases and 1227 controls, we identified 19 variants, including 5 unique non-synonymous sequence variations (N62S, R92G, T166N, G180-A187del and A187T) in patients. Many of the CHD-specific variants identified in this and previous studies cluster in the SRJ domain. Transient transfection experiments show that T166N mutation impairs TFAP2 co-activation function and ES cell proliferation. We find that CITED2 is phosphorylated by MAPK1 in vitro at T166, and that MAPK1 activation enhances the coactivation function of CITED2 but not of CITED2-T166N. In order to investigate the functional significance in vivo, we generated a T166N mutation of mouse Cited2. We also used PhiC31 integrase-mediated cassette exchange to generate a Cited2 knock-in allele replacing the mouse Cited2 coding sequence with human CITED2 and with a mutant form deleting the entire SRJ domain. Mouse embryos expressing only CITED2-T166N or CITED2-SRJ-deleted alleles surprisingly show no morphological abnormalities, and mice are viable and fertile. These results indicate that the SRJ domain is dispensable for these functions of CITED2 in mice and that mutations clustering in the SRJ region are unlikely to be the sole cause of the malformations observed in patients with sporadic CHD. Our results also suggest that coding sequence mutations observed in case-control studies need validation using in vivo models and that predictions based on structural conservation and in vitro functional assays, or even in vivo global loss of function models, may be insufficient.

Oliver PL, Finelli MJ, Edwards B, Bitoun E, Butts DL, Becker EB, Cheeseman MT, Davies B, Davies KE. 2011. Oxr1 is essential for protection against oxidative stress-induced neurodegeneration. PLoS Genet, 7 (10), pp. e1002338. | Show Abstract | Read more

Oxidative stress is a common etiological feature of neurological disorders, although the pathways that govern defence against reactive oxygen species (ROS) in neurodegeneration remain unclear. We have identified the role of oxidation resistance 1 (Oxr1) as a vital protein that controls the sensitivity of neuronal cells to oxidative stress; mice lacking Oxr1 display cerebellar neurodegeneration, and neurons are less susceptible to exogenous stress when the gene is over-expressed. A conserved short isoform of Oxr1 is also sufficient to confer this neuroprotective property both in vitro and in vivo. In addition, biochemical assays indicate that Oxr1 itself is susceptible to cysteine-mediated oxidation. Finally we show up-regulation of Oxr1 in both human and pre-symptomatic mouse models of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, indicating that Oxr1 is potentially a novel neuroprotective factor in neurodegenerative disease.

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Scopus

Chen CM, Krohn J, Bhattacharya S, Davies B. 2011. A comparison of exogenous promoter activity at the ROSA26 locus using a PhiC31 integrase mediated cassette exchange approach in mouse es cells PLoS ONE, 6 (8), | Show Abstract | Read more

The activities of nine ubiquitous promoters (ROSA26, CAG, CMV, CMVd1, UbC, EF1α, PGK, chicken β-actin and MC1) have been quantified and compared in mouse embryonic stem cells. To avoid the high variation in transgene expression which results from uncontrolled copy number and chromosomal position effects when using random insertion based transgenic approaches, we have adopted a PhiC31 integrase mediated cassette exchange method for the efficient insertion of transgenes at single copy within a defined and well characterized chromosomal position, ROSA26. This has enabled the direct comparison of constructs from within the same genomic context and allows a systematic and quantitative assessment of the strengths of the promoters in comparison with the endogenous ROSA26 promoter. The behavior of these exogenous promoters, when integrated at ROSA26 in both sense and antisense orientations, reveals a large variation in their levels of activity. In addition, a subset of promoters, EF1α, UbC and CAG, show an increased activity in the sense orientation as a consequence of integration. Transient transfection experiments confirmed these observations to reflect integration dependent effects and also revealed significant differences in the behaviour of these promoters when delivered transiently or stably. As well as providing an important reference which will facilitate the choice of an appropriate promoter to achieve the desired level of expression for a specific research question, this study also demonstrates the suitability of the cassette exchange methodology for the robust and reliable expression of multiple variant transgenes in ES cells. © 2011 Chen et al.

Chen CM, Krohn J, Bhattacharya S, Davies B. 2011. A comparison of exogenous promoter activity at the ROSA26 locus using a ΦiC31 integrase mediated cassette exchange approach in mouse ES cells. PLoS One, 6 (8), pp. e23376. | Show Abstract | Read more

The activities of nine ubiquitous promoters (ROSA26, CAG, CMV, CMVd1, UbC, EF1α, PGK, chicken β-actin and MC1) have been quantified and compared in mouse embryonic stem cells. To avoid the high variation in transgene expression which results from uncontrolled copy number and chromosomal position effects when using random insertion based transgenic approaches, we have adopted a PhiC31 integrase mediated cassette exchange method for the efficient insertion of transgenes at single copy within a defined and well characterized chromosomal position, ROSA26. This has enabled the direct comparison of constructs from within the same genomic context and allows a systematic and quantitative assessment of the strengths of the promoters in comparison with the endogenous ROSA26 promoter. The behavior of these exogenous promoters, when integrated at ROSA26 in both sense and antisense orientations, reveals a large variation in their levels of activity. In addition, a subset of promoters, EF1α, UbC and CAG, show an increased activity in the sense orientation as a consequence of integration. Transient transfection experiments confirmed these observations to reflect integration dependent effects and also revealed significant differences in the behaviour of these promoters when delivered transiently or stably. As well as providing an important reference which will facilitate the choice of an appropriate promoter to achieve the desired level of expression for a specific research question, this study also demonstrates the suitability of the cassette exchange methodology for the robust and reliable expression of multiple variant transgenes in ES cells.

Davies B, Kirchhoff C. 2011. Adhesion-GPCRs in the Male Reproductive Tract. Adv Exp Med Biol, 706 pp. 179-188. | Show Abstract | Read more

The male reproductive tract expresses a diverse array of adhesion-GPCRs, many in a highly specific and regulated manner. Despite this specificity of expression, little is known about the function of this receptor family in male reproductive physiology. Insights into function are beginning to emerge with the increasing availability of genetically modified mice harbouring mutations in these genes. Gpr64 is the best characterised of the adhesion-GPCRs in the male reproductive system and the phenotype of Gpr64 knock-out mice implicates this receptor in the regulation of fluid absorption in the efferent ducts and proximal epididymis. This chapter summarizes recent data concerning this receptor and other family members in the male reproductive system.

Dolatshad H, Ahuja A, Hammett M, Preece C, Davies B. 2010. Site specific insertion of genomic transgenes via the PhiC31 integrase TRANSGENIC RESEARCH, 19 (2), pp. 327-327.

Waller-Evans H, Prömel S, Langenhan T, Dixon J, Zahn D, Colledge WH, Doran J, Carlton MB, Davies B, Aparicio SA et al. 2010. The orphan adhesion-GPCR GPR126 is required for embryonic development in the mouse. PLoS One, 5 (11), pp. e14047. | Show Abstract | Read more

Adhesion-GPCRs provide essential cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions in development, and have been implicated in inherited human diseases like Usher Syndrome and bilateral frontoparietal polymicrogyria. They are the second largest subfamily of seven-transmembrane spanning proteins in vertebrates, but the function of most of these receptors is still not understood. The orphan Adhesion-GPCR GPR126 has recently been shown to play an essential role in the myelination of peripheral nerves in zebrafish. In parallel, whole-genome association studies have implicated variation at the GPR126 locus as a determinant of body height in the human population. The physiological function of GPR126 in mammals is still unknown. We describe a targeted mutation of GPR126 in the mouse, and show that GPR126 is required for embryonic viability and cardiovascular development.

Baumann C, Davies B, Peters M, Kaufmann-Reiche U, Lessl M, Theuring F. 2007. AKR1B7 (mouse vas deferens protein) is dispensable for mouse development and reproductive success. Reproduction, 134 (1), pp. 97-109. | Show Abstract | Read more

AKR1B7 (aldo-keto reductase family 1, member 7; also known as mouse vas deferens protein) is a member of the AKR superfamily, and has been suggested to play a role in detoxifying processes on account of its preferred substrates, 4-hydroxynonenal and isocaproaldehyde. High levels of protein expression were found in the vas deferens and the adrenal gland, where sustained expression is dependent on androgen or ACTH respectively. Recently, a remarkable induction of AKR1B7 expression has been reported in the ovary following exogenous injections of LH. In the present study, we confirm this regulation physiologically during the estrous cycle, observing Akr1b7 expression to be restricted to the theca and stromal cells of the proestrus ovary. To further investigate the role of this detoxifying enzyme in both male and female reproduction, we generated knockout mice deficient in AKR1B7. Although AKR1B7 expression in the vas deferens is considerable and tightly regulated in the ovary of wild-type animals, homozygous mutant animals were found to be viable and no reproductive phenotype was observed. Ovarian follicle maturation and spermatozoa parameters remained normal in the absence of this protein. The determination of serum progesterone revealed an increase in hormone concentration in metestrus, while progesterone was found to be decreased in the estrus phase of the cycle in knockout females.

Davies B, Behnen M, Cappallo-Obermann H, Spiess AN, Theuring F, Kirchhoff C. 2007. Novel epididymis-specific mRNAs downregulated by HE6/Gpr64 receptor gene disruption. Mol Reprod Dev, 74 (5), pp. 539-553. | Show Abstract | Read more

Targeted disruption of the epididymis-specific HE6/Gpr64 receptor gene in mice led to male infertility. In order to characterize the phenotype at a molecular level, we compared the gene expression patterns of wild type (wt) versus knockout (KO) caput epididymides. The caput region of KO males, although morphologically normal, nevertheless showed an aberrant expression pattern. Combining micro array analysis, differential library screening, Northern blot analysis and quantitative RT-PCR, we found that the knockout of the HE6/Gpr64 receptor was mainly associated with the downregulation of genes specific to the initial segment. The list of KO downregulated transcripts comprised Enpp2/autotaxin, the lipocalins 8 and 9, the beta-defensin Defb42, cystatins 8 and 12, as well as the membrane proteins Adam (A Disintegrin And Metalloprotease) 28, claudin-10, EAAC1, and the novel Me9. Clusterin/ApoJ and osteopontin/Spp1 mRNAs, on the other hand, were upregulated in the KO tissues. The Me9 transcript was studied in further detail, and we report here a cluster of related epididymis-specific genes. Me9 is specifically expressed in the initial segment and is representative of a novel and highly conserved mammalian gene family. The family consists of single-exon genes only; intron-containing paralogs have not yet been ascertained. The cloned cDNA sequences predicted hydrophobic polytopic membrane proteins containing the DUF716 motif. Protein expression was shown in the rodent caput epididymidis but remained uncertain in primates.

Kirchhoff C, Obermann H, Behnen M, Davies B. 2006. Role of epididymal receptor HE6 in the regulation of sperm microenvironment. Mol Cell Endocrinol, 250 (1-2), pp. 43-48. | Show Abstract | Read more

HE6 (GPR64) is a highly conserved, tissue-specific heptahelical receptor of the human epididymis. The seven transmembrane (TM7) domains are a hallmark of G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) which have a proven history of being excellent therapeutic targets. Of all currently marketed drugs, >30% are modulators of specific heptahelical receptors, emphasizing the potential of HE6 as a target for pharmaceutical intervention. Targeted mutation of the mouse HE6 counterpart resulted in male infertility, further emphasizing its role as a candidate target for male contraception. However, the precise function of HE6, together with its potential ligand(s), and signal transduction pathways have remained largely unknown. On the basis of shared sequence motifs within the TM7 region, HE6 has been grouped into the B class of GPCRs. Within this class, HE6 belongs to the 'large N-termini' family-B seven-transmembrane (LNB-TM7) receptors, also termed the adhesion-GPCRs. Members of this subgroup are 'orphan' receptors, and they all seem to be cleaved within a conserved GPCR proteolytic site (GPS) domain. The biological significance of the two-subunit architecture is still unknown. Clues to the function of HE6 within the epithelium of male excurrent ducts may come from its co-localisation with the apical actin cytoskeleton and from the down-regulation in "knockout" male mice of various proteins specific to the initial segment.

Kusserow H, Davies B, Hörtnagl H, Voigt I, Stroh T, Bert B, Deng DR, Fink H, Veh RW, Theuring F. 2004. Reduced anxiety-related behaviour in transgenic mice overexpressing serotonin 1A receptors. Brain Res Mol Brain Res, 129 (1-2), pp. 104-116. | Show Abstract | Read more

Serotonergic neurons play a major role in the modulation of emotion and behaviour. Especially knockout studies have revealed a role for the serotonin(1A) (5-HT(1A)) receptor in anxiety related behaviour. Mutant animals exhibit enhanced anxiety-like responses, possibly resulting from impaired autoinhibitory control of midbrain serotonergic neurons. To further elucidate the role of the 5-HT(1A) receptors in affective behaviour, a complementary approach has been used and transgenic mice overexpressing this receptor subtype have been generated. The expression of the active 5-HT(1A) receptor protein as indicated by autoradiography was transiently increased during early postnatal development (P1.5) as compared to wild-type mice. Within the next 2 weeks, the increase in receptor binding vanished and was also not apparent in adult animals indicating adaptive changes in the regulation of 5-HT(1A) receptor expression. Although no evidence for increased receptor binding in the brains of adult homozygous mice was found by autoradiography, typical phenotypic changes indicative of 5-HT(1A) receptor overactivity were apparent. Transgenic mice revealed a reduced molar ratio of 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid to serotonin in several brain areas and elevated serotonin values in the hippocampus and striatum. Moreover, anxiety-like behaviour was decreased in male and female transgenic mice and body temperature was lowered in male transgenic mice in comparison with heterozygous and wild-type mice. These findings further underline the pivotal role of 5-HT(1A) receptors in the homeostasis of anxiety-like behaviour and the crucial importance of stimulation of the 5-HT(1A) receptor during the early postnatal development for normal anxiety-like behaviour throughout life.

Davies B, Baumann C, Kirchhoff C, Ivell R, Nubbemeyer R, Habenicht UF, Theuring F, Gottwald U. 2004. Targeted deletion of the epididymal receptor HE6 results in fluid dysregulation and male infertility. Mol Cell Biol, 24 (19), pp. 8642-8648. | Show Abstract | Read more

Human epididymal protein 6 (HE6; also known as GPR64) is an orphan member of the LNB-7TM (B(2)) subfamily of G-protein-coupled receptors. Family members are characterized by the dual presence of a secretin-like (type II) seven-transmembrane (7TM) domain and a long cell adhesion-like extracellular domain. HE6 is specifically expressed within the efferent ductules and the initial segment of the epididymis, ductal systems involved in spermatozoon maturation. Here, we report that targeted deletion of the 7TM domain of the murine HE6 gene results in male infertility. Mutant mice reveal a dysregulation of fluid reabsorbtion within the efferent ductules, leading to a backup of fluid accumulation in the testis and a subsequent stasis of spermatozoa within the efferent ducts. The fertility phenotype of HE6 knockout mice identifies this receptor as a potential nonsteroidal, nontesticular target for future male contraceptives and identifies an in vivo function for a member of this unusual gene family.

Ansorge M, Tanneberger C, Davies B, Theuring F, Kusserow H. 2004. Analysis of the murine 5-HT receptor gene promoter in vitro and in vivo. Eur J Neurosci, 20 (2), pp. 363-374. | Show Abstract | Read more

The expression level of the 5-HT(1A) receptor gene (htr1a) in the central nervous system (CNS) is implicated in the aetiology and treatment of anxiety disorders and depression. Previous studies of the murine htr1a have revealed that its proximal promoter is GC rich and TATA-less. Several functional transcription factor binding sites, including MAZ and SP1 recognition sequences, have been identified. To further analyse the promoter of this receptor gene, additional upstream sequence information extending to -5.5 kb of the murine htr1a was generated and promoter fragments extending to -20 kb were analysed for activity in cell culture and transgenic animals. Promoter fragments greater than 4.5 kb in length were active in 5-HT(1A) receptor mRNA positive cells and inactive in 5-HT(1A) receptor mRNA negative cells. Smaller fragments were not able to confer this specificity. In agreement, using additive transgenesis to drive LacZ expression in vivo, CNS specific reporter gene expression was found with these longer constructs. Transgene expression in the 4.5- and 20-kb mouse lines resembled the endogenous htr1a expression pattern, whereas the 5.5-kb mouse lines surprisingly revealed strongly reduced expression. None of the three constructs was prone to confer ectopic expression, however, variation of expression between the transgenic lines was observed. Using colocalization studies we analysed the degree of concurrence of transgenic and endogenous htr1a expression brought about by these three different constructs. The highest degrees of colocalization were observed in mice harbouring the 20-kb construct, suggesting a large promoter fragment is required to faithfully direct transgene expression in a 5-HT(1A) receptor like pattern.

Davies B, Kearns IR, Ure J, Davies CH, Lathe R. 2001. Loss of hippocampal serine protease BSP1/neuropsin predisposes to global seizure activity. J Neurosci, 21 (18), pp. 6993-7000. | Show Abstract

Serine proteases in the adult CNS contribute both to activity-dependent structural changes accompanying learning and to the regulation of excitotoxic cell death. Brain serine protease 1 (BSP1)/neuropsin is a trypsin-like serine protease exclusively expressed, within the CNS, in the hippocampus and associated limbic structures. To explore the role of this enzyme, we have used gene targeting to disrupt this gene in mice. Mutant mice were viable and overtly normal; they displayed normal hippocampal long-term synaptic potentiation (LTP) and exhibited no deficits in spatial navigation (water maze). Nevertheless, electrophysiological studies revealed that the hippocampus of mice lacking this specifically expressed protease possessed an increased susceptibility for hyperexcitability (polyspiking) in response to repetitive afferent stimulation. Furthermore, seizure activity on kainic acid administration was markedly increased in mutant mice and was accompanied by heightened immediate early gene (c-fos) expression throughout the brain. In view of the regional selectivity of BSP1/neuropsin brain expression, the observed phenotype may selectively reflect limbic function, further implicating the hippocampus and amygdala in controlling cortical activation. Within the hippocampus, our data suggest that BSP1/neuropsin, unlike other serine proteases, has little effect on physiological synaptic remodeling and instead plays a role in limiting neuronal hyperexcitability induced by epileptogenic insult.

Davies B, Brown LA, Cais O, Watson J, Clayton AJ, Chang VT, Biggs D, Preece C, Hernandez-Pliego P, Krohn J et al. 2017. A point mutation in the ion conduction pore of AMPA receptor GRIA3 causes dramatically perturbed sleep patterns as well as intellectual disability. Hum Mol Genet, 26 (20), pp. 3869-3882. | Show Abstract | Read more

The discovery of genetic variants influencing sleep patterns can shed light on the physiological processes underlying sleep. As part of a large clinical sequencing project, WGS500, we sequenced a family in which the two male children had severe developmental delay and a dramatically disturbed sleep-wake cycle, with very long wake and sleep durations, reaching up to 106-h awake and 48-h asleep. The most likely causal variant identified was a novel missense variant in the X-linked GRIA3 gene, which has been implicated in intellectual disability. GRIA3 encodes GluA3, a subunit of AMPA-type ionotropic glutamate receptors (AMPARs). The mutation (A653T) falls within the highly conserved transmembrane domain of the ion channel gate, immediately adjacent to the analogous residue in the Grid2 (glutamate receptor) gene, which is mutated in the mouse neurobehavioral mutant, Lurcher. In vitro, the GRIA3(A653T) mutation stabilizes the channel in a closed conformation, in contrast to Lurcher. We introduced the orthologous mutation into a mouse strain by CRISPR-Cas9 mutagenesis and found that hemizygous mutants displayed significant differences in the structure of their activity and sleep compared to wild-type littermates. Typically, mice are polyphasic, exhibiting multiple sleep bouts of sleep several minutes long within a 24-h period. The Gria3A653T mouse showed significantly fewer brief bouts of activity and sleep than the wild-types. Furthermore, Gria3A653T mice showed enhanced period lengthening under constant light compared to wild-type mice, suggesting an increased sensitivity to light. Our results suggest a role for GluA3 channel activity in the regulation of sleep behavior in both mice and humans.

Hanssen LLP, Kassouf MT, Oudelaar AM, Biggs D, Preece C, Downes DJ, Gosden M, Sharpe JA, Sloane-Stanley JA, Hughes JR et al. 2017. Tissue-specific CTCF-cohesin-mediated chromatin architecture delimits enhancer interactions and function in vivo. Nat Cell Biol, 19 (8), pp. 952-961. | Show Abstract | Read more

The genome is organized via CTCF-cohesin-binding sites, which partition chromosomes into 1-5 megabase (Mb) topologically associated domains (TADs), and further into smaller sub-domains (sub-TADs). Here we examined in vivo an ∼80 kb sub-TAD, containing the mouse α-globin gene cluster, lying within a ∼1 Mb TAD. We find that the sub-TAD is flanked by predominantly convergent CTCF-cohesin sites that are ubiquitously bound by CTCF but only interact during erythropoiesis, defining a self-interacting erythroid compartment. Whereas the α-globin regulatory elements normally act solely on promoters downstream of the enhancers, removal of a conserved upstream CTCF-cohesin boundary extends the sub-TAD to adjacent upstream CTCF-cohesin-binding sites. The α-globin enhancers now interact with the flanking chromatin, upregulating expression of genes within this extended sub-TAD. Rather than acting solely as a barrier to chromatin modification, CTCF-cohesin boundaries in this sub-TAD delimit the region of chromatin to which enhancers have access and within which they interact with receptive promoters.

Vieira JM, Howard S, Villa Del Campo C, Bollini S, Dubé KN, Masters M, Barnette DN, Rohling M, Sun X, Hankins LE et al. 2017. BRG1-SWI/SNF-dependent regulation of the Wt1 transcriptional landscape mediates epicardial activity during heart development and disease. Nat Commun, 8 pp. 16034. | Show Abstract | Read more

Epicardium-derived cells (EPDCs) contribute cardiovascular cell types during development and in adulthood respond to Thymosin β4 (Tβ4) and myocardial infarction (MI) by reactivating a fetal gene programme to promote neovascularization and cardiomyogenesis. The mechanism for epicardial gene (re-)activation remains elusive. Here we reveal that BRG1, the essential ATPase subunit of the SWI/SNF chromatin-remodelling complex, is required for expression of Wilms' tumour 1 (Wt1), fetal EPDC activation and subsequent differentiation into coronary smooth muscle, and restores Wt1 activity upon MI. BRG1 physically interacts with Tβ4 and is recruited by CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein β (C/EBPβ) to discrete regulatory elements in the Wt1 locus. BRG1-Tβ4 co-operative binding promotes optimal transcription of Wt1 as the master regulator of embryonic EPDCs. Moreover, chromatin immunoprecipitation-sequencing reveals BRG1 binding at further key loci suggesting SWI/SNF activity across the fetal epicardial gene programme. These findings reveal essential functions for chromatin-remodelling in the activation of EPDCs during cardiovascular development and repair.

Cebrian-Serrano A, Davies B. 2017. CRISPR-Cas orthologues and variants: optimizing the repertoire, specificity and delivery of genome engineering tools. Mamm Genome, 28 (7-8), pp. 247-261. | Show Abstract | Read more

Robust and cost-effective genome editing in a diverse array of cells and model organisms is now possible thanks to the discovery of the RNA-guided endonucleases of the CRISPR-Cas system. The commonly used Cas9 of Streptococcus pyogenes shows high levels of activity but, depending on the application, has been associated with some shortcomings. Firstly, the enzyme has been shown to cause mutagenesis at genomic sequences resembling the target sequence. Secondly, the stringent requirement for a specific motif adjacent to the selected target site can limit the target range of this enzyme. Lastly, the physical size of Cas9 challenges the efficient delivery of genomic engineering tools based on this enzyme as viral particles for potential therapeutic applications. Related and parallel strategies have been employed to address these issues. Taking advantage of the wealth of structural information that is becoming available for CRISPR-Cas effector proteins, Cas9 has been redesigned by mutagenizing key residues contributing to activity and target recognition. The protein has also been shortened and redesigned into component subunits in an attempt to facilitate its efficient delivery. Furthermore, the CRISPR-Cas toolbox has been expanded by exploring the properties of Cas9 orthologues and other related effector proteins from diverse bacterial species, some of which exhibit different target site specificities and reduced molecular size. It is hoped that the improvements in accuracy, target range and efficiency of delivery will facilitate the therapeutic application of these site-specific nucleases.

Cebrian-Serrano A, Zha S, Hanssen L, Biggs D, Preece C, Davies B. 2017. Maternal Supply of Cas9 to Zygotes Facilitates the Efficient Generation of Site-Specific Mutant Mouse Models. PLoS One, 12 (1), pp. e0169887. | Show Abstract | Read more

Genome manipulation in the mouse via microinjection of CRISPR/Cas9 site-specific nucleases has allowed the production time for genetically modified mouse models to be significantly reduced. Successful genome manipulation in the mouse has already been reported using Cas9 supplied by microinjection of a DNA construct, in vitro transcribed mRNA and recombinant protein. Recently the use of transgenic strains of mice overexpressing Cas9 has been shown to facilitate site-specific mutagenesis via maternal supply to zygotes and this route may provide an alternative to exogenous supply. We have investigated the feasibility of supplying Cas9 genetically in more detail and for this purpose we report the generation of a transgenic mice which overexpress Cas9 ubiquitously, via a CAG-Cas9 transgene targeted to the Gt(ROSA26)Sor locus. We show that zygotes prepared from female mice harbouring this transgene are sufficiently loaded with maternally contributed Cas9 for efficient production of embryos and mice harbouring indel, genomic deletion and knock-in alleles by microinjection of guide RNAs and templates alone. We compare the mutagenesis rates and efficacy of mutagenesis using this genetic supply with exogenous Cas9 supply by either mRNA or protein microinjection. In general, we report increased generation rates of knock-in alleles and show that the levels of mutagenesis at certain genome target sites are significantly higher and more consistent when Cas9 is supplied genetically relative to exogenous supply.

Davies B, Hatton E, Altemose N, Hussin JG, Pratto F, Zhang G, Hinch AG, Moralli D, Biggs D, Diaz R et al. 2016. Re-engineering the zinc fingers of PRDM9 reverses hybrid sterility in mice. Nature, 530 (7589), pp. 171-176. | Show Abstract | Read more

The DNA-binding protein PRDM9 directs positioning of the double-strand breaks (DSBs) that initiate meiotic recombination in mice and humans. Prdm9 is the only mammalian speciation gene yet identified and is responsible for sterility phenotypes in male hybrids of certain mouse subspecies. To investigate PRDM9 binding and its role in fertility and meiotic recombination, we humanized the DNA-binding domain of PRDM9 in C57BL/6 mice. This change repositions DSB hotspots and completely restores fertility in male hybrids. Here we show that alteration of one Prdm9 allele impacts the behaviour of DSBs controlled by the other allele at chromosome-wide scales. These effects correlate strongly with the degree to which each PRDM9 variant binds both homologues at the DSB sites it controls. Furthermore, higher genome-wide levels of such 'symmetric' PRDM9 binding associate with increasing fertility measures, and comparisons of individual hotspots suggest binding symmetry plays a downstream role in the recombination process. These findings reveal that subspecies-specific degradation of PRDM9 binding sites by meiotic drive, which steadily increases asymmetric PRDM9 binding, has impacts beyond simply changing hotspot positions, and strongly support a direct involvement in hybrid infertility. Because such meiotic drive occurs across mammals, PRDM9 may play a wider, yet transient, role in the early stages of speciation.

Dolatshad H, Biggs D, Diaz R, Hortin N, Preece C, Davies B. 2015. A versatile transgenic allele for mouse overexpression studies. Mamm Genome, 26 (11-12), pp. 598-608. | Show Abstract | Read more

For the analysis of gene function in vivo, gene overexpression in the mouse provides an alternative to loss-of-function knock-out approaches and can help reveal phenotypes where compensatory mechanisms are at play. Furthermore, when multiple lines overexpressing a gene-of-interest at varying levels are studied, the consequences of differences in gene dosage can be explored. Despite these advantages, inherent shortcomings in the methodologies used for the generation of gain-of-function transgenic mouse models have limited their application to functional gene analysis, and the necessity for multiple lines comes at a significant animal and financial cost. The targeting of transgenic overexpression constructs at single copy into neutral genomic loci is the preferred method for the generation of such models, which avoids the unpredictable outcomes associated with conventional random integration. However, despite the increased reliability that targeted transgenic methodologies provide, only one expression level results, as defined by the promoter used. Here, we report a new versatile overexpression allele, the promoter-switch allele, which couples PhiC31 integrase-targeted transgenesis with Flp recombinase promoter switching and Cre recombinase activation. These recombination switches allow the conversion of different overexpression alleles, combining the advantages of transgenic targeting with tunable transgene expression. With this approach, phenotype severity can be correlated with transgene expression in a single mouse model, providing a cost-effective solution amenable to systematic gain-of-function studies.

Lakhal-Littleton S, Wolna M, Carr CA, Miller JJ, Christian HC, Ball V, Santos A, Diaz R, Biggs D, Stillion R et al. 2015. Cardiac ferroportin regulates cellular iron homeostasis and is important for cardiac function. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 112 (10), pp. 3164-3169. | Show Abstract | Read more

Iron is essential to the cell. Both iron deficiency and overload impinge negatively on cardiac health. Thus, effective iron homeostasis is important for cardiac function. Ferroportin (FPN), the only known mammalian iron-exporting protein, plays an essential role in iron homeostasis at the systemic level. It increases systemic iron availability by releasing iron from the cells of the duodenum, spleen, and liver, the sites of iron absorption, recycling, and storage respectively. However, FPN is also found in tissues with no known role in systemic iron handling, such as the heart, where its function remains unknown. To explore this function, we generated mice with a cardiomyocyte-specific deletion of Fpn. We show that these animals have severely impaired cardiac function, with a median survival of 22 wk, despite otherwise unaltered systemic iron status. We then compared their phenotype with that of ubiquitous hepcidin knockouts, a recognized model of the iron-loading disease hemochromatosis. The phenotype of the hepcidin knockouts was far milder, with normal survival up to 12 mo, despite far greater iron loading in the hearts. Histological examination demonstrated that, although cardiac iron accumulates within the cardiomyocytes of Fpn knockouts, it accumulates predominantly in other cell types in the hepcidin knockouts. We conclude, first, that cardiomyocyte FPN is essential for intracellular iron homeostasis and, second, that the site of deposition of iron within the heart determines the severity with which it affects cardiac function. Both findings have significant implications for the assessment and treatment of cardiac complications of iron dysregulation.

Xu Z, Thomas L, Davies B, Chalmers R, Smith M, Brown W. 2013. Accuracy and efficiency define Bxb1 integrase as the best of fifteen candidate serine recombinases for the integration of DNA into the human genome. BMC Biotechnol, 13 (1), pp. 87. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Phage-encoded serine integrases, such as φC31 integrase, are widely used for genome engineering. Fifteen such integrases have been described but their utility for genome engineering has not been compared in uniform assays. RESULTS: We have compared fifteen serine integrases for their utility for DNA manipulations in mammalian cells after first demonstrating that all were functional in E. coli. Chromosomal recombination reporters were used to show that seven integrases were active on chromosomally integrated DNA in human fibroblasts and mouse embryonic stem cells. Five of the remaining eight enzymes were active on extra-chromosomal substrates thereby demonstrating that the ability to mediate extra-chromosomal recombination is no guide to ability to mediate site-specific recombination on integrated DNA. All the integrases that were active on integrated DNA also promoted DNA integration reactions that were not mediated through conservative site-specific recombination or damaged the recombination sites but the extent of these aberrant reactions varied over at least an order of magnitude. Bxb1 integrase yielded approximately two-fold more recombinants and displayed about two fold less damage to the recombination sites than the next best recombinase; φC31 integrase. CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that the Bxb1 and φC31 integrases are the reagents of choice for genome engineering in vertebrate cells and that DNA damage repair is a major limitation upon the utility of this class of site-specific recombinase.

Zeron-Medina J, Wang X, Repapi E, Campbell MR, Su D, Castro-Giner F, Davies B, Peterse EF, Sacilotto N, Walker GJ et al. 2013. A polymorphic p53 response element in KIT ligand influences cancer risk and has undergone natural selection. Cell, 155 (2), pp. 410-422. | Show Abstract | Read more

The ability of p53 to regulate transcription is crucial for tumor suppression and implies that inherited polymorphisms in functional p53-binding sites could influence cancer. Here, we identify a polymorphic p53 responsive element and demonstrate its influence on cancer risk using genome-wide data sets of cancer susceptibility loci, genetic variation, p53 occupancy, and p53-binding sites. We uncover a single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in a functional p53-binding site and establish its influence on the ability of p53 to bind to and regulate transcription of the KITLG gene. The SNP resides in KITLG and associates with one of the largest risks identified among cancer genome-wide association studies. We establish that the SNP has undergone positive selection throughout evolution, signifying a selective benefit, but go on to show that similar SNPs are rare in the genome due to negative selection, indicating that polymorphisms in p53-binding sites are primarily detrimental to humans.

Davies B, Davies G, Preece C, Puliyadi R, Szumska D, Bhattacharya S. 2013. Site specific mutation of the Zic2 locus by microinjection of TALEN mRNA in mouse CD1, C3H and C57BL/6J oocytes. PLoS One, 8 (3), pp. e60216. | Show Abstract | Read more

Transcription Activator-Like Effector Nucleases (TALENs) consist of a nuclease domain fused to a DNA binding domain which is engineered to bind to any genomic sequence. These chimeric enzymes can be used to introduce a double strand break at a specific genomic site which then can become the substrate for error-prone non-homologous end joining (NHEJ), generating mutations at the site of cleavage. In this report we investigate the feasibility of achieving targeted mutagenesis by microinjection of TALEN mRNA within the mouse oocyte. We achieved high rates of mutagenesis of the mouse Zic2 gene in all backgrounds examined including outbred CD1 and inbred C3H and C57BL/6J. Founder mutant Zic2 mice (eight independent alleles, with frameshift and deletion mutations) were created in C3H and C57BL/6J backgrounds. These mice transmitted the mutant alleles to the progeny with 100% efficiency, allowing the creation of inbred lines. Mutant mice display a curly tail phenotype consistent with Zic2 loss-of-function. The efficiency of site-specific germline mutation in the mouse confirm TALEN mediated mutagenesis in the oocyte to be a viable alternative to conventional gene targeting in embryonic stem cells where simple loss-of-function alleles are required. This technology enables allelic series of mutations to be generated quickly and efficiently in diverse genetic backgrounds and will be a valuable approach to rapidly create mutations in mice already bearing one or more mutant alleles at other genetic loci without the need for lengthy backcrossing.

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Chen CM, Krohn J, Bhattacharya S, Davies B. 2011. A comparison of exogenous promoter activity at the ROSA26 locus using a PhiC31 integrase mediated cassette exchange approach in mouse es cells PLoS ONE, 6 (8), | Show Abstract | Read more

The activities of nine ubiquitous promoters (ROSA26, CAG, CMV, CMVd1, UbC, EF1α, PGK, chicken β-actin and MC1) have been quantified and compared in mouse embryonic stem cells. To avoid the high variation in transgene expression which results from uncontrolled copy number and chromosomal position effects when using random insertion based transgenic approaches, we have adopted a PhiC31 integrase mediated cassette exchange method for the efficient insertion of transgenes at single copy within a defined and well characterized chromosomal position, ROSA26. This has enabled the direct comparison of constructs from within the same genomic context and allows a systematic and quantitative assessment of the strengths of the promoters in comparison with the endogenous ROSA26 promoter. The behavior of these exogenous promoters, when integrated at ROSA26 in both sense and antisense orientations, reveals a large variation in their levels of activity. In addition, a subset of promoters, EF1α, UbC and CAG, show an increased activity in the sense orientation as a consequence of integration. Transient transfection experiments confirmed these observations to reflect integration dependent effects and also revealed significant differences in the behaviour of these promoters when delivered transiently or stably. As well as providing an important reference which will facilitate the choice of an appropriate promoter to achieve the desired level of expression for a specific research question, this study also demonstrates the suitability of the cassette exchange methodology for the robust and reliable expression of multiple variant transgenes in ES cells. © 2011 Chen et al.

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