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Institute of Biotechnology
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00014 University of Helsinki
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Pekka Lappalainen receives prestigious Human Frontier Science Program grant
Research director Pekka Lappalainen at the Institute of Biotechnology and his colleagues from France and USA have been awarded a three-year grant worth over one million USD to research filopodia formation mechanism. A joint project of the research director Pekka Lappalainen at the Institute of Biotechnology, Professor Patricia Bassereau at Curie Institute, France, and Professor Gregory Voth at the University of Chicago, USA, has been awarded a Human Frontier Science Program Research Grant to investigate the filopodia formation mechanism by physical, computational and biological approaches. Bassereau, Lappalainen and Voth will share 1,050,000 USD for the three-year project.
Filopodia are thin, actin-rich protrusions at the cell edge. They function as "antennae" that the cells use to probe their microenvironment during cell migration. They are also involved in guidance towards chemoattractants, neuronal pathfinding, synapse formation, and embryonic development.
- Defects in formation or dynamics of filopodia are linked to many diseases such as cancer cell invasion and neurological disorders. The mechanisms by which the filopodia are generated in cells are still largely unknown. We intend to find them out. My group is going to be responsible for the cell biological work. The Basserau lab concentrates on biophysical methods, and the Voth lab on computational methods, Pekka Lappalainen describes.
The groups have a specific interest to reveal how various filopodial proteins communicate with the plasma membrane during these processes. Collectively, they hope to uncover new general principles behind the formation of membrane protrusions in cells, and additionally elucidate the principles of various human disorders associated with abnormal filopodia dynamics.
The International Human Frontier Science Program Organization (HFSPO) awarded about 34 million USD to the 32 winning teams of the 2016 competition for the HFSP Research Grants.
Human osteosarcoma cells exhibiting thin filopodial protrusions.
Picture: Yosuke Senju
Mouse teeth help us refine humanity’s family tree
Mouse studies conducted at the University of Helsinki have generated a significant tool for studying the beginnings of the humans.
An international group of researchers has developed a model enabling them to predict the size of teeth in a tooth row based on a single tooth. This model is a quantitative tool for paleoanthropologists who are piecing together the evolutionary path of humans, often from isolated fossil teeth.
The new study has revealed that tooth size in human ancestors that lived before 2.5 million years ago tended to follow one pattern, while members of our own group, Homo, tended to follow another pattern. The seed for the loss of the wisdom teeth in modern humans appears to have been laid down at the onset of Homo, when tooth size and proportions got mechanistically coupled.
The model can also be used to address taxonomic controversies. For example, Homo habilis, commonly thought to be the earliest member of the Homo genus, may, in fact, fit better the genus Australopithecus based on its teeth.
Based on research from the University of Helsinki
The model now published in Nature stems from a study published eight years ago on the development of mouse teeth, conducted at the University of Helsinki's Institute of Biotechnology under Academy professor Jukka Jernvall. The study showed experimentally that that tooth size in the mouse is determined by combination of factors inhibiting and activating tooth development. A mathematical extension of the inhibitory cascade provides a developmental baseline or rule that predicts how tooth size and proportions should evolve, with a limited number of evolutionary outcomes. The first author of the new article, Alistair Evans, worked in Jernvall’s group for several years.
“Even though the original study on rodents comes from Helsinki, human evolution is not our specialty. This is why we needed international cooperation. Next we intend to determine the genetic bases of the model by studying teeth that are sufficiently simple, namely, the teeth of the Saimaa ringed seal" says Jukka Jernvall, who leads the Academy of Finland’s Centre of Excellence in Experimental and Computational Developmental Biology.
Evans AR, Daly ES, Catlett KK, Paul KS, King SJ, Skinner MM, Nesse HP, Hublin JJ, Townsend GC, Schwartz GT, Jernvall J. A simple rule governs the evolution and development of hominin tooth size. Nature. 2016 Feb 25;530(7591):477-80.
Boosting the body’s own production of neurothrophic factors could help Parkinson’s sufferers
A recent study indicates that GDNF clearly regulates the function of the dopaminergic neurons in the midbrain. With the help of a new research method, the amount of GDNF was topically increased specifically in the areas of the brain associated with GDNF production, such as the areas which are central to the development of Parkinson's disease.
The motor symptoms of Parkinson’s result from the gradual loss of function and subsequent destruction of dopaminergic neurons in the midbrain. GDNF-based therapy has been one of the most promising treatments for Parkinson’s. In animal models, GDNF injected directly into the head has effectively protected dopaminergic neurons from experimental damage, and even repaired existing damage.
The efficacy of GDNF has also been tested on Parkinson’s sufferers, but despite initial promising results, extensive benefit was not conclusively established in the two second-stage clinical studies so far conducted.
“The modest results are likely at least partially attributable to problems with dosage and delivery. GDNF is a large protein, so introducing it directly into brain tissue is difficult, and can result in uncontrolled neurite outgrowth at the injection site. Further information is also needed on the mechanisms through which GDNF influences the dopaminergic neurons, particularly in the ageing brain,” states Jaan-Olle Andressoo, principal investigator at the University of Helsinki’s Institute of Biotechnology.
Controlled release of GDNF possible
Jaan-Olle Andressoo has developed a new microRNA-based method for increasing the amount of GDNF in the brain.
“The benefit of the resulting mouse model is that the amount of GDNF is increased in a controlled manner and only in the cells that normally express it. In the part of the brain most crucial for Parkinson's disease, the striatum, the expression of GDNF was doubled. In addition, the expression remains susceptible to normal gene regulation. This means we can gain information on the physiological effects of GDNF, which was not possible with previous methods,” Jaan-Olle Andressoo explains.
In follow-up studies conducted at the University of Helsinki's Faculty of Pharmacy, the overexpression of GDNF was found to slightly increase the number of dopaminergic neurons as well as the amount of dopamine in the striatum. The overexpression also enhanced the release of dopamine and protected the neurons from damage.
The impact on Parkinson’s disease was studied together with Professor Mart Saarma. Researchers from Umeå University and the University of Tartu also participated in studying GDNF’s mechanisms of action.
Based on the research results, principal investigator Jaan-Olle Andressoo is now developing methods which would enable the increase bodies own GDNF levels inside the brain.
“If we succeed, we will probably be able to restore neural connections that have already been weakened using specific elevation of bodies own neurotrophic factors, first among Parkinson’s sufferers, and later among patients with other degenerative neural illnesses. Our preliminary results are highly promising,” suggests Andressoo.
Kumar A, Kopra J, Varendi K, Porokuokka LL, Panhelainen A, Kuure S, Marshall P, Karalija N, Härma MA, Vilenius C, Lilleväli K, Tekko T, Mijatovic J, Pulkkinen N, Jakobson M, Jakobson M, Ola R, Palm E, Lindahl M, Strömberg I, Võikar V, Piepponen TP, Saarma M, Andressoo JO. GDNF Overexpression from the Native Locus Reveals its Role in the Nigrostriatal Dopaminergic System Function. PLoS Genet. 2015;11(12):e1005710
Article in Plos Genetics
A new open access software for processing and quantification microscopy datasets
Multidimensional light (LM) and electron (EM) microscopy imaging is among the key methods in biosciences nowadays. The knowledge of complex 3-D structures of cells and cell organelles in their natural context is important for understanding the structure-function relationship. As the amount of collected data is exponentially increasing, the effectiveness of processing raw data into analyzed results has key importance.
To address the challenges of processing of large microscopy datasets, over the last four years the research team of Eija Jokitalo at the Electron Microscopy Unit of the Institute of Biotechnology, has been developing their own software solution: Microscopy Image Browser (MIB). MIB is an open source software aimed for efficient processing and image segmentation of multidimensional datasets obtained by both LM and EM. Use of MIB improves and eases the full utilization of the acquired data and allows quantitatively analyze morphological features. The effectiveness of using MIB in research has been already proved in more than 10 different scientific projects, ranging from cellular level to whole organisms. MIB is a flexible package that is easily extended with a custom plugins to address specific questions of any research project.
Concomitant to publishing a paper describing its features, MIB was officially released under the terms of the GNU General Public License v2 and is now freely available from a dedicated website: http://mib.helsinki.fi. In addition to the program itself, the website contains a collection of test cases and video tutorials.
Belevich I, Joensuu M, Kumar D, Vihinen H, Jokitalo E. (2015) Microscopy Image Browser: A Platform for Segmentation and Analysis of Multidimensional Datasets. PLoS Biol.14(1):e1002340.
A collage image of a graphical user interface of Microscopy Image Browser (MIB) and a 3D model of Trypanosoma brucei. The dataset was obtained with Serial Block Face Scanning Electron Microscopy and processed and segmented using MIB. Image by Ilya Belevich, Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki.
Article in PLoS Biology.
Picture: EM unit
- Ahtiainen Laura
- Airavaara Mikko
- Andressoo Jaan-Olle
- Auvinen Petri / DNAGEN
- Bamford Dennis
- Butcher Sarah
- Di-Poi Nicolas
- Domanskyi Andrii
- Fagerholm Susanna
- Frilander Mikko
- Helariutta Ykä
- Hietakangas Ville
- Holm Liisa
- Iwai Hideo / NMR
- Jacobs Howy
- Jernvall Jukka
- Jokitalo Eija / EM
- Kajander Tommi
- Katajisto Pekka
- Kuure Satu
- Laiho Marikki
- Lappalainen Pekka
- Löytynoja Ari
- Michon Frederic
- Mikkola Marja
- Mähönen Ari pekka
- Paavilainen Ville
- Saarma Mart
- Salazar-Ciudad Isaac
- Schulman Alan
- Shimmi Osamu
- Thesleff Irma
- Varjosalo Markku / Proteomics unit
- Vartiainen Maria
- Zhao Hongxia
- CoE in Metapopulation Research (2012-2017)
- Coe in Bio membrane Research (2014-2019)
- CoE in Experimental and Computational Developmental Biology (2014-2019)
- CoE of Molecular Biology of Primary Producers (2014-2019)
- CoE in Translational Cancer Biology (2014-2019)
Academy of Finland Centres of Excellence operating in the Institute