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  • Functions of Opsins in Drosophila Taste CURRENT BIOLOGY Leung, N. Y., Thakur, D. P., Gurav, A. S., Kim, S., Di Pizio, A., Niv, M. Y., Montell, C. 2020; 30 (8): 1367-+


    Rhodopsin is a light receptor comprised of an opsin protein and a light-sensitive retinal chromophore. Despite more than a century of scrutiny, there is no evidence that opsins function in chemosensation. Here, we demonstrate that three Drosophila opsins, Rh1, Rh4, and Rh7, are needed in gustatory receptor neurons to sense a plant-derived bitter compound, aristolochic acid (ARI). The gustatory requirements for these opsins are light-independent and do not require retinal. The opsins enabled flies to detect lower concentrations of aristolochic acid by initiating an amplification cascade that includes a G-protein, phospholipase Cβ, and the TRP channel, TRPA1. In contrast, responses to higher levels of the bitter compound were mediated through direct activation of TRPA1. Our study reveals roles for opsins in chemosensation and raise questions concerning the original roles for these classical G-protein-coupled receptors.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cub.2020.01.068

    View details for Web of Science ID 000529117300017

    View details for PubMedID 32243853

  • Predictors of COVID-19 incidence, mortality, and epidemic growth rate at the country level medRxiv Leung, N. Y., Bulterys, M. A., Bulterys, P. L. 2020
  • Selection, drift, and constraint in cypridinid luciferases and the diversification of bioluminescent signals in sea fireflies. Molecular ecology Hensley, N. M., Ellis, E. A., Leung, N. Y., Coupart, J. n., Mikhailovsky, A. n., Taketa, D. A., Tessler, M. n., Gruber, D. F., De Tomaso, A. W., Mitani, Y. n., Rivers, T. J., Gerrish, G. A., Torres, E. n., Oakley, T. H. 2020


    Understanding the genetic causes of evolutionary diversification is challenging because differences across species are complex, often involving many genes. However, cases where single or few genetic loci affect a trait that varies dramatically across a radiation of species provides tractable opportunities to understand the genetics of diversification. Here, we begin to explore how diversification of bioluminescent signals across species of cypridinid ostracods ("sea fireflies") was influenced by evolution of a single gene, cypridinid-luciferase. In addition to emission spectra ("color") of bioluminescence from twenty-one cypridinid species, we report thirteen new c-luciferase genes from de novo transcriptomes, including in vitro assays to confirm function of four of those genes. Our comparative analyses suggest some amino acid sites in c-luciferase evolved under episodic diversifying selection and may be associated with changes in both enzyme kinetics and color, two enzymatic functions that directly impact the phenotype of bioluminescent signals. The analyses also suggest multiple other amino acid positions in c-luciferase evolved neutrally or under purifying selection, and may have impacted the variation of color of bioluminescent signals across genera. Previous mutagenesis studies at candidate sites show epistatic interactions, which could constrain the evolution of c-luciferase function. This work provides important steps toward understanding the genetic basis of diversification of behavioral signals across multiple species, suggesting different evolutionary processes act at different times during a radiation of species. These results set the stage for additional mutagenesis studies that could explicitly link selection, drift, and constraint to the evolution of phenotypic diversification.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/mec.15673

    View details for PubMedID 33031624

  • Unconventional Roles of Opsins. Annual review of cell and developmental biology Leung, N. Y., Montell, C. 2017; 33: 241-264


    Rhodopsin is the classical light sensor. Although rhodopsin has long been known to be important for image formation in the eye, the requirements for opsins in non-image formation and in extraocular light sensation were revealed much later. Most recent is the demonstration that an opsin in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, is expressed in pacemaker neurons in the brain and functions in light entrainment of circadian rhythms. However, the biggest surprise is that opsins have light-independent roles, countering more than a century of dogma that they function exclusively as light sensors. Through studies in Drosophila, light-independent roles of opsins have emerged in temperature sensation and hearing. Although these findings have been uncovered in the fruit fly, there are hints that opsins have light-independent roles in a wide array of animals, including mammals. Thus, despite the decades of focus on opsins as light detectors, they represent an important new class of polymodal sensory receptor.

    View details for DOI 10.1146/annurev-cellbio-100616-060432

    View details for PubMedID 28598695

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5963513

  • Structural Insights into the Drosophila melanogaster Retinol Dehydrogenase, a Member of the Short-Chain Dehydrogenase/Reductase Family. Biochemistry Hofmann, L., Tsybovsky, Y., Alexander, N. S., Babino, D., Leung, N. Y., Montell, C., Banerjee, S., von Lintig, J., Palczewski, K. 2016; 55 (47): 6545-6557


    The 11-cis-retinylidene chromophore of visual pigments isomerizes upon interaction with a photon, initiating a downstream cascade of signaling events that ultimately lead to visual perception. 11-cis-Retinylidene is regenerated through enzymatic transformations collectively called the visual cycle. The first and rate-limiting enzymatic reaction within this cycle, i.e., the reduction of all-trans-retinal to all-trans-retinol, is catalyzed by retinol dehydrogenases. Here, we determined the structure of Drosophila melanogaster photoreceptor retinol dehydrogenase (PDH) isoform C that belongs to the short-chain dehydrogenase/reductase (SDR) family. This is the first reported structure of a SDR that possesses this biologically important activity. Two crystal structures of the same enzyme grown under different conditions revealed a novel conformational change of the NAD+ cofactor, likely representing a change during catalysis. Amide hydrogen-deuterium exchange of PDH demonstrated changes in the structure of the enzyme upon dinucleotide binding. In D. melanogaster, loss of PDH activity leads to photoreceptor degeneration that can be partially rescued by transgenic expression of human RDH12. Based on the structure of PDH, we analyzed mutations causing Leber congenital amaurosis 13 in a homology model of human RDH12 to obtain insights into the molecular basis of RDH12 disease-causing mutations.

    View details for DOI 10.1021/acs.biochem.6b00907

    View details for PubMedID 27809489

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5154250

  • CDI Systems Are Stably Maintained by a Cell-Contact Mediated Surveillance Mechanism. PLoS genetics Ruhe, Z. C., Nguyen, J. Y., Chen, A. J., Leung, N. Y., Hayes, C. S., Low, D. A. 2016; 12 (6): e1006145


    Contact-dependent growth inhibition (CDI) systems are widespread amongst Gram-negative bacteria where they play important roles in inter-cellular competition and biofilm formation. CDI+ bacteria use cell-surface CdiA proteins to bind neighboring bacteria and deliver C-terminal toxin domains. CDI+ cells also express CdiI immunity proteins that specifically neutralize toxins delivered from adjacent siblings. Genomic analyses indicate that cdi loci are commonly found on plasmids and genomic islands, suggesting that these Type 5 secretion systems are spread through horizontal gene transfer. Here, we examine whether CDI toxin and immunity activities serve to stabilize mobile genetic elements using a minimal F plasmid that fails to partition properly during cell division. This F plasmid is lost from Escherichia coli populations within 50 cell generations, but is maintained in ~60% of the cells after 100 generations when the plasmid carries the cdi gene cluster from E. coli strain EC93. By contrast, the ccdAB "plasmid addiction" module normally found on F exerts only a modest stabilizing effect. cdi-dependent plasmid stabilization requires the BamA receptor for CdiA, suggesting that plasmid-free daughter cells are inhibited by siblings that retain the CDI+ plasmid. In support of this model, the CDI+ F plasmid is lost rapidly from cells that carry an additional cdiI immunity gene on a separate plasmid. These results indicate that plasmid stabilization occurs through elimination of non-immune cells arising in the population via plasmid loss. Thus, genetic stabilization reflects a strong selection for immunity to CDI. After long-term passage for more than 300 generations, CDI+ plasmids acquire mutations that increase copy number and result in 100% carriage in the population. Together, these results show that CDI stabilizes genetic elements through a toxin-mediated surveillance mechanism in which cells that lose the CDI system are detected and eliminated by their siblings.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pgen.1006145

    View details for PubMedID 27355474

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4927057

  • Ocular and extraocular expression of opsins in the rhopalium of Tripedalia cystophora (Cnidaria: Cubozoa). PloS one Bielecki, J., Zaharoff, A. K., Leung, N. Y., Garm, A., Oakley, T. H. 2014; 9 (6): e98870


    A growing body of work on the neuroethology of cubozoans is based largely on the capabilities of the photoreceptive tissues, and it is important to determine the molecular basis of their light sensitivity. The cubozoans rely on 24 special purpose eyes to extract specific information from a complex visual scene to guide their behavior in the habitat. The lens eyes are the most studied photoreceptive structures, and the phototransduction in the photoreceptor cells is based on light sensitive opsin molecules. Opsins are photosensitive transmembrane proteins associated with photoreceptors in eyes, and the amino acid sequence of the opsins determines the spectral properties of the photoreceptors. Here we show that two distinct opsins (Tripedalia cystophora-lens eye expressed opsin and Tripedalia cystophora-neuropil expressed opsin, or Tc-leo and Tc-neo) are expressed in the Tripedalia cystophora rhopalium. Quantitative PCR determined the level of expression of the two opsins, and we found Tc-leo to have a higher amount of expression than Tc-neo. In situ hybridization located Tc-leo expression in the retinal photoreceptors of the lens eyes where the opsin is involved in image formation. Tc-neo is expressed in a confined part of the neuropil and is probably involved in extraocular light sensation, presumably in relation to diurnal activity.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0098870

    View details for PubMedID 24901369

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4047050