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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Open Access Policy Deposits

This series is automatically populated with publications deposited by UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine Department of Biological Chemistry researchers in accordance with the University of California’s open access policies. For more information see Open Access Policy Deposits and the UC Publication Management System.

Development of a Novel Electrochemiluminescence ELISA for Quantification of α-Synuclein Phosphorylated at Ser129 in Biological Samples.


Synucleinopathies are a group of neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson's disease (PD), dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), and multiple system atrophy (MSA). These diseases are characterized by the aggregation and deposition of α-synuclein (α-syn) in Lewy bodies (LBs) in PD and DLB or as glial cytoplasmic inclusions in MSA. In healthy brains, only ∼4% of α-syn is phosphorylated at Ser129 (pS129-α-syn), whereas >90% pS129-α-syn may be found in LBs, suggesting that pS129-α-syn could be a useful biomarker for synucleinopathies. However, a widely available, robust, sensitive, and reproducible method for measuring pS129-α-syn in biological fluids is currently missing. We used Meso Scale Discovery (MSD)'s electrochemiluminescence platform to create a new assay for sensitive detection of pS129-α-syn. We evaluated several combinations of capture and detection antibodies and used semisynthetic pS129-α-syn as a standard for the assay at a concentration range from 0.5 to 6.6 × 104 pg/mL. Using the antibody EP1536Y for capture and an anti-human α-syn antibody (MSD) for detection was the best combination in terms of assay sensitivity, specificity, and reproducibility. We tested the utility of the assay for the detection and quantification of pS129-α-syn in human cerebrospinal fluid, serum, plasma, saliva, and CNS-originating small extracellular vesicles, as well as in mouse brain lysates. Our data suggest that the assay can become a widely used method for detecting pS129-α-syn in biomedical studies including when only a limited volume of sample is available and high sensitivity is required, offering new opportunities for diagnostic biomarkers, monitoring disease progression, and quantifying outcome measures in clinical trials.

Cover page of CLSTN3β enforces adipocyte multilocularity to facilitate lipid utilization.

CLSTN3β enforces adipocyte multilocularity to facilitate lipid utilization.


Multilocular adipocytes are a hallmark of thermogenic adipose tissue1,2, but the factors that enforce this cellular phenotype are largely unknown. Here, we show that an adipocyte-selective product of the Clstn3 locus (CLSTN3β) present in only placental mammals facilitates the efficient use of stored triglyceride by limiting lipid droplet (LD) expansion. CLSTN3β is an integral endoplasmic reticulum (ER) membrane protein that localizes to ER-LD contact sites through a conserved hairpin-like domain. Mice lacking CLSTN3β have abnormal LD morphology and altered substrate use in brown adipose tissue, and are more susceptible to cold-induced hypothermia despite having no defect in adrenergic signalling. Conversely, forced expression of CLSTN3β is sufficient to enforce a multilocular LD phenotype in cultured cells and adipose tissue. CLSTN3β associates with cell death-inducing DFFA-like effector proteins and impairs their ability to transfer lipid between LDs, thereby restricting LD fusion and expansion. Functionally, increased LD surface area in CLSTN3β-expressing adipocytes promotes engagement of the lipolytic machinery and facilitates fatty acid oxidation. In human fat, CLSTN3B is a selective marker of multilocular adipocytes. These findings define a molecular mechanism that regulates LD form and function to facilitate lipid utilization in thermogenic adipocytes.

TGFβ superfamily signaling regulates the state of human stem cell pluripotency and capacity to create well-structured telencephalic organoids.


Telencephalic organoids generated from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) are a promising system for studying the distinct features of the developing human brain and the underlying causes of many neurological disorders. While organoid technology is steadily advancing, many challenges remain, including potential batch-to-batch and cell-line-to-cell-line variability, and structural inconsistency. Here, we demonstrate that a major contributor to cortical organoid quality is the way hPSCs are maintained prior to differentiation. Optimal results were achieved using particular fibroblast-feeder-supported hPSCs rather than feeder-independent cells, differences that were reflected in their transcriptomic states at the outset. Feeder-supported hPSCs displayed activation of diverse transforming growth factor β (TGFβ) superfamily signaling pathways and increased expression of genes connected to naive pluripotency. We further identified combinations of TGFβ-related growth factors that are necessary and together sufficient to impart broad telencephalic organoid competency to feeder-free hPSCs and enhance the formation of well-structured brain tissues suitable for disease modeling.

Cover page of Structure-based discovery of small molecules that disaggregate Alzheimer's disease tissue derived tau fibrils in vitro.

Structure-based discovery of small molecules that disaggregate Alzheimer's disease tissue derived tau fibrils in vitro.


Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the consequence of neuronal death and brain atrophy associated with the aggregation of protein tau into fibrils. Thus disaggregation of tau fibrils could be a therapeutic approach to AD. The small molecule EGCG, abundant in green tea, has long been known to disaggregate tau and other amyloid fibrils, but EGCG has poor drug-like properties, failing to fully penetrate the brain. Here we have cryogenically trapped an intermediate of brain-extracted tau fibrils on the kinetic pathway to EGCG-induced disaggregation and have determined its cryoEM structure. The structure reveals that EGCG molecules stack in polar clefts between the paired helical protofilaments that pathologically define AD. Treating the EGCG binding position as a pharmacophore, we computationally screened thousands of drug-like compounds for compatibility for the pharmacophore, discovering several that experimentally disaggregate brain-derived tau fibrils in vitro. This work suggests the potential of structure-based, small-molecule drug discovery for amyloid diseases.

Cover page of Wearable microneedle-based electrochemical aptamer biosensing for precision dosing of drugs with narrow therapeutic windows.

Wearable microneedle-based electrochemical aptamer biosensing for precision dosing of drugs with narrow therapeutic windows.


Therapeutic drug monitoring is essential for dosing pharmaceuticals with narrow therapeutic windows. Nevertheless, standard methods are imprecise and involve invasive/resource-intensive procedures with long turnaround times. Overcoming these limitations, we present a microneedle-based electrochemical aptamer biosensing patch (μNEAB-patch) that minimally invasively probes the interstitial fluid (ISF) and renders correlated, continuous, and real-time measurements of the circulating drugs' pharmacokinetics. The μNEAB-patch is created following an introduced low-cost fabrication scheme, which transforms a shortened clinical-grade needle into a high-quality gold nanoparticle-based substrate for robust aptamer immobilization and efficient electrochemical signal retrieval. This enables the reliable in vivo detection of a wide library of ISF analytes-especially those with nonexistent natural recognition elements. Accordingly, we developed μNEABs targeting various drugs, including antibiotics with narrow therapeutic windows (tobramycin and vancomycin). Through in vivo animal studies, we demonstrated the strong correlation between the ISF/circulating drug levels and the device's potential clinical use for timely prediction of total drug exposure.

Cover page of Protocol for culturing and imaging of ectodermal cells from Xenopus.

Protocol for culturing and imaging of ectodermal cells from Xenopus.


The Xenopus embryo provides an advantageous model system where genes can be readily transplanted as DNA or mRNA or depleted with antisense techniques. Here, we present a protocol to culture and image the cell biological properties of explanted Xenopus cap cells in tissue culture. We illustrate how this protocol can be applied to visualize lysosomes, macropinocytosis, focal adhesions, Wnt signaling, and cell migration. For complete details on the use and execution of this protocol, please refer to Tejeda-Muñoz et al. (2022).

Cover page of De novo designed protein inhibitors of amyloid aggregation and seeding.

De novo designed protein inhibitors of amyloid aggregation and seeding.


Neurodegenerative diseases are characterized by the pathologic accumulation of aggregated proteins. Known as amyloid, these fibrillar aggregates include proteins such as tau and amyloid-β (Aβ) in Alzheimer's disease (AD) and alpha-synuclein (αSyn) in Parkinson's disease (PD). The development and spread of amyloid fibrils within the brain correlates with disease onset and progression, and inhibiting amyloid formation is a possible route toward therapeutic development. Recent advances have enabled the determination of amyloid fibril structures to atomic-level resolution, improving the possibility of structure-based inhibitor design. In this work, we use these amyloid structures to design inhibitors that bind to the ends of fibrils, "capping" them so as to prevent further growth. Using de novo protein design, we develop a library of miniprotein inhibitors of 35 to 48 residues that target the amyloid structures of tau, Aβ, and αSyn. Biophysical characterization of top in silico designed inhibitors shows they form stable folds, have no sequence similarity to naturally occurring proteins, and specifically prevent the aggregation of their targeted amyloid-prone proteins in vitro. The inhibitors also prevent the seeded aggregation and toxicity of fibrils in cells. In vivo evaluation reveals their ability to reduce aggregation and rescue motor deficits in Caenorhabditis elegans models of PD and AD.

Cover page of The rippled β-sheet layer configuration-a novel supramolecular architecture based on predictions by Pauling and Corey.

The rippled β-sheet layer configuration-a novel supramolecular architecture based on predictions by Pauling and Corey.


The rippled β-sheet is a peptidic structural motif related to but distinct from the pleated β-sheet. Both motifs were predicted in the 1950s by Pauling and Corey. The pleated β-sheet was since observed in countless proteins and peptides and is considered common textbook knowledge. Conversely, the rippled β-sheet only gained a meaningful experimental foundation in the past decade, and the first crystal structural study of rippled β-sheets was published as recently as this year. Noteworthy, the crystallized assembly stopped at the rippled β-dimer stage. It did not form the extended, periodic rippled β-sheet layer topography hypothesized by Pauling and Corey, thus calling the validity of their prediction into question. NMR work conducted since moreover shows that certain model peptides rather form pleated and not rippled β-sheets in solution. To determine whether the periodic rippled β-sheet layer configuration is viable, the field urgently needs crystal structures. Here we report on crystal structures of two racemic and one quasi-racemic aggregating peptide systems, all of which yield periodic rippled antiparallel β-sheet layers that are in excellent agreement with the predictions by Pauling and Corey. Our study establishes the rippled β-sheet layer configuration as a motif with general features and opens the road to structure-based design of unique supramolecular architectures.

Cover page of Island-specific evolution of a sex-primed autosome in a sexual planarian.

Island-specific evolution of a sex-primed autosome in a sexual planarian.


The sexual strain of the planarian Schmidtea mediterranea, indigenous to Tunisia and several Mediterranean islands, is a hermaphrodite1,2. Here we isolate individual chromosomes and use sequencing, Hi-C3,4 and linkage mapping to assemble a chromosome-scale genome reference. The linkage map reveals an extremely low rate of recombination on chromosome 1. We confirm suppression of recombination on chromosome 1 by genotyping individual sperm cells and oocytes. We show that previously identified genomic regions that maintain heterozygosity even after prolonged inbreeding make up essentially all of chromosome 1. Genome sequencing of individuals isolated in the wild indicates that this phenomenon has evolved specifically in populations from Sardinia and Corsica. We find that most known master regulators5-13 of the reproductive system are located on chromosome 1. We used RNA interference14,15 to knock down a gene with haplotype-biased expression, which led to the formation of a more pronounced female mating organ. On the basis of these observations, we propose that chromosome 1 is a sex-primed autosome primed for evolution into a sex chromosome.

Cover page of Towards synthetic PETtrophy: Engineering Pseudomonas putida for concurrent polyethylene terephthalate (PET) monomer metabolism and PET hydrolase expression.

Towards synthetic PETtrophy: Engineering Pseudomonas putida for concurrent polyethylene terephthalate (PET) monomer metabolism and PET hydrolase expression.



Biocatalysis offers a promising path for plastic waste management and valorization, especially for hydrolysable plastics such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Microbial whole-cell biocatalysts for simultaneous PET degradation and growth on PET monomers would offer a one-step solution toward PET recycling or upcycling. We set out to engineer the industry-proven bacterium Pseudomonas putida for (i) metabolism of PET monomers as sole carbon sources, and (ii) efficient extracellular expression of PET hydrolases. We pursued this approach for both PET and the related polyester polybutylene adipate co-terephthalate (PBAT), aiming to learn about the determinants and potential applications of bacterial polyester-degrading biocatalysts.


P. putida was engineered to metabolize the PET and PBAT monomer terephthalic acid (TA) through genomic integration of four tphII operon genes from Comamonas sp. E6. Efficient cellular TA uptake was enabled by a point mutation in the native P. putida membrane transporter MhpT. Metabolism of the PET and PBAT monomers ethylene glycol and 1,4-butanediol was achieved through adaptive laboratory evolution. We then used fast design-build-test-learn cycles to engineer extracellular PET hydrolase expression, including tests of (i) the three PET hydrolases LCC, HiC, and IsPETase; (ii) genomic versus plasmid-based expression, using expression plasmids with high, medium, and low cellular copy number; (iii) three different promoter systems; (iv) three membrane anchor proteins for PET hydrolase cell surface display; and (v) a 30-mer signal peptide library for PET hydrolase secretion. PET hydrolase surface display and secretion was successfully engineered but often resulted in host cell fitness costs, which could be mitigated by promoter choice and altering construct copy number. Plastic biodegradation assays with the best PET hydrolase expression constructs genomically integrated into our monomer-metabolizing P. putida strains resulted in various degrees of plastic depolymerization, although self-sustaining bacterial growth remained elusive.


Our results show that balancing extracellular PET hydrolase expression with cellular fitness under nutrient-limiting conditions is a challenge. The precise knowledge of such bottlenecks, together with the vast array of PET hydrolase expression tools generated and tested here, may serve as a baseline for future efforts to engineer P. putida or other bacterial hosts towards becoming efficient whole-cell polyester-degrading biocatalysts.