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  Pharmaceutical Patents  

 

Title:  7B2 knockout transgenic animals as models of endocrine disease
United States Patent: 
7,348,156
Issued: 
March 25, 2008

Inventors: 
Westphal; Christoph H. (Waltham, MA), Lindberg; Iris (New Orleans, LA), Leder; Philip (Chestnut Hill, MA)
Assignee: 
Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University & Agricultural and Mechanical College (Baton Rouge, LA), President and Fellows of Harvard College
Appl. No.: 
10/407,899
Filed: 
April 3, 2003


 

Executive MBA in Pharmaceutical Management, U. Colorado


Abstract

In general, the invention features methods and uses for transposon-mediated gene targeting which greatly enhance the insertion and detection of desired genes in genomic exons by homologous recombination. The invention also features transgenic non-human mammals, and eukaryotic cells, wherein a gene encoding 7B2 protein is modified, as well as nucleic acid vectors capable of undergoing homologous recombination with an endogenous 7B2 gene in a cell. The invention also features transgenic non-human mammals as models of endocrine disorders, as well as methods for diagnosing and treating patients with endocrine disorders.

Description of the Invention

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

In general, the invention features methods and uses for transposon-mediated gene targeting which greatly enhance the insertion and detection of desired genes in genomic exons by homologous recombination. The invention also features diagnostic methods for endocrine disorders, as well as methods and reagents for treating endocrine disorders.

In a first aspect, the invention provides a method for targeting heterologous DNA to integrate into an exon of a eukaryotic cell. The method includes, first, generating a pool of bacteria containing plasmids into which have been randomly integrated a transposon including heterologous DNA; second, isolating from the pool a bacterium which contains a plasmid into which the transposon is integrated into a copy of the exon on the plasmid by assessing PCR amplification products generated from the pool using primers specific for the exon; third, introducing the plasmid of the bacteria into the cell under conditions that promote homologous recombination; and, fourth, screening genomic DNA of the cell for integration of the heterologous DNA into the exon of the cell.

In one embodiment of the first aspect of the invention, the transposon bears at its extremities recognition sequences of a first rare-cutting restriction endonuclease that is absent in the exon. In another embodiment, the heterologous DNA, or portion thereof, encodes a selectable marker protein. The heterologous DNA, or portion thereof, may additionally encode a second protein, or polypeptide fragment thereof. In another embodiment, the marker protein is a prokaryotic selectable marker protein, which may be replaced by a eukaryotic selectable marker protein via the recognition sequences of the first rare-cutting restriction endonuclease. The prokaryotic selectable marker protein may be additionally replaced with DNA, or a portion thereof, encoding a second protein, or polypeptide fragment thereof.

In another embodiment of this aspect, the exon copy or portion thereof has at its borders destroyed recognition sequences of a second rare-cutting restriction endonuclease. In another embodiment, the genomic DNA is digested with the second rare-cutting restriction endonuclease. In yet another embodiment, the screening is carried out by Southern blot analysis of the genomic DNA with a detectable probe specific for the exon, or with a detectable probe external to the exon. The screening may also be carried out by PCR amplification of the genomic DNA with primers specific for the exon, or with primers external to, but surrounding the exon such that the PCR product includes the exon.

In a preferred embodiment of the first aspect of the invention, the insertion of the heterologous DNA into the exon results in a reduced level of expression of the protein encoded by the gene of the exon. The insertion of the heterologous DNA into the exon may also result in the expression of a truncated protein encoded by the gene of the exon, expression of a fusion protein encoded by the gene of the exon and the heterologous DNA, or portion thereof, or expression of a product, which may be a fusion protein, encoded by the heterologous DNA, or portion thereof.

In a second aspect, the invention provides a method for making a transgenic, non-human vertebrate animal containing heterologous DNA by first producing an embryonal cell of the non-human vertebrate animal with a targeted exon by first, generating a pool of bacteria containing plasmids into which have been randomly integrated a transposon including heterologous DNA; second, isolating from the pool a bacterium which contains a plasmid into which the transposon is integrated into a copy of the exon on the plasmid by assessing PCR amplification products generated from the pool using primers specific for the exon; third, introducing the plasmid of the bacteria into the embryonal cells under conditions that promote homologous recombination; and fourth, screening genomic DNA of the embryonal cells to identify an embryonal cell in which there has occurred integration of the heterologous DNA into the exon. The identified embryonal cell is then grown to generate the transgenic animal.

In one embodiment of the second aspect of the invention, the transposon bears at its extremities recognition sequences of a first rare-cutting restriction endonuclease that are absent in the exon. In another embodiment, the heterologous DNA, or portion thereof, encodes a selectable marker protein. The heterologous DNA, or portion thereof, additionally encodes a second protein, or polypeptide fragment thereof.

In another embodiment, the marker protein is a prokaryotic selectable marker protein which may be replaced by a eukaryotic selectable marker protein via the recognition sequences of the first rare-cutting restriction endonuclease. In another embodiment, the prokaryotic selectable marker protein is additionally replaced with DNA, or a portion thereof, encoding a second protein, or polypeptide fragment thereof.

In another embodiment, the exon copy or portion thereof has at its borders destroyed recognition sequences of a second rare cutting restriction endonuclease. Genomic DNA may be digested with the second rare-cutting restriction endonuclease. In another embodiment, the screening is carried out by Southern blot analysis of the genomic DNA with a detectable probe specific for the exon, or with a detectable probe external to the exon. The screening may also be carried out by PCR amplification of the genomic DNA with primers specific for the exon, or with primers external to, but surrounding the exon such that the PCR product includes the exon.

In a preferred embodiment of this aspect of the invention, the animal expresses a reduced level of the protein encoded by the gene of the exon. In another embodiment, the animal expresses a truncated protein encoded by the gene of the exon. In another embodiment, the animal expresses a fusion protein product encoded by the gene of the exon and the heterologous DNA, or portion thereof. In another embodiment, the animal expresses a product, which may be a fusion protein, encoded by the heterologous DNA, or portion thereof.

In a third aspect, the invention features a transposon that includes a selectable marker cassette including the selectable marker operably linked to a promoter, or hybrid thereof, capable of expressing the marker in both eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells. In a preferred embodiment of this aspect of the invention, the selectable marker is both a prokaryotic and eukaryotic selectable marker. In another embodiment of this aspect of the invention, the cassette is flanked by the recognition sequences of one or more rare-cutting restriction endonucleases. Most preferably, the transposon of this aspect of the invention is used to integrate a targeted gene, or exon thereof, on a plasmid.

In a fourth aspect, the invention features a eukaryotic cell containing an endogenous exon into which there is integrated a transposon including DNA encoding a selectable marker.

In a fifth aspect, the invention provides a method for making a transgenic non-human vertebrate animal by providing an embryonal cell of the non-human vertebrate animal that includes an endogenous exon into which there is integrated a transposon including DNA encoding a selectable marker, and then growing the cell to produce the transgenic animal.

The invention also features a novel transgenic animal with a genetically engineered modification in the gene encoding the 7B2 protein. In a sixth aspect, the invention features a transgenic non-human mammal, wherein a gene encoding 7B2 protein is modified resulting in reduced 7B2 protein activity. In preferred embodiments of this aspect, the transgenic non-human mammal is homozygous for the modified gene and is a mouse. In other preferred embodiments, the gene encoding 7B2 protein is modified by disruption, and the transgenic non-human animal has reduced 7B2 protein activity, preferably as manifested, e.g., by decreased amount of mature form PC2 or decreased PC2 protein activity.

In other preferred embodiments of the sixth aspect, the non-human transgenic mammal is a model of endocrine disease, preferably, the endocrine disease is manifested as a symptom related to Cushing's disease, for example, the mammal has increased plasma ACTH, increased serum corticosterone, or increased distribution of fat in the torso, upper abdomen, or neck.

In further embodiments of the sixth aspect of the invention, the transgenic non-human mammal has reduced conversion of pro-glucagon, pro-insulin, or pro-enkephalin to mature form. In yet another embodiment, the transgenic non-human mammal is heterozygous for the gene modification.

In a seventh aspect, the invention features a nucleic acid vector comprising nucleic acid capable of undergoing homologous recombination with an endogenous 7B2 gene in a cell, wherein the homologous recombination results in a modification of the 7B2 gene resulting in decreased 7B2 protein activity in the cell. In a preferred embodiment of the seventh aspect, the modification of the 7B2 gene is a disruption in the coding sequence of the endogenous 7B2 gene.

The eighth aspect of the invention features a eukaryotic cell, wherein the endogenous gene encoding 7B2 protein is modified, resulting in reduced 7B2 protein activity in the cell. In preferred embodiments, the reduced 7B2 protein activity is manifested, for example, by decreased amount of mature form PC2 or decreased PC2 protein activity.

In a related aspect, the invention features a eukaryotic cell containing an endogenous 7B2 gene into which there is integrated a transposon comprising DNA encoding a selectable marker.

Another aspect of the invention features a method for diagnosing a mammal for an endocrine disorder, the method comprising determining whether 7B2 protein is abnormal, whereby the abnormality indicates that the mammal has an endocrine disorder or an increased likelihood of developing an endocrine disorder. In preferred embodiments, the mammal is a human, the abnormality is reduced 7B2 gene expression, or a nucleic acid mutation in the 7B2-encoding gene, wherein the abnormality results in decreased 7B2 protein activity, and the endocrine disorder is a hypercortisolism disorder, preferably Cushing's disease, or a hypoglycemic disorder.

In other preferred embodiments, the abnormality is increased gene expression, or a nucleic acid mutation in the 7B2-encoding gene, wherein the abnormality results in increased 7B2 protein activity, and the endocrine disorder is a hypocortisolism disorder, preferably Addison's disease, or a hyperglycemic disorder, preferably diabetes.

In other preferred embodiments, expression is measured by assaying the amount of 7B2 polypeptide in the sample, or the amount of 7B2 RNA in the sample.

The tenth aspect of the invention features a method for determining whether a compound is potentially useful for treating or alleviating the symptoms of an endocrine disorder which includes (a) providing a cell including a reporter gene operably linked to the promoter from a 7B2 gene, (b) contacting the cell with the compound, and (c) measuring the expression of the reporter gene, such that a change in the level of the expression in response to the compound indicates that the compound is potentially useful for treating or alleviating the symptoms of an endocrine disorder.

In a related eleventh aspect, the invention features a method for determining whether a compound is potentially useful for treating or alleviating the symptoms of an endocrine disorder, which includes (a) providing a cell that produces a 7B2 protein, (b) contacting the cell with the compound, and (c) monitoring the activity of the 7B2 protein, such that a change in activity in response to the compound indicates that the compound is potentially useful for treating or alleviating the symptoms of an endocrine disorder.

In a preferred embodiment of the tenth aspect, the 7B2 gene promoter is mammalian, preferably, human or murine. In a preferred embodiment of the eleventh aspect, the 7B2 protein is mammalian, preferably, human or murine. In other preferred embodiments of the tenth or eleventh aspects, the change is an increase and the endocrine disorder is a hypoglycemic disorder, or a hypercortisolism/hypercorticosterone disorder, preferably the disorder is Cushing's disease. In another related embodiment, the change is a decrease, and the endocrine disorder is a hyperglycemic disorder, preferably diabetes, or a hypocortisolism/hypocorticosterone disorder, preferably, the disorder is Addison's disease.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

The present invention describes a novel approach for generating gene-targeting constructs and generating transgenic animals using these constructs, as previously described in application, U.S. Ser. No. 09/089,940, herein incorporated by reference. The present invention further describes using this approach to generate a novel transgenic mouse with a 7B2-/- genotype, otherwise known as a 7B2 knockout mouse.

In a simple in vitro reaction using a commercially available transposon and integrals, we have generated random intentional events in a knock-out vector containing thymidine kinase juxtaposed with mouse genomic DNA of interest, the 7B2 gene. Transpositional events were selected via an antibiotic marker within the transposon. Specific, desired insertions into exonic sequences were subsequently screened for by bacterial colony PCR. Ligation of a neomycin resistance cassette into unique transposon sites within the exon of interest completed the gene-targeting vector, which was shown to undergo homologous recombination in mouse embryonic stem cells. This approach allowed, within a matter of days, the generation of a completed construct ready for transfection into embryonic stem cells from a starting genomic clone. This is a general approach that is applicable for intentional "knock-out" and "knock-in" constructs, and allows targeting of different exons contained within the same genomic clone, independent of convenient restriction endonuclease recognition sites. Using this technique, a number of constructs for the same or different genes may be produced simultaneously.

Transposon-mediated Generation of Mouse "Knock-out" Vectors

The conventional technique for generating a "knock-out" mouse entails placing a genomic fragment of interest into a vector for fine mapping, followed by cloning of two genomic arms around a neomycin resistance cassette in a vector containing thymidine kinase (Tybulewicz et al., Cell 61: 1153-1163, 1991). Depending upon skill and luck, this conventional technique generally requires one to two months for the generation of each construct. The single "knock-out" construct is then transfected into embryonic stem cells, which are subsequently subjected to positive (using G418) and negative (using FIAU) selection, allowing the selection of cells which have undergone homologous recombination with the knock-out vector. This approach leads to inactivation of the gene of interest (Capecchi, M. R., Trends Genet. 5: 70-76, 1989).

In the transposon-based gene targeting approach of the present invention, a genomic fragment containing an exonic sequence of interest was cloned into a vector containing nucleic acid sequences encoding thymidine kinase and a number of unique restriction endonuclease recognition sites at the edge of the multiple cloning site. FIGS. 1A-1D (see Original Patent) represent an outline of our transposon-mediated technique for gene targeting.

As a first step shown in FIG. 1A (see Original Patent), restriction endonuclease recognition sites at the edge of a genomic clone of interest were destroyed (in the case illustrated here, a genomic SpeI fragment was cloned into an AbaI site of the targeting vector, thereby destroying the genomic SpeI sites). In the second step, as shown on FIG. 1B (see Original Patent), a simple in vitro transposition reaction led to the random integration of a transposon into the genomic clone. The in vitro transposition reaction was carried out following the manufacturer's protocol (ABI, Perkin-Elmer Corp., Norwalk, Conn.). Briefly, 200 ng of transposon, 2 units of integrals, 1 g of target plasmid, integrals buffer, and water were incubated at 30.degree. C. for 1 hour. The reaction was stopped by incubation in 0.25 M EDTA, 1% SDS, and 5 g/mL proteinase K for 15 minutes at 65.degree. C. After phenol extraction, the product was precipitated with ammonium acetate and isopropanol, washed in 70% ethanol, and resuspended in 10 L of water. 1 L of this product was then electroporated into highly competent bacterial cells, which were then plated on selective medium containing 75 g/mL of ampicillin and trimethoprim, since the CWKO vector contains an ampicillin (AMP) resistance gene (bla) and the integrated transposon contains the trimethoprim (TMP) resistant gene (dhfr). A typical reaction yielded 100-300 colonies per L, or 1,000-3,000 amp/tmp resistant transposon-bearing colonies from total 10 L transposition reaction. These colonies became apparent on AMP/TMP agarose plates 12-15 hours after electroporation. The transposon bore the recognition sequences for a number of rare cutting restriction endonucleases at its extremities, some of which are indicated in FIG. 1B. Thousands of unique, individual transposition events can be recovered as distinct, doubly-resistant colonies from a typical reaction (Devine and Boeke et al., Nuc. Acid. Res. 22: 3765-3774, 1994). The desired events (i.e., transpositions into the exon of interest) were discerned via a colony PCR screen using oligonucleotides homologous to exonic DNA.

Screening by colony PCR was carried out according to the following protocol. Single bacterial colonies were dipped into a master mix containing 0.4 M primers, 0.2 mM dNTPs, 1.times.PCR buffer, Taq polymerase, and water. Primers used in this PCR were specific for genomic DNA. Samples were heated to 94.degree. C. for 5 minutes, and then subjected to 30 cycles of 45 seconds at 94.degree. C., 30 seconds at 55.degree. C., and 1 minute at 72.degree. C. After dipping into the PCR master mix, colonies were touched to a master plate, which was incubated at 37.degree. C. while PCR and gel analysis was performed. After completion of the PCR reaction in 2.5 hours, 1.5% agarose gels were loaded with a multichannel pipettor and run out with markers, to discern the desired transposition events. Setting up 300 PCR reactions, running the PCR program, and loading and analyzing gels was completed in six to eight hours. Colonies found to be positive for the desired transposition event by PCR were picked from the master plate and proliferated in miniprep format for eight hours. Hence, sticky-end ligation of the PGK neo.sup.c bpA neo cassette into the targeted exon and subsequent sequencing of the construct was completed in two days. Completed constructs were sequenced using a standard protocol (Perkin-Elmer Corp., Norwalk, Conn.) and analyzed on an ABI 377 automated sequencer.

Ligation of a neomycin resistance cassette into the unique transposon enzyme sites (see FIG. 1B) completed the generation of the gene-targeting construct. Neomycin resistance facilitated the selection of homologous recombination events based on regaining external enzyme sites, as depicted in FIG. 1C (see Original Patent), and recombinants were verified by Southern blot analysis. Only those ES cells which had undergone homologous recombination regained the original SpeI restriction endonuclease recognition sites at the edge of the targeted exon at defined distances from the probe. The desired homologous recombinants may then be independently verified by an external probe, if desired.

FIG. 1D (see Original Patent) is a schematic drawing (not drawn to scale) of the vector, CWKO, used for this study, wherein all unique sites are listed. To generate the CWKO vector, the pSL301 Superlinker plasmid (commercially available from Invitrogen) was modified in the following manner: HindIII and NotI sites were filled in with Klenow. A 36 bp hypercleavable recognition site for PiSceI, which also contains a HindIII site, was inserted between EcoRI and SalI sites. Note that PiSceI is commercially available from New England Biolabs (Beverly, Mass.). Oligonucleotide ligation created AscI and PmeI sites between the SalI and HindIII sites. Thymidine kinase (TK), isolated from the knock-out vector pPNT (Tybulewicz et al., supra), was blunt-end ligated into a unique MscI site. Diagnostic digestion verified each unique restriction endonuclease recognition sequence site listed in FIG. 1D. A genomic fragment containing restriction endonuclease recognition sites listed in parentheses will, when cloned into the cognate unique site in this vector, destroy those genomic restriction endonuclease sites. For example, a SalI-digested fragment cloned into the XhoI site in the CWKO vector will destroy the XhoI site. Restriction endonucleases that are convenient for linearization of the completed knock-out gene targeting vector are boxed in FIG. 1D. Although other restriction endonucleases may be used to linearize the completed targeting vector, it will be understood that the site of the recognition sequence of the restriction endonuclease used to linearize the targeting vector should not be located in the promoter, coding sequence, or poly A signal associated with the targeted gene exon (or inserted transposon therein) or the thymidine kinase encoding sequences (including the promoter and poly A signal associated with the thymidine kinase-coding sequences).

Targeting of the Murine Neuroendocrine 7B2 Gene

In order to generate a diversity of biologically active peptides, mammals utilize endoproteolysis of biologically inactive polypeptide precursors. Recently, the prohormone convertase (PC) family of genes has been identified. These serine proteases are involved in the processing of polypeptide hormones such as insulin, glucagon, and proopiomelanocortin (reviewed in Seidah and Chretien, Trends Endocrinol. Metabol. 3: 133-140, 1992; Steiner et al., J. Biol. Chem. 267: 23435-23438, 1992). PC2, one of the PCs, interacts with neuroendocrine 7B2 in the secretory pathway (Braks and Martins, Cell 78: 263-273, 1994).

We chose to use our transposon-based gene targeting approach to target the mouse neuroendocrine 7B2 gene. The 7B2 gene was found to be located within 50 kb of the 3' end of the formin gene (Wang et al., Genomics 39: 303-311, 1997). A 7.5 kb genomic SpeI fragment was isolated from a BAC (commercially available from Genome Systems, St. Louis, Mo.) and cloned into the XhaI site in the CWKO vector. A simple transposition reaction, entailing incubation and subsequent phenol extraction steps, was then performed according to the manufacturer's specifications (Perkin-Elmer Corp., Norwalk, Conn.), as before. Colony PCR reactions were performed using oligonucleotides homologous to exonic DNA. The primers used were 5'-AGTTTTCCCAAGAGGACAGG-3' (SEQ ID NO: 3) and 5'-TTCTTCCCACGCTGCAGGG-3' (SEQ ID NO: 4), which amplified exon 3 of the mouse 7B2 gene (Braks et al., Eur. J. Biochem 236: 60-67, 1996). The results of the colony PCR reaction indicated that 4 of 288 transposition events were marked by integration into the exon of interest. FIG. 2A (see Original Patent) shows a representative panel of colony PCR products. In clones in which a transposition event did not take place in the exon of interest, the endogenous 150 bp exonic band is present, thus indicating transposon integration had taken place elsewhere in the genomic clone. However, clones in which the transposition event did take place in the exon of interest showed the expected up-shift to 1.1 kb. In these clones, the transposon was inserted into exonic DNA. Such transposition events into the exon of interest (i.e., exon 3 of the mouse 7B2 gene) were labelled in FIG. 2A (see Original Patent) as 2-53 and 2-70 (note that the transposon is roughly 900 bp). Sequence data of a clone having a 1.1 kb PCR product, presented in FIG. 2B (see Original Patent), confirmed that transposition had indeed taken place into exon 3 of the mouse 7B2 gene.

Our transposon-based gene targeting approach has been confirmed to be generally applicable by generating transpositions into exonic DNA of two other genomic fragments, which were used for the generation of gene targeting constructs. Since a number of transposition reactions may be performed in parallel, multiple constructs of different genes can be produced simultaneously using this procedure.

Homologous Recombination with the Transposon-mediated Knock-out Vector

As a final step, we transfected the 7B2 "knock-out" vector generated in the present study into embryonic stem cells, as described previously (Deng et al., Cell 82: 675-684, 1995). Briefly, 40 g of linearized targeting vector was electroporated into embryonic stem (ES) cells and subjected to positive (G418) and negative (FIAU) selection. Resistant ES cell clones were isolated and expanded for genomic DNA isolation. This genomic DNA was subjected to subsequent analyses with Southern blotting analysis and other standard techniques (see, e.g., Ausubel et al., Current Protocols in Molecular Biology, John Wiley & Sons, New York, N.Y., 1994). Linearization of plasmids for transfection into embryonic stem cells was achieved by digestion of the hypercleavable site for PiSceI, which has a 36 base pair recognition site (Gimble and Wang, J. Mol. Biol. 263: 399-402, 1996) and has no reported recognition sites within the mouse genome. It is, of course, understood that while PiSceI is ideal to for gene targeting in mice, gene targeting in other animals (e.g., in pigs) is facilitated by use of a restriction endonuclease that has no or few recognition sites in the porcine genome. FIG. 3A (see Original Patent) is a schematic diagram showing that homologous recombination led to a restoration of the genomic SpeI sites which were originally destroyed in the targeting vector (by cloning the SpeI fragment into an XbaI site). Also shown on the schematic in FIG. 3A are genomic SpeI and BamHI sites, as well as an additional SpeI site within the neo cassette. The positions of transposon DNA (labelled PI) and exonic DNA (labelled P2) that were used as probes are also indicated in FIG. 3A.

Sixty-three G418-, FIAU-resistant ES clones were obtained, of which two were proven to have undergone homologous recombination. FIG. 3B shows that ES clones 50 and 59, which had undergone homologous recombination, had the predicted 5 kb band when using a transposon probe (listed as P1 in FIG. 3A). Two other clones did not undergo homologous recombination; ES clone 36 had no detectable band, and ES clone 22 had a band at 4 kb. FIG. 3C shows a genomic Southern blotting analysis using exonic DNA from mouse neuroendocrine 7B2 as a probe (listed as P2 in FIG. 3A). The probability of obtaining an insertional event which regained relatively rare-cutting enzyme sites at precisely the same location on both sides of the construct is extremely low. Since the neo cassette contained one SpeI site (see FIG. 3A), the predicted alteration in the genomic locus was a down-shift from 7.5 kb to a doublet at 5.0 kb and 4.9 kb in genomic SpeI digested DNA, which was seen in ES clones 50 and 59 in FIG. 3C (note that the neo cassette and the transposon make the final targeted locus 9.9 kb). This observation was confirmed in FIG. 3D, which shows a corresponding up-shift from 6 kb to 7.6 kb in a Southern blot of BamHI digested genomic DNA, using an alternate P2 probe. Note that both "knock-out" (7.6 kb) and endogenous (6 kb) bands were of equal intensity, indicating that the endogenous locus had been targeted.

Analysis of Probability of Homologous Recombination

Using the methods of the invention, the following simple example illustrates that, given sufficient numbers of random integration events, a number of desired integrants will almost certainly be isolated. In this example, assume that a given genomic clone is 7.5 kb and contains 375 bp of exonic sequences (genomic DNA is thought to contain roughly 5% exonic sequences). The chance of one random integration not occurring in the exonic DNA for this example will then be all non-exonic vector DNA divided by the total DNA, to the first power. Expressed mathematically, this is ((7.5 kb+2.5 kb-0.375 kb)/(7.5 kb+2.5 kb)).sup.1, i.e., (9,625/10,000).sup.1, since the transposon may also insert in 2.5 kb of the knock-out vector which are not taken up by the ampicillin resistance cassette. The chance of 100 random integrations not occurring in the exonic DNA will by extension be (9,625/10,000).sup.100=2%. As described herein, 300 colony PCR reactions can be readily performed in under 2 hours, and the likelihood of not recovering a desired insert would then become (9,625/10,000).sup.300=0.001%. Thousands of transpositional events per reaction have been routinely obtained, so that the limiting factor is essentially the number of colony PCR reactions one chooses to perform.

Uses for Transposon-mediated Homologous Recombination

The transposon-mediated gene targeting approach of the invention may be generally applicable for the generation of insertional knock-out vectors. This technique is rapid, leading from genomic clone to finished construct in a minimum of 4 days, and a number of constructs may be generated simultaneously. In addition, different exons in the same genomic clone may be targeted. This can prove useful in proteins in which different truncations shed light on the functional significance of distinct protein domains. Finally, the generation of knock-in mice, traditionally an arduous task, is greatly simplified by the random integration of transposons bearing rare-cutting restriction endonuclease recognition sequences. Hence, with our technique, cloning any cDNA of interest in-frame into a specific genomic locus becomes much less challenging and time-consuming.

Transposons for Targeting Genes in Eukaryotic Cells

Certain selectable markers are capable of conveying drug resistance to both prokaryotic and eukaryotic selection drugs. However, the nucleic acid encoding the selectable marker must be operably linked to a promoter capable of directing expression in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. Such a promoter may be created by fusing a eukaryotic promoter (e.g., the PGK promoter) with a prokaryotic promoter (e.g., a synthetic EM-7 E. coli promoter). For example, nucleic acid encoding the neo marker protein may be operably linked to the fusion promoter. A consensus poly A signal capable of terminating both prokaryotic and eukaryotic transcription may be positioned 3' to the nucleic acid encoding neo. Employment of a transposon incorporating this modified neo cassette will enable the propagation of transposon-integrated CWKO plasmids in bacteria grown in the presence of both ampicillin and kanamycin. Once a plasmid bearing a transposon insertion into a desired gene, or exon thereof, is identified, the plasmid may be directly linearized and used to homologously recombine eukaryotic cells, thereby bypassing the replacement of a prokaryotic selectable marker with a eukaryotic selectable marker. Resulting homologously recombined eukaryotic cells are resistant to both FIAU and G418.

Another gene capable of conferring drug resistance in both eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells is the Zeocin.TM. resistance gene which confers resistance to the drug, Zeocin.TM.. The Zeocin.TM. drug and Zeocin.TM. resistance gene are both commercially available from Invitrogen (San Diego, Calif.). The Zeocin.TM. resistance gene cassette (nucleic acid encoding the Zeocin.TM. resistance marker protein operably linked to a hybrid promoter that includes the eukaryotic CMV promoter and the bacterial synthetic EM-7 promoter) may be readily removed from the pZeoSV2 vector (Invitrogen, Carlsbad, Calif.) and subcloned into the transposon. Preferably, when the Zeocin.TM. resistance gene cassette is inserted into the transposon, it is flanked by rare cutting restriction endonuclease recognition sequences.

Eukaryotic Cells with One or More Targeted Genes

The utilization of the methods of the invention, as described, will greatly facilitate the generation of mice with targeted genes. Given the rapidity of the tranposon-based generation of targeting vectors, it is understood that more than one vector can be produced at the same time. For example, the in vitro transposon reaction may be applied to a murine genomic library in the CWKO vector. Methods for the generation of such a library are well known in the art (see, for example, Ausubel et al., supra). Murine genomic DNA is also commercially available (from, e.g., Clontech Laboratories Inc., Palo Alto, Calif.), and may be readily prepared for insertion into the CWKO vector. Following integration of the tranposons, bacterial colonies may be subjected to PCR colony screening using primers specific for all desired targeted genes. For example, the bacterial colonies may first be screened for transposon insertion into the mouse neuroendocrine 7B2 gene. Following identification of colonies which have targeted 7B2, the remaining colonies may next be screened for transposon insertion into a second gene, e.g., actin. Following identification of actin-targeted colonies, the remaining colonies may be screened for transposon insertion into yet another gene of interest. Since bacteria colony containing plates are easily duplicated, a genomic library carrying transposon insertions may be maintained indefinitely in bacteria (with appropriate passaging of colonies onto fresh AMP/TMP plates) for future screens for targeted genes of interest. Likewise, the plasmid DNA from these bacteria may be isolated by standard maxi-prep techniques, and re-transformed into bacteria for expansion when a future screen is desired.

Once a transposon insertion event into a targeted gene is identified, a eukaryotic selectable marker is inserted into rare-cutting restriction endonuclease recognition sites located on the transposon inserted into the gene of interest, or an exon thereof. The sites preferably flank the dhfr prokaryotic selectable marker gene. It is understood that any eukaryotic selectable marker may be utilized (e.g., hygB, pac, hisD, neo). For example, an exon from the murine neuroendocrine 7B2 gene may be inserted with neo, while an exon from the murine actin gene may be inserted with pac. The targeting vector is then linearized and used to homologously recombine with chromosomal DNA in eukaryotic cells (e.g., murine ES cells), which are then treated with FIAU and the drug corresponding to the transposon-inserted eukaryotic marker. It will be understood that linearized vectors may be from different targeting vectors; however the two vectors preferably bear exons inserted with two different eukaryotic selectable markers. For example, both the neo-inserted neuroendocrine 7B2 gene and the pac-inserted actin gene may be targeted in the same murine ES cell. The ES cells are then subjected to selection in FIAU, G418, and puromycin.

It is understood that this simultaneous targeting of more than one gene may be utilized for the development of "knock-out mice" (i.e., mice lacking the expression of a targeted gene product), "knock-in mice" (i.e., mice expressing a fusion protein or a protein encoded by a gene exogenous to the targeted locus), or mice with a targeted gene such that a truncated gene product is expressed.

Although the use of a genomic library does not allow the destruction of a restriction endonuclease recognition site flanking the targeted gene exon, homologous recombination events in ES cells may be screened for by Southern blot alone without the additional screen for restoration of the destroyed restriction endonuclease recognition site. Should more than one gene be targeted, Southern blot analysis with probes from both genes may be utilized. If the genes are of detectably different sizes, both probes may be used at the same time.

Eukaryotic Cells with a Targeted Gene which Partially Encodes a Fusion Protein

Cells and rodents expressing fusion proteins of proteins tagged with lacZ or GFP (green fluorescent protein) have been utilized for precise developmental expression studies (LeMouellic et al., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 87: 4712-4716, 1990; Mansour et al., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 87: 7688-7692, 1990; Sosa-Pineda et al., Nature 386: 399-402, 1997). In addition, fusion proteins of targeted gene products fused to an oncogene have been used as a model for human cancer translocations (Corral et al., Cell 85: 853-861, 1996; Castilla et al., Cell 87: 687-696, 1996; Yergeau et al., Nature Gen. 15: 303-306, 1997). Utilization of the methods of the invention will greatly facilitate the construction of such transgenic cells and animals. For example, an exogenous gene, encoding, e.g., lacZ, may be fused to a targeted gene at the carboxy terminus of the targeted gene product by subcloning an exon into the CWKO vector. Following identification of a transposon insertion into the exon by the methods described herein, the dhfr gene on the transposon may be replaced with nucleic acid from a desired exogenous gene (e.g., lacZ or an oncogene) separated from the nucleic acid encoding a eukaryotic selectable marker (e.g., the PGK neo.sup.c bpA neo cassette) with a stop codon such that the inserted nucleic acid from the desired exogenous gene is in frame with and adjacent to the exon. The inserted nucleic acid encoding a eukaryotic selectable marker is, thus, located at the extreme carboxy-terminal end of the fusion protein. It is understood that should the exogenous gene be fused to the targeted gene at the amino terminus of the targeted gene, the heterologous DNA inserted into the transposon integrated into the targeted exon includes the entire neo cassette located 5' to a promoter operably linked to the exogenous gene of choice. The exogenous gene is inserted into the transposon such that it is in frame with and 5' adjacent to the exon of the targeted gene. The targeting vector is next homologously recombined into eukaryotic cells. Genomic DNA of FIAU and G418 resistant clones may then be screened for restoration of the destroyed restriction endonuclease sites on the exon and by Southern blot analysis with a probe corresponding to exonic DNA.

Eukaryotic Cells with a Targeted Gene Encoding a Truncated Protein

Cells expressing truncated proteins are useful in analysing the roles of specific domains of proteins in the biological functions of the full length proteins. For example, should the targeted gene produce a product whose two functional domains are separated by the amino acid residues encoded by the fourth exon, the fourth exon may be subcloned into the CWKO vector and subjected to an in vitro transposition reaction. Once a transposon has inserted into exon 4, the dhfr gene on the transposon may be replaced with a eukaryotic selectable marker cassette (e.g., PGK neo.sup.c bpA) plus addition sequences. For a C-terminal truncated targeted gene product, the selectable marker cassette bears additional sequences 5' to the PGK promoter. These 5' sequences include stop codons in all three frames, followed by a poly A signal, such that exon 4 transcription terminates prior to the initiation of transcription of the selectable marker cassette. Should a N-terminal truncated targeted gene product be desired, the additional sequences are 3' to the selectable marker cassette and include a promoter operably linked to an initiator codon that is in frame with exon 4 such that the truncated protein is expressed from DNA (i.e., exon 4) located 3' to the transposon insertion site. A cell bearing the truncated protein may then be detected by the restoration of the destroyed restriction endonuclease sites flanking exon 4, and by Southern blot analysis using exon 4 DNA as a probe.

Eukaryotic Cells with Nucleic Acid Encoding a Protein Introduced into the Locus of a Targeted Gene

Several recent papers have indicated the power of "knock-in" technology in analyses of the functional complementation between related genes (Hanks et al., Science 269: 679-682, 1995). The methods of the present invention will greatly facilitate the rapidity with which these mice may be generated. Generation of "knock-in" cells and mice is accomplished by designing a targeting vector in which the prokaryotic selectable marker gene (e.g., dhfr) located on the transposon is replaced with nucleic acid (e.g., genomic DNA or, more preferably, cDNA) encoding a second protein together with a eukaryotic selectable marker cassette. Homologous recombination of this targeting vector with the chromosomal DNA in eukaryotic cells (preferably, ES cells) is accomplished by screening genomic DNA for restoration of destroyed restriction endonuclease recognition sequences flanking the targeted exon and by Southern blot analysis with probes corresponding to the targeted exon.

Utilization of Eukaryotic Cells with Targeted Genes

A eukaryotic cell with one or more targeted genes allows the analysis of the effects of the targeted gene in the cell. For example, a terminally differentiated CD8.sup.+ T cell may have a targeted disruption of the lck gene, such that no lck protein is expressed. Although the targeted gene is present on only one chromosome, lack of lck expression may be accomplished nevertheless, since most terminally differentiated cells are functionally hemizygous. This cell may be used for the functional analysis of antigen responsiveness in the absence of lck, and to determine if other endogenous protein tyrosine kinases can compensate for the lack of lck. Similarly, this cell may express a fusion protein of lck fused to the fluorescent marker, green fluorescent protein (GFP). The subcellular localization of the lck protein may then be assessed during the various biological responses of the protein.

A murine ES cell bearing targeted gene(s) may be used to generate heterozygous and homozygous mice using standard techniques (Tybulewicz et al., supra; Capecchi, supra). Hence, depending upon the type of disruption in the targeted gene, mice with no expression of the targeted gene, expression of a fusion protein partially encoded by the targeted gene, or expression of a different gene product from the targeted gene locus may be generated. Analysis of the effects on the disrupted targeted genes may then be assessed on an organismal level. In addition, murine embryonic fibroblast cells (MEFs) may be derived from murine ES cells or transgenic mice according to standard procedures (Deng et al., Cell 82: 675-684, 1995), and may allow more detailed studies in cell culture.

7B2 Knock-out Mice

Genotype

After electroporation of the 7B2 gene-targeting construct into embryonic stem (ES) cells, several ES clones were shown to have undergone homologous recombination. Two of these were injected into blastocysts, chimeric mice were derived, and germline transmission was shown to occur. Chimeric mice were mated to 129Svev strain females to place the targeted 7B2 gene on a pure genetic background. All of our mice 7B2 "knockout" mice, that is, mice with 7B2-/- genotypes, were derived from these two independent ES clones. No difference was noticed between the two independent mouse lines.

Genotyping of heterozygotic matings indicated offspring of all possible genotypes (see FIG. 4A (see Original Patent)). In order to analyze 7B2 RNA levels, total RNA was extracted from whole brains of 7B2+/+ (wild type) and 7B2-/- (knockout) mice, and subjected to Northern blotting analysis using the 7B2 exon 2 DNA as a probe according to standard techniques (see, e.g., Ausubel et al., supra). As shown in FIG. 4B (see Original Patent), 7B2 knockout mice were found to lack detectable 7B2 RNA transcripts.

General Knockout Phenotype

From an early age, the 7B2 knockout mice exhibited clear clinical abnormalities. At four days of age, 7B2 knockout mice (two are shown in the middle of FIG. 5A (see Original Patent); two wild type mice are flanking them) were observed to be pale and ecchymotic (note especially the severe bruising of the left 7B2 knock-out mouse). Many 7B2 null mice suffered from significant bleeding into the abdomen. Only 11% of 7B2 null mice survived to weaning, and 7B2 null mice were often very severely runted, with parchment-like. Despite this significant runting, however, those 7B2 null mice which did survive weaning actually became obese after weaning, with a prominent fat deposition on the back and around the neck (six week old 7B2 null and wild type mice are shown in FIG. 5B).

PC2 Expression Form and Activity

Several studies have indicated that PC2 activity might be dependent upon 7B2 function (Braks and Martens, Cell 78: 263-273, 1994; Braks and Martens, FEBS Lett. 371: 154-158, 1995; Braks et al., Eur. J. Biochem. 238: 505-510, 1996; Zhu et al., J. Biol. Chem. 271: 23582-23587, 1996; Zhu et al., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 93: 4919-4924, 1996). Our SDS-PAGE analysis of PC2 protein expression forms in brain (where PC2 is expressed at high levels), revealed that the maturation of proPC2 to mature PC2 was severely inhibited in 7B2 knock-out mice (FIG. 6A, right lane, n=3 (see Original Patent)).

Fluorometric PC2 activity assays were performed on PC2 samples which were immunopurified from whole brain protein extracts using anti-PC2 polyclonal antibody. The PC2 activity assays were performed by standard procedures (see, e.g., Lindberg et al., Biochemistry 34: 5486-5493, 1995; Zhu et al., J. Biol. Chem. 271: 23582-23587, 1996, herein incorporated by reference). Briefly, mouse brains were homogenized in a non-denaturing detergent (e.g., not SDS) and TBS. After centrifugation to obtain soluble proteins, PC2 antibody was added (pre-bound to Protein A beads). This mixture was incubated for 4 hours at 4.degree. C. The beads were then pelleted by centrifugation and washed in TBST.

The fluorometric assay was based on PC2-mediated liberation of aminomethylcoumarin (AMC) using the fluorogenic substrate, pGlu-Arg-Thr-Lys-Arg-AMC (commercially available from Peptides International, Lexington, Ky.), as previously described (Zhu and Lindberg, J. Cell. Biol. 129: 1641-1650, 1995, herein incorporated by reference). The fluorescent standard AMC (commercially available from Peninsula Laboratories Inc., Belmont, Calif.) was used to calibrate the fluorometer. As shown in FIG. 6B (see Original Patent), 7B2-/- mice completely lacked PC2 activity, indicating that PC2 activity is dependent upon 7B2.

Prohormone Processing Abnormalities

Consistent with the lack of PC2 activity, the 7B2 knockout mice exhibited abnormal production and processing of glucagon, insulin, and enkephalins, all of which are hormones dependent upon PC2 for normal processing.

With regard to proglucagon processing, pancreatic islets were pulse-chase labeled, and, subsequent to immunoprecipitation, glucagon-related proteins were subjected to SDS-PAGE. As shown in FIG. 7 (see Original Patent), 7B2 knockout islets displayed minimal conversion of pro-glucagon to mature glucagon, with the majority of glucagon-related proteins remaining as unconverted pro-glucagon and only small amounts of intermediate glucagon cleavage products. In contrast, wild type islets displayed a rapid and almost complete conversion of pro-glucagon to glucagon in wild type islets.

To assess insulin processing, pancreatic islets were similarly labeled. In wild type islets (FIG. 8, left panel (see Original Patent)), mouse proinsulin I and II was rapidly converted to insulin. In contrast, insulin maturation was significantly delayed in knock-out islets, and was accompanied by the generation of increased amounts of des 31, 32 proinsulin intermediate material (peaks c and d in FIG. 8, right lower panel). This intermediate of proinsulin is produced by PC1 and PC3, which exhibits a cleavage preference for the B chain-C peptide junction.

The levels of two mature enkephalins were also dramatically reduced in the 7B2 knock-out brains (FIG. 9 (see Original Patent)).

Pancreatic Abnormalities

The 7B2 knockout mice had lower blood glucose levels and elevated levels of circulating insulin-related protein, as shown in FIG. 10 (see Original Patent). In addition, the knockout mice also had lower body weight (FIG. 10). Blood was analyzed using a standard glucometer, and plasma insulin was measured by radioimmunoassay.

The metabolic disturbances observed in the 7B2 null mice were accompanied by morphological effects on the pancreas. For morphometric analysis, mouse tissue (e.g., pancreas) was removed and fixed in Optimal Fix (American Histology Reagent, Lodi, Calif.), blocked in paraffin, sectioned at 10 m, and stained with hematoxylin and eosin, according to standard techniques. As shown in FIGS. 11A and 11B (see Original Patent), pancreatic beta and non-beta islet masses were significantly increased in 7B2 knockout mice. FIG. 11C shows photographs at 20.times. magnification of representative pancreas specimens from 7B2 knockout (KO) and wild-type (WT) mice at five weeks of age, indicating both the increased size and markedly abnormal morphology of islets in the pancreas of 7B2 null mice. The islets in the 7B2 knockout were hyperplastic and had disordered architecture, with disruption of the normal eccentric location of non-beta cells.

7B2 Knockout Versus PC2 Knockout

Given the 7B2 knockout mice were found to lack PC2 activity, PC2 activity is dependent upon 7B2 function. Consistent with this 7B2-PC2 inter-relationship, the 7B2 knockout mice were found to exhibit phenotypic characteristics similar to the those reported for PC2 knockouts. For example, like the 7B2 knockout mice of the present invention, the PC2 knockout mice are hypoglycemic and hyperproinsulinemic, with generalized islet cell expansion, altered islet cell morphology, and depressed levels of bioactive peptides such as mature enkephalins and glucagon (Furuta, 1997, Johanning et al., 1998 Rouille et al., 1994, Rouille et al., 1997). The islet cell changes differed in the 7B2 knockout in that the beta cell mass was also increased, possibly due to elevated corticosterone (see below) or an indirect steroid-induced insulin resistance.

More surprisingly, however, the 7B2 knockout mice exhibited additional phenotypic abnormalities, such as Cushing's disease-like abnormalities, which were not present in the PC2 knockouts. These additional characteristics provide evidence that 7B2 has additional actions which are independent of PC2.

Cushing's Disease-related Abnormalities

All of the 7B2 knockout mice surviving past four weeks of age exhibited an abnormal pattern of fat distribution around the back of the neck--otherwise known as a "buffalo hump" (see FIG. 12 (see Original Patent)). This type of fat distribution pattern is commonly observed in humans suffering from Cushing's disease, a disease associated with hypersecretion of cortisol by the adrenal cortex (or over production of other similar steroid hormones, such as hydrocortisone, prednisone, methyl-prednisolone, or dexamethasone). The hypersecretion of cortisol can result from a general hyperplasia of one of both adrenal cortices, which may, in turn, be caused by increased secretion of adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH) by the anterior pituitary.

Further histological analysis of the 7B2 knockout mice revealed other symptoms consistent with Cushing's disease, such as the following: the skin of 7B2 knockout mice (FIG. 13B, 20.times. (see Original Patent)) showed marked thinning and epidermal hyperkeratosis, as well as dermal atrophy, as compared to wild type mice (FIG. 13A, 20.times.); in the 7B2 knockouts' livers, the normal lobular liver architecture was destroyed and severe fat vacuolation was present (FIG. 13D knockout versus FIG. 13C wild type, 20.times. magnification); the spleens in the 7B2 knockout mice were roughly one-fifth the wild type size and showed abnormal architecture and a generalized myeloid immaturity (FIG. 13F knockout versus FIG. 13E wild type, 5.times. magnification).

Turning to ACTH, analysis of total pituitary ACTH revealed that the 7B2 knockout mice had a 10-20 fold increase in intact ACTH, and no detectable corticotropin-like intermediate peptide (CLIP), an ACTH cleavage product (FIG. 14 (see Original Patent)). Similarly, biosynthetic studies of processing of ACTH precursor proopiomelanocortin (POMC) in isolated whole pituitaries showed that 7B2 knockout mice had elevated production of intact ACTH, with minimal conversion to .alpha. melanocyte stimulating hormone (.alpha.MSH) (FIG. 15 (see Original Patent)).

For measurement of pituitary ACTH, pituitaries from 7B2 knockout or wild-type mice were homogenized in ice cold 1N acetic acid by sonication. Following microcentrifugation of the homogenates, aliquots were then injected into a high pressure gel permeation chromatograph and run in 32% acetonitrile plus 0.1% trifluoroacetic acid. Fractions were then assayed using ACTH-IR peptides directed against residues 11-17 of ACTH.

Both the anterior and the intermediate lobes of the pituitary synthesize the ACTH precursor, POMC. In the anterior lobe of PC2 or 7B2 knockout mice, ACTH levels are unaffected because cleavage of POMC into full length ACTH (the end product in this lobe) occurs primarily through the action of PC1 and PC3 rather than PC2 (Bloomquist et al, 1991; Benjannet et al, 1991; Thomas et al, 1991; Zhou et al, 1993). However, ACTH levels are affected in the intermediate lobe of PC2 or 7B2 knockout mice because PCT is highly expressed and cleaves ACTH into the non-corticotropic peptides MSH and CLIP (Zhou et al, 1993; Benjannet et al, 1991; Thomas et al, 1991).

FIG. 16 (a versus b (see Original Patent)) shows that the intermediate lobe of 7B2 knockout mice exhibit reduced MSH cleavage, suggesting an accumulation of ACTH. (In the intermediate lobe, ACTH antiserum would cross-react with CLIP and would interfere with assessment of ACTH. Therefore, ACTH processing was measured using MSH-specific antiserum.) Thus, our immuno-histochemical studies suggest that the increased pituitary ACTH in the intermediate lobe causes the increased total pituitary ACTH. In contrast, there was a marked reduction in anterior lobe ACTH staining in 7B2 knockout mice (FIG. 16 (see Original Patent); panels c and d).

In conjunction with increased pituitary ACTH, plasma ACTH, as well as serum corticosterone levels, were increased in the 7B2 knockout mice (FIG. 17A (see Original Patent)). Corticosterone assays were performed on serum as described previously (Meiner et al., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 93: 14041-14046, 1996). In addition, the adrenal cortex, which produces corticosterone, was greatly expanded in 7B2 null mice (FIG. 17B).

In summary, the 7B2 knockout mice contrast sharply with the PC2 knockouts in that the 7B2 knockout mice exhibit high levels of plasma ACTH and go on to develop symptoms related to severe pituitary Cushing's disease, surviving at most to 9 weeks after birth. The adrenal cortical hyperplasia observed in these animals, a consequence of continuous trophic stimulation by increased circulating ACTH, results in high plasma levels of corticosterone in the 7B2 knockout. Elevated levels of plasma steroids cause a number of phenotypic changes observed in this mouse, such as atrophic skin, lipodystrophy, and splenic lymphoid atrophy. The runting of 7B2 mutant pups may also be due to chronically increased circulating corticosterone. None of these changes were noted in reports on PC2 knockout mice; they exhibit no detectable dysfunction of the pituitary/adrenal axis. These data imply that profound differences exist in the 7B2 and PC2-mediated control of intermediate lobe pituitary secretion.

These differences point to important additional functional roles for 7B2 not related to PC2-mediated effects. The hypothesis of additional roles for 7B2 is strengthened by recent findings that 7B2 is found in brain areas lacking PC2, while the converse has never been observed (Seidel et al, 1998). With respect to the increased secretion of ACTH from the pituitary of 7B2 knockout animals, these novel effects of 7B2 might be due to developmental changes during maturation of the intermediate lobe affecting the number and size of melanotrophs, changes in the innervation of this lobe affecting secretory activity, or effects of 7B2 on dopaminergic and GABAergic innervation of the pituitary intermediate lobe.

Other genetic models for pituitary Cushing's syndrome include the D2 receptor knockout cited above (Saiardi and Borrelli, 1998) and the CRH transgenic mouse (Stenzel-Poore et al, 1992). Interestingly, despite presenting qualitatively similar steroid-induced tissue changes as the 7B2 knockout, the CRH transgenic mouse and the D2 receptor knockout mouse both exhibit a much less severe Cushing's phenotype, with normal lifespans. These data highlight the fact that loss of 7B2 expression affects pituitary secretory activity in a much more profound manner than loss of CRH regulation, dopamine receptors, or PC2.

For example, the lack of severe Cushing's syndrome in the dopamine receptor and transporter knockouts implies that while developmental alterations in dopaminergic innervation can potentially contribute to the pathogenesis of this disease, other secretory deficits must also be present in the 7B2 knockout which culminate in the exceptionally high circulating ACTH levels in this animal. In support of this assertion, preliminary results indicate that basal release of intact ACTH is greatly enhanced in isolated pituitaries of 7B2 knockout animals compared to controls suggesting that isolated pituitaries retain the property of hypersecretion even when removed from direct dopaminergic influence. 7B2 may interact with an as-yet undiscovered prohormone convertase that is involved in POMC processing.

Further study of our 7B2 knockout mouse will allow detailed characterization of 7B2 control of steroidogenesis, either direct or indirect, which is important for a proper understanding of both normal human physiology, as well as hypercortisolic disease states (e.g., Cushing's disease), hypocortisolic disease states (e.g., Addison's disease), hypoglycemia, and hyperglycemia (e.g., diabetes).

The Role of 7B2 in Endocrine Disorders

Our unexpected finding that 7B2 knockout mice have Cushing's disease allows for the development of methods and reagents to treat or diagnose patients having (or suspected of having) endocrine disorders. Any cell, tissue, or product of the 7B2 knockout mouse (or the mouse itself), which lacks 7B2 RNA or 7B2 protein may be used as a model for understanding endocrine mechanisms. Mice heterozygotic for the 7B2 mutation are also useful

These mice are useful for developing methods and reagents for treating or diagnosing patients having, or suspected of having, a hypercortisolism disorder such as Cushing's disease, or a hypoglycemic disorder. Furthermore, these mice may find use in the development of methods and reagents to treat or diagnose patients having (or suspected of having) a hypocortisolism disorders, such as Addison's disease, or a hyperglycemic disorder. In accordance with the teachings of the invention, the sequence of the human 7B2 gene and protein (Braks et al., Eur. J. Biochem. 236: 60-67, 1996; Martens, G. J., FEBS Lett. 234: 160-164, 1988) may be thus manipulated to provide therapeutic reagents and methods for patients suffering from an endocrine disorder.

The 7B2 knockout mice, as well as the 7B2 heterozygote mice (+/-; see FIGS. 4A and 4B), provide excellent non-human models for live-animal screens of any compound (including those compounds isolated using the methods described below) suspected of being useful as a therapeutic to treat or alleviate symptoms in patients suffering from endocrine disorders such as hypercortisolism disorders (e.g., Cushing's disease), hypocortisolism disorders (e.g., Addison's disease), hypoglycemia, or hyperglycemia (e.g., diabetes). In addition, cell lines derived from 7B2 knockout or heterozygote mice could also be used in compound screens.

A therapeutic compound for use in patients having (or suspected of having) a hypercortisolism disorder will alleviate at least one, and preferably at least two, of the symptoms of these mice. Hence, a compound that can treat or alleviate the disease symptoms of hypercortisolism disorder, when administered to a 7B2 knockout mouse, will lead to at least one of the following: a restoration of normal PC2 activity; a reduction in runting; a restoration of normal skin coloring and a reduction in bruising; a reduction in bleeding into the peritoneum; a reduction of the "buffalo hump;" a reduction in obesity; a restoration of normal pancreatic islet cell mass; a restoration of normal blood glucose levels; a restoration of normal plasma insulin and glucagon levels; a restoration of a morphologically normal liver; a restoration of a morphologically normal spleen; a restoration of a normal level of ACTH; a restoration of a normal serum concentration of corticosterone; and a restoration of a morphologically normal adrenal cortex.

Diagnostic Methods for Endocrine Disorders

For diagnostic methods, a patient suspected of having or developing an endocrine disorder, such as hypocortisolism, hypercortisolism, hypoglycemia, or hyperglycemia, may be tested for the level of expression, or the level of protein activity, of the neuroendocrine 7B2 gene. The 7B2 expression level may be measured at the protein or RNA level, and may be deemed to be normal or abnormal (e.g., reduced or increased) by comparison to the level of a control individual. 7B2 protein activity level may be measured, for example, by the ability of the protein to interact with, and convert, PC2.

A patient suspected of having or developing an endocrine disorder may also be screened for a mutation in the gene encoding the 7B2 protein. The mutation can be detected by analyzing genomic DNA, RNA, or mRNA, collected from any tissue. The effect of the mutation could be determined by measuring the 7B2 protein amount and/or activity.

Any abnormality in the 7B2 gene resulting in a reduction in the amount or activity of the 7B2 protein is an indication that the patient may have, or may be predisposed to develop, a hypercortisolism disorder, such as Cushing's disease, or a hypoglycemic disorder. Conversely, any abnormality in 7B2 gene expression or gene sequence that results in an increase in the amount or activity of the 7B2 protein is an indication that the patient may have, or may be predisposed to develop, a hypocortisolism disorder, such as Addison's disease, or a hyperglycemic disorder.

7B2-targeted Screens: Identifying Therapeutic Candidates for Treating an Endocrine Disorder

For a patient suffering from an endocrine disorder, our discovery allows for the development of reagents that may alleviate the disease symptoms. It will be understood that such a patient may or may not show an altered (i.e., abnormal) level of 7B2 protein expression or activity.

7B2 protein, or DNA encoding the 7B2 protein (e.g., the 7B2 gene), may be administered to neuroendocrine cells or pituitary cells in patients suffering from a hypercortisolism disorder such as Cushing's disease, or patients suffering from hypoglycemia Similarly, compounds identified in 7B2 screens as increasing the expression of 7B2, or 7B2 protein activity, may be administered to patients with a hypercortisolism disorder or with hypoglycemia. Such compounds could include small molecules, nucleic acids or proteins.

In addition, compounds identified in 7B2 screens as reducing 7B2 expression or activity, for example, antisense 7B2 nucleic acid, 7B2 neutralizing antibody, or 7B2 polypeptide fragments, may be administered to neuroendocrine cells or pituitary cells in patients suffering from a hypocortisolism disorder such as Addison's disease, or patients suffering from hyperglycemia.

Preferably, compounds identified in the above described screens modify 7B2 expression or protein activity by at least 25%, more preferably by at least 50%, more preferably by 70%, and most preferably by 100%.

Test Compounds

In general, drugs for prevention or treatment of an endocrine disorder which function by altering the amount or level of biological activity of a 7B2 protein are identified from libraries of natural products or synthetic (or semi-synthetic) extracts or chemical libraries according to methods known in the art. Examples of such extracts or compounds include, but are not limited to, plant-, fungal-, prokaryotic- or animal-based extracts, fermentation broths, and synthetic compounds, as well as modification of existing compounds. Numerous methods are also available for generating random or directed synthesis (e.g., semi-synthesis or total synthesis) of any number of chemical compounds, including, but not limited to, saccharide-, lipid-, peptide-, and nucleic acid-based compounds. Libraries of genomic DNA or cDNA may be generated by standard techniques (see, e.g., Ausubel et al., supra) and are also commercially available (Clontech Laboratories Inc., Palo Alto, Calif.). Nucleic acid libraries used to screen for compounds that alter 7B2 gene expression or 7B2 protein activity are not limited to the species from which the 7B2 gene or protein is derived. For example, a Xenopus cDNA may be found to encode a protein that alters human 7B2 gene expression or alters human 7B2 protein activity.

Synthetic compound libraries are commercially available from Brandon Associates (Merrimack, N.H.) and Aldrich Chemical (Milwaukee, Wis.). Alternatively, libraries of natural compounds in the form of bacterial, fungal, plant, and animal extracts are commercially available from a number of sources, including Biotics (Sussex, UK), Xenova (Slough, UK), Harbor Branch Oceangraphics Institute (Ft. Pierce, Fla.), and PharmaMar, U.S.A. (Cambridge, Mass.). In addition, natural and synthetically produced libraries are produced, if desired, according to methods known in the art, e.g., by standard extraction and fractionation methods.

In addition, methods for dereplication (e.g., taxonomic dereplication, biological dereplication, and chemical dereplication, or any combination thereof) or the elimination of replicates or repeats of materials already known for their therapeutic activities for neuroendocrine or pituitary disorders can be employed.

When a crude extract is found to prevent or delay onset of an endocrine disorder, further fractionation of the positive lead extract is necessary to isolate chemical constituents responsible for the observed effect. Thus, the goal of the extraction, fractionation, and purification process is the characterization and identification of a chemical entity within the crude extract having endocrine disorder-preventative or -palliative activities. The same assays described herein for the detection of activities in mixtures of compounds can be used to purify the active component and to test derivatives thereof. Methods of fractionation and purification of such heterogenous extracts are known in the art. If desired, compounds shown to be useful agents for treatment are chemically modified according to methods known in the art. Compounds identified as being of therapeutic value may be subsequently analyzed in the 7B2 knockout mouse described herein to determine if they can alleviate or exacerbate the symptoms of the diseased animal.

Administration of Reagents that Alter 7B2 Expression or Function

A 7B2 protein, a 7B2-encoding DNA, or a 7B2 expression- or function-altering compound may be administered within a pharmaceutically-acceptable diluent, carrier, or excipient, in unit dosage form to patients suffering from an endocrine disorder. Administration may begin before or after the patient is symptomatic. Any appropriate route of administration may be employed, for example, administration may be parenteral, intravenous, intra-arterial, subcutaneous, intramuscular, intracranial, intraorbital, ophthalmic, intraventricular, intracapsular, intraspinal, intrathecal, intracistemal, intraperitoneal, intranasal, aerosol, by suppositories, or oral administration. Therapeutic formulations may be in the form of liquid solutions or suspensions; for oral administration, formulations may be in the form of tablets or capsules; and for intranasal formulations, in the form of powders, nasal drops, or aerosols.

Methods well known in the art for making formulations are found, for example, in Remington's Pharmaceutical Sciences (18.sup.th edition), ed. A. Gennaro, 1990, Mack Publishing Company, Easton, Pa. Formulations for parenteral administration may, for example, contain excipients, sterile water, or saline, polyalkylene glycols such as polyethylene glycol, oils of vegetable origin, or hydrogenated napthalenes. Biocompatible, biodegradable lactide polymer, lactide/glycolide copolymer, or polyoxyethylene-polyoxypropylene copolymers may be used to control the release of the compounds. Other potentially useful parenteral delivery systems for 7B2 protein, 7B2 gene, or 7B2 expression- or function-enhancing compound compounds include ethylene-vinyl acetate copolymer particles, osmotic pumps, implantable infusion systems, and liposomes. Formulations for inhalation may contain excipients, for example, lactose, or may be aqueous solutions containing, for example, polyoxyethylene-9-lauryl ether, glycocholate and deoxycholate, or may be oily solutions for administration in the form of nasal drops, or as a gel.
 

Claim 1 of 8 Claims

1. A method for determining whether a compound is potentially useful for treating or alleviating the symptoms of an endocrine disorder associated with decreased 7B2 activity, said method comprising: (a) providing a cell comprising a reporter gene operably linked to the promoter from a human or rat 7B2 gene; (b) contacting said cell with said compound; (c) measuring the expression of said reporter gene; whereby a change in the level of said expression in response to said compound indicates that the compound is a candidate compound for treating or alleviating the symptoms of the endocrine disorder, and, (d) testing and analyzing said candidate compound identified in (c) in a model for the endocrine disorder, thereby determining whether the candidate compound is potentially useful for treating or alleviating the symptoms of the endocrine disorder, wherein said model comprises a mouse carrying a 7B2 gene homozygous mutation and having reduced 7B2 protein activity, or a cell line derived therefrom.

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