Molecular regulation of calvarial suture morphogenesis and human craniofacial diversity

Coussens, Anna Kathleen (2007) Molecular regulation of calvarial suture morphogenesis and human craniofacial diversity. PhD by Publication, Queensland University of Technology.


This body of work is concerned with the genetics of craniofacial morphology and specifically with that of the cranial sutures which form fibrous articulations between the calvarial bones. The premature fusion of these sutures, known as craniosynostosis, is a common developmental abnormality and has been extensively utilised here as a tool through which to study the genetics of suture morphogenesis and craniofacial diversity.

Investigations began with a search for polymorphisms associated with normal variation in human craniofacial characteristics. Denaturing High-Performance Liquid chromatography was used to identify polymorphisms in two genes causative for

craniosynostosis by analysing DNA from a large cohort of individuals from four

ethnogeographic populations. A single nucleotide polymorphism in fibroblast growth factor receptor 1 was identified as being associated with variation in the cephalic index, a common measure of cranial shape.

To further, and specifically, investigate the molecular processes of suture morphogenesis gene expression was compared between unfused and prematurely fusing/fused suture tissues isolated from patients with craniosynostosis. Two approaches, both utilising Affymetrix gene expression microarrays, were used to identify genes differentially expressed during premature suture fusion. The first was a novel method which utilised the observation that explant cells from both fused and unfused suture tissue, cultured in minimal medium, produce a gene expression profile characteristic of minimally differentiated osteoblastic cells. Consequently, gene expression was compared between prematurely fused suture tissues and their corresponding in vitro de-differentiated cells. In addition to those genes known to be involved in suture morphogenesis, a large number of novel genes were identified which were up-regulated in the differentiated in vivo state and are thus implicated in premature suture fusion and in vivo osteoblast differentiation.

The second microarray study involved an extensive analysis of 16 suture tissues and compared gene expression between unfused (n=9) and fusing/fused sutures (n=7).

Again, both known genes and a substantially large number of novel genes were identified as being differentially expressed. Some of these novel genes included retinol binding protein 4 (RBP4), glypican 3 (GPC3), C1q tumour necrosis factor 3 (C1QTNF3), and WNT inhibitory factor 1 (WIF1). The known functions of these genes are suggestive of potential roles in suture morphogenesis. Realtime quantitative RT PCR (QRT-PCR) was used to verify the differential expression patterns observed for 11 genes and Western blot analysis and confocal microscopy was used to investigate the protein expression for 3 genes of interest. RBP4 was found to be localised on the ectocranial surface of unfused sutures and in cells lining the osteogenic fronts while GPC3 was localised to suture mesenchyme of unfused sutures.

A comparison between each unfused suture (coronal, sagittal, metopic, and lambdoid) demonstrated that gene expression profiles are suture-specific which, based on the identification of differentially expressed genes, suggests possible molecular bases for the differential timing of normal fusion and the response of each suture to different craniosynostosis mutations. One observation of particular interest was the presence of cartilage in unfused lambdoid sutures, suggesting a role for chondrogenesis in posterior skull sutures which have generally been thought to develop by intramembranous ossification without a cartilage precursor.

Finally, the effects of common media supplements used in in vitro experiments to stimulate differentiation of calvarial suture-derived cells were investigated with respect to their ability to induce in vivo-like gene expression. The response to standard differentiation medium (ascorbic acid + β-glycerophosphate) with and without dexamethasone was measured by both mineralisation and matrix formation assays and QRT-PCR of genes identified in the above described microarray studies. Both media induced collagen matrix and bone nodule formation indicative of differentiating osteoblasts. However, the genes expression profiles induced by both media differed and neither recapitulated the levels and profiles of gene expression observed in vivo for cells isolated from both fused and unfused suture tissues. This study has implications for translating results from in vitro work to the in vivo situation. Significantly, the dedifferentiation microarray study identified differentially expressed genes whose products may be considered candidates as more appropriate osteogenic supplements that may be used during in vitro experiments to better induce in vivo-like osteoblast differentiation.

This study has made a substantial contribution to the identification of novel genes and pathways involved in controlling human suture morphogenesis and craniofacial diversity. The results from this research will stimulate new areas of inquiry which will one day aid in the development of better diagnostics and therapeutics for craniosynostosis, and other craniofacial and more general skeletal abnormalities.

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ID Code: 16481
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD by Publication)
Supervisor: Hughes, Ian, Morris, Charles, van Daal, Angela, & Anderson, Peter
Keywords: craniosynostosis, suture morphogenesis, skull growth, osteoblast differentiation, de-differentiation, premature suture fusion, microarray, craniofacial diversity, cranial morphology, SNP, fibroblast growth factor, Wnt signalling, ephrin/Eph signalling, RBP4, GPC3, C1QTNF3, WIF1, LEF1, SATB2, RARRES1
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Department: Faculty of Science
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Anna Kathleen Coussens
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 04:04
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2017 14:41

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