Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal neurodegenerative disease of the motor nervous system. We show using multielectrode array and patch-clamp recordings that hyperexcitability detected by clinical neurophysiological studies of ALS patients is recapitulated in induced pluripotent stem cell-derived motor neurons from ALS patients harboring superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1), C9orf72, and fused-in-sarcoma mutations. Motor neurons produced from a genetically corrected but otherwise isogenic SOD1(+/+) stem cell line do not display the hyperexcitability phenotype. SOD1(A4V/+) ALS patient-derived motor neurons have reduced delayed-rectifier potassium current amplitudes relative to control-derived motor neurons, a deficit that may underlie their hyperexcitability. The Kv7 channel activator retigabine both blocks the hyperexcitability and improves motor neuron survival in vitro when tested in SOD1 mutant ALS cases. Therefore, electrophysiological characterization of human stem cell-derived neurons can reveal disease-related mechanisms and identify therapeutic candidates.
The CRISPR-Cas9 system has the potential to revolutionize genome editing in human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs), but its advantages and pitfalls are still poorly understood. We systematically tested the ability of CRISPR-Cas9 to mediate reporter gene knockin at 16 distinct genomic sites in hPSCs. We observed efficient gene targeting but found that targeted clones carried an unexpectedly high frequency of insertion and deletion (indel) mutations at both alleles of the targeted gene. These indels were induced by Cas9 nuclease, as well as Cas9-D10A single or dual nickases, and often disrupted gene function. To overcome this problem, we designed strategies to physically destroy or separate CRISPR target sites at the targeted allele and developed a bioinformatic pipeline to identify and eliminate clones harboring deleterious indels at the other allele. This two-pronged approach enables the reliable generation of knockin hPSC reporter cell lines free of unwanted mutations at the targeted locus.
Using transgenic mice harboring a targeted LacZ insertion, we studied the expression pattern of the C9ORF72 mouse ortholog (3110043O21Rik). Unlike most genes that are mutated in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which are ubiquitously expressed, the C9ORF72 ortholog was most highly transcribed in the neuronal populations that are sensitive to degeneration in ALS and frontotemporal dementia. Thus, our results provide a potential explanation for the cell type specificity of neuronal degeneration caused by C9ORF72 mutations.
Neurons produced from stem cells have emerged as a tool to identify new therapeutic targets for neurological diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). However, it remains unclear to what extent these new mechanistic insights will translate to animal models, an important step in the validation of new targets. Previously, we found that glia from mice carrying the SOD1G93A mutation, a model of ALS, were toxic to stem cell-derived human motor neurons. We use pharmacological and genetic approaches to demonstrate that the prostanoid receptor DP1 mediates this glial toxicity. Furthermore, we validate the importance of this mechanism for neural degeneration in vivo. Genetic ablation of DP1 in SOD1G93A mice extended life span, decreased microglial activation, and reduced motor neuron loss. Our findings suggest that blocking DP1 may be a therapeutic strategy in ALS and demonstrate that discoveries from stem cell models of disease can be corroborated in vivo.
Although many distinct mutations in a variety of genes are known to cause Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), it remains poorly understood how they selectively impact motor neuron biology and whether they converge on common pathways to cause neuronal degeneration. Here, we have combined reprogramming and stem cell differentiation approaches with genome engineering and RNA sequencing to define the transcriptional and functional changes that are induced in human motor neurons by mutant SOD1. Mutant SOD1 protein induced a transcriptional signature indicative of increased oxidative stress, reduced mitochondrial function, altered subcellular transport, and activation of the ER stress and unfolded protein response pathways. Functional studies demonstrated that these pathways were perturbed in a manner dependent on the SOD1 mutation. Finally, interrogation of stem-cell-derived motor neurons produced from ALS patients harboring a repeat expansion in C9orf72 indicates that at least a subset of these changes are more broadly conserved in ALS.
While iPSCs have created unprecedented opportunities for drug discovery, there remains uncertainty concerning the path to the clinic for candidate therapeutics discovered with their use. Here we share lessons that we learned, and believe are generalizable to similar efforts, while taking a discovery made using iPSCs into a clinical trial.
Genomic DNA replicates in a choreographed temporal order that impacts the distribution of mutations along the genome. We show here that DNA replication timing is shaped by genetic polymorphisms that act in cis upon megabase-scale DNA segments. In genome sequences from proliferating cells, read depth along chromosomes reflected DNA replication activity in those cells. We used this relationship to analyze variation in replication timing among 161 individuals sequenced by the 1000 Genomes Project. Genome-wide association of replication timing with genetic variation identified 16 loci at which inherited alleles associate with replication timing. We call these "replication timing quantitative trait loci" (rtQTLs). rtQTLs involved the differential use of replication origins, exhibited allele-specific effects on replication timing, and associated with gene expression variation at megabase scales. Our results show replication timing to be shaped by genetic polymorphism and identify a means by which inherited polymorphism regulates the mutability of nearby sequences.
Human neurodegenerative disorders are among the most difficult to study. In particular, the inability to readily obtain the faulty cell types most relevant to these diseases has impeded progress for decades. Recent advances in pluripotent stem cell technology now grant access to substantial quantities of disease-pertinent neurons both with and without predisposing mutations. While this suite of technologies has revolutionized the field of 'in vitro disease modeling', great care must be taken in their deployment if robust, durable discoveries are to be made. Here we review what we perceive to be several of the stumbling blocks in the use of stem cells for the study of neurological disease and offer strategies to overcome them.
In mammals, cytosine methylation is predominantly restricted to CpG dinucleotides and stably distributed across the genome, with local, cell-type-specific regulation directed by DNA binding factors. This comparatively static landscape is in marked contrast with the events of fertilization, during which the paternal genome is globally reprogrammed. Paternal genome demethylation includes the majority of CpGs, although methylation remains detectable at several notable features. These dynamics have been extensively characterized in the mouse, with only limited observations available in other mammals, and direct measurements are required to understand the extent to which early embryonic landscapes are conserved. We present genome-scale DNA methylation maps of human preimplantation development and embryonic stem cell derivation, confirming a transient state of global hypomethylation that includes most CpGs, while sites of residual maintenance are primarily restricted to gene bodies. Although most features share similar dynamics to those in mouse, maternally contributed methylation is divergently targeted to species-specific sets of CpG island promoters that extend beyond known imprint control regions. Retrotransposon regulation is also highly diverse, and transitions from maternally to embryonically expressed elements. Together, our data confirm that paternal genome demethylation is a general attribute of early mammalian development that is characterized by distinct modes of epigenetic regulation.
Mechanistic insights into human disease may enable the development of treatments that are effective in broad patient populations. The confluence of gene-editing technologies, induced pluripotent stem cells, and genome-wide association as well as DNA sequencing studies is enabling new approaches for illuminating the molecular basis of human disease. We discuss the opportunities and challenges of combining these technologies and provide a workflow for interrogating the contribution of disease-associated candidate genetic variants to disease-relevant phenotypes. Finally, we discuss the potential utility of human pluripotent stem cells for placing disease-associated genetic variants into molecular pathways.