Development of human ES cell lines as a model system for Alzheimer disease drug discovery

Development of human ES cell lines as a model system for Alzheimer disease drug discovery

Funding Type: 
SEED Grant
Grant Number: 
RS1-00247
Approved funds: 
$473,963
Disease Focus: 
Alzheimer's Disease
Neurological Disorders
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
Public Abstract: 
Alzheimer disease (AD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that currently affects over 4.5 million Americans. By the middle of the century, the prevalence of AD in the USA is projected to almost quadruple. As current therapies do not abate the underlying disease process, it is very likely that AD will continue to be a clinical, social, and economic burden. Progress has been made in our understanding of AD pathogenesis by studying transgenic mouse models of the disease and by utilizing primary neuronal cell cultures derived from rodents. However, key proteins that are critical to the pathogenesis of this disease exhibit many species-specific differences at both a biophysical and functional level. Additional species differences in other as yet unidentified AD-related proteins are likely to also exist. Thus, there is an urgent need to develop novel models of AD that recapitulate the complex array of human proteins involved in this disease. Cell culture-based models that allow for rapid high-throughput screening and the identification of novel compounds and drug targets are also critically needed. To that end we propose to model both sporadic and familial forms of AD by generating two novel human embryonic stem cell lines (hES cells). Differentiation of these lines along a neuronal lineage will provide researchers with an easily accessible and reproducible neuronal cell culture model of AD. These cells will also allow high-throughput screening and experimentation in neuronal cells with a species-relevant complement of human proteins. In Aim 1 we will develop and characterize hES cell lines designed to model both sporadic and familial forms of AD. To model sporadic AD we will stably transfect HUES7 hES cells (developed by Douglas Melton) with lentiviral constructs coding for human wild type amyloid precursor protein (APP-695) under control of the human APP promoter. APP is well expressed within hES cells and upregulated upon neuronal differentiation. To model familial AD and generate cells that exhibit a more aggressive formation of oligomeric A species we will also develop a second hES cell line stably transfected with human APP that includes the Arctic (E693G) mutation.In Aim 2 we will utilize our wild-type APP hES cells to perform a high-throughput siRNA screen. We will utilize AMAXA reverse-nucleofection in conjunction with a human druggable genome siRNA array (Dharmacon) that targets 7309 genes considered to be potential therapeutic targets. Following transfection conditioned media will be examined by a sensitive ELISA to identify novel targets that modulate A levels. In addition a Thioflavin S assay will determine any effects on A aggregation. Follow-up experiments will confirm promising candidates identified in the high-throughput screen. Taken together these studies aim to establish novel AD-specific hES cell lines and identify promising new therapeutic targets for this devastating disease.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Alzheimer disease (AD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that currently affects over 500 thousand Californians. As the baby-boomer generation ages the prevalence of AD in California is projected to almost quadruple such that 1 in every 45 individuals will be afflicted. As current therapies do not abate the underlying disease process, it is very likely that AD will continue to be a major clinical, social, and economic burden. Some estimates have even suggested that AD alone may bankrupt the current Californian health care system. Progress has been made in our understanding of AD by studying rodent-based models of the disease. However, key proteins that are critical to the disease exhibit many species-specific differences at both a biophysical and functional level. Thus, there is an urgent need to develop novel models of AD that exhibit the complex array of human proteins involved in this disease. Cell culture-based models that also allow for rapid high-throughput screening and the identification of novel compounds and drug targets are also in critical need. The proposed studies aim to utilize human embryonic stem (hES) cells to establish a novel cell culture based model of Alzheimer’s disease. Once developed these cells will provide Californian researchers with a unique tool to investigate genes and proteins that influence the progress of AD. In this proposal we will also utilize these hES cells to perform a high-throughput screen of over 7300 genes to identify multiple novel drug targets that may critically regulate the development of this disease. Taken together these studies aim to establish novel AD-specific hES cell lines that can be utilized by multiple Californian researchers to identify promising new therapeutic targets for this devastating disease.
Progress Report: 

Year 1

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common age-related neurodegenerative disorder. It is characterized by an irreversible loss of neurons accompanied by the accumulation of extracellular amyloid plaques and intraneuronal neurofibrillary tangles. Currently, 5.3 million Americans are afflicted with this insidious disorder, including over 588,000 in the State of California alone. Mouse models of AD have contributed significantly to our understanding of the proteins and factors involved in the pathology of AD. However, there are critical differences between mouse and human cell physiology that likely dramatically influence the development of AD-related pathologies. Hence, there is an urgent need to develop novel human neuronal cell-based models of AD. To achieve this goal, we have generated stable human embryonic stem cell (hES) lines over-expressing the gene for human amyloid precursor protein (APP). We succeeded in creating several lines of hES cells that stably express either wild-type (unaltered) APP or APP that includes rare familial mutations known to cause early-onset cases of AD. In each line, transgene expression is driven under control of the human APP proximal promoter. Mutant versions of APP utilized include the “Swedish” mutation which increases production of Aß and the “Arctic” mutation which increases the assembly and accumulation of synaptotoxic Aß oligomers and protofibrils. The generation of lines that harbor familial mutations in APP both provides an aggressive model of AD, to facilitate the identification of targets that modulate not only Aß production but also the assembly of toxic oligomeric species. In addition to generating stable HUES7 and H9 cell lines over-expressing mutant and wild type forms of APP, we also succeeded in establishing a neuronal differentiation protocol which results in 80% of cells adopting a mature neuronal fate. Importantly, we have also verified by biochemical measures that APP-overexpressing cells produce significantly elevated levels of Aß. As a result we are now preparing to utilize these novel cell lines to identify and examine genes that regulate Aß production and hence the development of AD.

Year 2

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common age-related neurodegenerative disorder. Currently, 5.3 million individuals are afflicted with this insidious disorder, including over 588,000 in the State of California alone. Unfortunately, existing therapies provide only palliative relief. Although transgenic mouse models and cell culture experiments have contributed significantly to our understanding of the proteins and factors involved in the pathology of AD, these approaches are beset by certain critical limitations. Most notably, mouse models by definition are not based on human cells and cell culture models have been limited to non-human or non-neuronal cells. Hence, there is an urgent need to develop a human neuronal cell-based model of AD. To address this need, we have engineered human embryonic stem cell lines to overexpress mutant human genes that cause early-onset familial AD. These novel stem cell lines will provide a valuable system to test therapies and enhance our understanding of the mechanisms that mediate this devastating disease. Interestingly, we have found that overexpression of these AD-related genes can trigger the rapid differentiation of human embryonic stem cells into neuronal cells. We have examined the mechanisms involved and anticipate that our findings may provide a novel and rapid method to generate neurons from embryonic stem cells.

© 2013 California Institute for Regenerative Medicine