Viral-host interactions affecting neural differentiation of human progenitors

Viral-host interactions affecting neural differentiation of human progenitors

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology III
Grant Number: 
RB3-05219
Award Value: 
$1,372,660
Disease Focus: 
Infectious Disease
Neurological Disorders
Pediatrics
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
Status: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is the major cause of birth defects, almost all of which are neuronal in origin. Approximately 1% of newborns are infected, and of the 13% that are symptomatic at birth, 50% will have severe permanent hearing deficits, vision loss, motor impairment, and mental retardation. At least 14% of asymptomatic infants also will later show disabilities. Much of this effect is likely caused by HCMV affecting neural development in the fetus. Embryonic stem cells are an excellent source of human progenitors, which are cells that can turn into mature neurons i.e. neural differentiation. We know from published cell culture studies that HCMV affects neural progenitor cells during neural differentiation, but it is unclear as to what are the underlying molecular mechanisms for its effect. A major goal of our research is to understand at a high-resolution how HCMV controls the way neural progenitors become proper neurons. Elucidation of the genes that are affected will serve as a basis for therapeutic strategies to ameliorate the effects of HCMV infection in newborns. The significance of our studies also extends to the serious problem of HCMV infection in immunocompromised individuals, with recipients of allogeneic transplants having a high risk of severe disease and allograft rejection. This potential problem in stem cell therapy has received little attention thus far. The proposed use of stem cell transplantation in treating neuronal injury and neurodegenerative diseases, as well as transplantation of other organ-specific precursors, makes it imperative to understand how disseminated HCMV infection in immunosuppressed recipients will affect the function and differentiation of the cells.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is the major viral cause of birth defects. In 2009, there were 526,774 births in California, resulting in congenital HCMV infection in approximately 5,200 newborns, with at least 800 infants expected to have long-lasting disabilities. Congenital cytomegalovirus infection is the most common nongenetic congenital cause of deafness. In contrast, before the development of the rubella vaccine, less than 70 infants per year in the entire US were reported to have congenital rubella syndrome, also associated with deafness. The burden to families and the economic costs to society of congenital cytomegalovirus infection are immense, and there is no vaccine available. Our proposed research serves to form the basis of future therapies to ameliorate, or even reduce this medical burden. The significance of our studies also extends to the serious problem of HCMV infection in immunocompromised individuals who receive transplants of organs and stem cells from other individuals. Infection in these transplant recipients often results in severe disease and rejection of the transplant. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine has made a major commitment to provide funding to move stem cell-based therapies to clinical trials. The goal of using stem cell transplantation to treat neuronal injury and neurodegenerative diseases, as well as transplantation of other organ-specific precursors, makes it imperative to understand how disseminated HCMV infection in immunosuppressed recipients will affect the function and differentiation of the cells. Our research will provide the knowledge base to understand the genes that are changed during HCMV infection of human neural progenitors and neurons. It will also provide a foundation for studies of how other viruses will affect human neurons, and likely, other cell-types. Intellectual property from this work will feed into opportunities for antiviral strategies and increased jobs in biotech for Californians.
Progress Report: 

Year 1

Congenital human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infection is a major cause of central nervous system structural anomalies and sensory impairments in the newborn. It is likely that the timing of infection as well as the range of susceptible cells at the time of infection will affect the severity of the disease. A major goal of our research is to understand at a high-resolution the effects of HCMV infection on the neural lineage specification and maturation of stem and progenitor cells. Elucidation of the genes and cellular processes that are affected will serve as a basis for therapeutic strategies to ameliorate the effects of HCMV infection in newborns. The significance of our studies also extends to the serious problem of HCMV infection in immunocompromised individuals, with recipients of allogeneic transplants having a high risk of severe disease and allograft rejection. This potential problem in stem cell therapy has received little attention thus far. The proposed use of stem cell transplantation in treating neuronal injury and neurodegenerative diseases, as well as transplantation of other organ-specific precursors, makes it imperative to understand how disseminated HCMV infection in immunosuppressed recipients will affect the function and differentiation of the cells. This past year, we have made significant progress in accomplishing the goals of this project. We used human embryonic stem cells-derived primitive pre-rosette neural stem cells (pNSCs) maintained in chemically defined conditions to study host-HCMV interactions in early neural development. Infection of pNSCs with HCMV was largely inefficient and non-progressive. At low multiplicity of infection (MOI), we observed severe defects with regards to the proportion of cells expressing the major immediate-early proteins (IE) despite an optimal viral entry, thus indicating the existence of a blockade to specific pre-IE events. IE expression, even at high MOI, was found to be restricted to a subset of cells negative for the expression of the forebrain marker FORSE-1. Treatment of pNSCs with the caudalizing agent retinoic acid rescued IE expression, suggesting that the hindbrain microenvironment might be more permissive for the infection. Transactivation of the viral early genes was found to be severely debilitated and expression of the late genes was barely detectable even at high MOI. Differentiation of pNSCs into primitive neural progenitor cells (pNPCs) restored IE expression but not the transactivation of early and late genes. Increasing the number of viral particles bypassed this barrier to early gene expression and thus permitted expression of the late genes in pNPCs. Consequently, viral spread was only observed at high MOI but was largely restricted to one cycle of replication as secondarily infected cells failed to efficiently express early genes. Of note, virions produced in pNPCs and pNSCs were exclusively cell-associated. Finally, we found that viral genomes could persist in pNSCs culture up to a month after infection despite the absence of detectable IE expression by immunofluorescence. Clonogenic expansion of infected pNSCs revealed that the presence of viral DNA and IE proteins were insufficient to block host cell division therefore allowing the survival of viral genomes via cellular division rather than viral replication. These results highlight the complex array of hurdles that HCMV must overcome in order to infect primitive neural stem cells and suggest that these cells might act as a reservoir for the virus. To study in greater depth the molecular basis of the interaction of HCMV with cell of the neural lineage, we also have initiated high-throughput genomics approaches to analyze HCMV microRNAs, alterations in cellular microRNA and gene expression profiles, and global defects in host alternative splicing in infected and uninfected pNSC-derived NPCs. Interestingly, although there are many changes in host cell gene expression in the infected cells, there was only a small overlap with the set of changes we had found in infected human fibroblasts. This highlights the importance of performing these studies in the relevant targets of the virus in the developing fetus. We expect that the results of these studies will provide an unprecedented resolution of the effects on neurogenesis when HCMV infects a newborn, serve as a foundation for future therapeutic efforts in preventing the birth defects due to HCMV, and provide insight into the serious potential problem of disseminated HCMV in immunosuppressed individuals receiving transplanted allogeneic stem cells.

Year 2

Congenital human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infection is a major cause of central nervous system structural anomalies and sensory impairments in the newborn. A major goal of our research is to understand at a high-resolution the effects of HCMV infection on the neural lineage specification and maturation of stem and progenitor cells. Elucidation of the genes and cellular processes that are affected will serve as a basis for therapeutic strategies to ameliorate the effects of HCMV infection in newborns. The significance of our studies also extends to the serious problem of HCMV infection in immunocompromised individuals, with recipients of allogeneic transplants having a high risk of severe disease and allograft rejection. This potential problem in stem cell therapy has received little attention thus far. The proposed use of stem cell transplantation in treating neuronal injury and neurodegenerative diseases, as well as transplantation of other organ-specific precursors, makes it imperative to understand how disseminated HCMV infection in immunosuppressed recipients will affect the function and differentiation of the cells. This past year, we have made significant progress in accomplishing the goals of this project. We used human embryonic stem cell (hESC)-derived primitive pre-rosette neural stem cells (pNSCs) to study host-HCMV interactions in early neural development and found with several different lines of hESC-derived pNSCs that HCMV infection is inefficient and non-progressive. Differentiation of pNSCs into primitive neural progenitor cells (pNPCs) restored some viral early gene expression but not the transactivation of late genes. Impaired viral gene expression in pNSCs was not a result of inefficient viral entry or nuclear import of viral DNA but correlated with deficient nuclear import of the virion-associated protein UL82, which is believed to play a role in removing barriers to viral RNA synthesis. Additionally, we found that viral genomes could persist in pNSCs culture up to a month after infection despite the absence of detectable viral lytic gene expression, although we could also detect expression of viral latency-associated genes, suggesting that the virus becomes latent in pNSCs. To study in greater depth the molecular basis of the interaction of HCMV with cells of the neural lineage, we have continued high-throughput genomics approaches to analyze HCMV microRNAs, alterations in cellular microRNA and gene expression profiles, and global defects in host alternative splicing in infected and uninfected pNSC-derived NPCs. We found that in infected NPCs, there was specific downregulation of transcripts related to neuron differentiation. These findings demonstrate the capacity of HCMV infection to alter the neural identities of key precursor cells in the developing nervous system. We also analyzed our infected NPC RNA-seq database for differences in host mRNA polyadenylation patterns and found that over a hundred transcripts were significantly altered in terms of their 3' end cleavage site preference, with the majority of these events resulting in shortened 3' UTRs. Our finding that HCMV induces major changes in the transcriptome of NPCs, particularly at the level of neural genes, suggested that the virus might affect these cells functionally. To directly evaluate this, we differentiated pNSCs into midbrain dopaminergic (mDA) neurons and infected these cells at different times of the differentiation process. Seeding pNSCs in differentiation medium for 6 weeks yields a high frequency of mature neurons with long axonal projections. Infection of pNSCs at the start of differentiation greatly reduces generation of beta III-tubulin+ neurons 4 weeks later, and prevents differentiation to mature MAP2+ neurons. Infection after 1 week of differentiation also reduces the number of beta III-tubulin+ neurons and results in massive cell death. Infection at 2 weeks after differentiation start does not reduce the number of βIII-tubulin+ or MAP2+ neurons, but the cells display major anomalies. Since neurons are highly sensitive to oxidative stresses and HCMV infection increases the production of reactive oxygen species in fibroblasts, we investigated whether the same effect occurred in neuronal cultures. When pNSCs were infected at week 4 after differentiation, high levels of ROS were detected. These results suggest that the complex effects of HCMV infection at various stages of neural cell differentiation on both cell survival and maturation may account for the broad range of birth defects. We expect that the results of these studies will provide an unprecedented resolution of the effects on neurogenesis when HCMV infects a newborn, serve as a foundation for future therapeutic efforts in preventing the birth defects due to HCMV, and provide insight into the serious potential problem of disseminated HCMV in immunosuppressed individuals receiving transplanted allogeneic stem cells.

© 2013 California Institute for Regenerative Medicine