Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic inflammatory disease of the central nervous system (CNS) that results in demyelination and axonal loss, culminating in extensive disability through defects in neurologic function. The demyelination that defines MS pathology is progressive over time; however, studies indicate that myelin repair can occur during the course of disease in patients with MS and in animal models designed to mimic the immunopathogenesis of MS. While it is generally thought that endogenous oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) are largely responsible for spontaneous remyelination, it is unclear why these cells are only able to transiently induce myelin repair in the presence of ongoing disease. Along these lines, two therapies for demyelinating diseases look promising; implanting OPCs into sites of neuroinflammation that are directly capable of inducing remyelination of the damaged axons and/or modifying the local environment to stimulate and support remyelination by endogenous OPCs. Indeed, we have shown that human embryonic stem cell (hESC)-derived oligodendrocytes surgically implanted into the spinal cords of mice with virally induced demyelination promoted focal remyelination and axonal sparing. We are currently investigating how the implanted OPCs positionally migrate to areas of on-going demyelination and the role these cells play in repairing the damaged CNS. The purpose of this research is to identify the underlying mechanism(s) responsible for hESC-induced remyelination.
Oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs) are important in mediating remyelination in response to demyelinating lesions. As such, OPCs represent an attractive cell population for use in cell replacement therapies to promote remyelination for treatment of human demyelinating diseases. High-purity OPCs have been generated from hESC and have been shown to initiate remyelination associated with improved motor skills in animal models of demyelination. We have previously determined that engraftment of hESC-derived OPCs into mice with established demyelination does not significantly improve clinical recovery nor reduce the severity of demyelination. Importantly, remyelination is limited following OPC transplantation. These findings highlight that the microenvironment is critical with regards to the remyelination potential of engrafted cells. In addition, we have determined that human OPCs are capable of migrating in response to proinflammatory molecules often associated with human neuroinflammatory diseases such as multiple sclerosis. This is an important observation in that it will likely be necessary for engrafted OPCs to be able to positionally navigate within tissue in order to move from the site of surgical transplantation to areas of damage to initiate repair and tissue remodeling. Finally, we have also made a novel discovery of a unique signaling pathway that protects OPCs from damage/death in response to treatment with proinflammatory cytokines. We believe this is an important and translationally relevant observation as OPCs are critical in contributing to remyelination and remyelination failure is an important clinical feature for many human demyelinating diseases inclusing spinal cord injury and MS. We have identified a putative protective ligand/receptor interaction affords protection from cytokine-induced apoptosis. These findings may reveal novel avenues for therapeutic intervention to prevent damage/death of OPCs and enhance remyelination.
We have shown that fetal human central nervous system derived stem cells (HuCNS-SC) transplanted into a mouse model of spinal cord injury (SCI) improve behavioral recovery. Transplanted human cells differentiated into myelinating oligodendrocytes and synapse forming neurons. These data suggest that efficacy is dependent upon successful cell engraftment and appropriate cell fate. The strain of mice (NOD-scid mice) are immunodeficient, which allows transplanted human cell populations to engraft and promote behavioral recovery in the absence of confounds due to a rejection response and allows us to avoid using immunosuppressant drugs. Clinically, however, it is clear that transplantation of therapeutic human cell populations will require administration of immunosuppressants (IS) such as CsA, FK506, or Rapamycin. These immunosuppressants work by altering signaling pathways which are also present within stem cells. Hence, in addition to promoting engraftment, IS have the potential to affect stem cell proliferation and/or differentiation. In Aim 1A, we tested this hypothesis in a cell culture model and found that HuCNS-SC fate and proliferation were altered by exposure to different IS. CsA and FK506 decreased the number of astrocytes in culture compared to control conditions, while Rapamyin increased the number of astrocytes. All three IS increased the number of ß-tubulin III positive neuron-like cells.
In Aim 1B, we tested whether cells of the inflammatory system (neutrophils and macrophages) could also directly influence stem cell proliferation and fate. To test this possibility, we exposed either fetal or embryonic neural stem cells to cell culture media from co-cultures of neutrophils or macrophages. We found that neutrophil-mediated release of inflammatory proteins promotes astrocyte differentiation of fetal derived neural stem cells but not embryonic derived neural stem cells. One way inflammatory cells might be working is via oxidative stress (e.g. hydrogen peroxide). Interestingly, excess hydrogen peroxide promoted more extensive cell death of embryonic derived versus fetal fetal derived neural stem cells, suggesting an intrinsic difference in the vulnerably of these two cell populations to oxidative stress. Conditioned media from neutrophils was found to reduce proliferation in fetal neural stem cells but not embryonic derived neural stem cells. In addition, we found neutrophil conditioned media promotes human fetal NSC astrocytic fate and migration towards sites of injury epicenter in an animal model of spinal cord injury; followup cell culture experiments enabled us to determine that neutrophil synthesized complement proteins were having a direct effect on stem cell fate and migration, resulting in a patent filing. These data demonstrate that fetal NSCs and ES-NSCs are very different by nature and nurture.
In Aim 2, we evaluated the hypothesis that IS could alter stem cell proliferation and/or fate in vivo, independent of rejection from the recipient’s immune system. HuCNS-SC were transplanted into NOD-scid mice, which have no immune system and hence cannot mount an immune response to the foreign cells. These animals received different immunosuppressants (CsA, FK506, Rapamycin, or vehicle) daily after transplantation until sacrifice 13 weeks later to determine if the total number of surviving human cells, or the end cell fate of the transplanted cells would be altered due to exposure to IS drugs compared to the vehicle control group. Behavioral recovery was assessed via open-field walking assessment, horizontal ladder beam testing, and video based “CatWalk” gait analysis. IS administration did not affect behavioral recovery by any of these measures compared to HuCNS-SC transplanted animals that received vehicle as an IS. Spinal cords were dissected, sectioned, and immunostained using human-specific markers in conjunction with cell lineage/fate and proliferation markers. Cell engraftment, proliferation, and fate were quantified using unbiased methods. The average number of engrafted human cells in uninjured animals was 319,700 vs 214,900 in vehicle treated injured controls. Human cell engraftment in any IS group was not significantly different than vehicle injured controls. Interestingly, 67% of human cells differentiated into Olig2+ oligodendrocyte-like cells in the uninjured controls, while 45% were Olig2 positive in vehicle treated injured controls. IS treatment did not alter Olig2 cell numbers in injured animals. 9% of human cells differentiated into GFAP positive astrocyte-like cells in the uninjured controls, compared with 9% in vehicle treated injured controls. IS treatment did not alter GFAP cell numbers in injured animals. Quantification of proliferation and other lineage markers is ongoing. The important finding thus far is that when administered to whole animals with a human stem cell transplant, a range of immunosuppressant drugs does not appear to significantly alter stem cell fate.
A main goal of research in our laboratory is to identify strategies to promote neural repair in spinal cord injury and related neurological conditions. On the one hand, we have been using mouse models of spinal cord injury to study a long-standing puzzle in the field, namely, why axons, the fibers that connect nerve cells, do not regenerate after injury to the brain and the spinal cord. On the other hand, relevant to this CIRM SEED grant, we have started to explore the developmental and therapeutic potential of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) for neural repair. We do this by first developing a method to genetically manipulate a HUES line of hESCs. The advent of hESCs has offered enormous potential for regenerative medicine and for basic understanding of human biology. To attain the full potential of hESCs as a tool both for therapeutic development and for basic research, we need to greatly enhance and expand our ability to genetically manipulate hESCs. A major goal for our SEED grant-sponsored research is to establish methods to genetically manipulate the HUES series of hESC lines, which are gaining wide utility in the research community due to the advantages on their growth characteristics over previously developed hESC lines. The first gene that we targeted in HUES cells, Fezf2, is critical for the development of the corticospinal tract, which plays important roles in fine motor control in humans and hence represents an important target for recovery and repair after spinal cord injury. By introducing a fluorescent reporter to the Fezf2 locus, we are now able to monitor the differentiation of hESCs into Fezf2-expressing neuronal lineages. This work has been published. A second goal is to start to explore the developmental and therapeutic potential of these cells and cells that derived from these cells in the brain and spinal cord. We are currently utilizing the cell line genetically engineered above to develop an efficient method to differentiate HUES cells into subcerebral neurons. Results so far have been encouraging. Efforts are also underway to overexpress Fezf2 as a complementary approach to drive the differentiation of HUES cells into specific neuronal types. Together, these studies will lay down the foundation for therapeutic development with HUES cells and their more differentiated derivatives for neurological disorders including spinal cord injury where neural regeneration can be beneficial. The CIRM SEED grant has allowed us to pursue a new, exciting path of research that we would have not pursued had we not been awarded the grant. Furthermore, the CIRM funded research has opened a new window of opportunity for us to explore genetic engineering of hESCs to model human neurological conditions in future.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the most frequent neurodegenerative movement disorder caused by damage of dopamine-producing nerve cells (DA neuron) in patient brain. The main symptoms of PD are age-dependent tremors (shakiness). There is no cure for PD despite administration of levodopa can help to control symptoms.
Most of PD cases are sporadic in the general population. However, about 10-15% of PD cases show familial history. Genetic studies of familial cases resulted in identification of PD-linked gene changes, namely mutations, in six different genes, including α-synuclein, LRRK2, uchL1, parkin, PINK1, and DJ-1. Nevertheless, it is not known how abnormality in these genes cause PD. Our long-term research goal is to understand PD pathogenesis at cellular and molecular levels via studying functions of these PD-linked genes and dysfunction of their disease-associated genetic variants.
A proper experimental model plays critical roles in defining pathogenic mechanisms of diseases and for developing therapy. A number of cellular and animal models have been developed for PD research. Nevertheless, a model closely resembling generation processes of human DA nerve cells is not available because human neurons are unable to continuously propagate in culture. Nevertheless, human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) provide an opportunity to fulfill the task. hESCs can grow and be programmed to generate DA nerve cells. In this study, we propose to create a PD model using hESCs.
During the funding period, we have generated a number of human ES cell lines overexpressing α-synuclein and two disease-associated α-synuclein mutants. These cells are being used to determine the cellular and molecular effects of the disease genes on human ES cells and the PD affected dopaminergic neurons made from these cells. We have found that normal and disease α-synucleins have little effect on hESC growth and differentiation. We will continue to investigate roles of this protein in modulating PD affected dopaminergic neurons. Completion of this study will allow us to study the pathological mechanism of PD and to design strategies to treat the disease.
The differentiation of stem cells into clinically-useful cell types is directly dependent on the accurate regulation of gene activation/repression. During the last scientific period we have focused our research on aim 2 of the grant proposal -– to characterize enzymes that are recruited to DNA for the regulation of genes. This effort has employed new DNA sequencing technologies to understand how the lysine specific demethylase (KDM1, LSD1) control gene expression in embryonic stem cells.
A promising approach to alleviating the symptoms of Parkinson's disease is to transplant healthy dopaminergic neurons into the brains of these patients. Due to the large number of transplant neurons required for each patient and the difficulty in obtaining these neurons from human tissue, the most viable transplantation strategy will utilize not fetal dopaminergic neurons but dopaminergic neurons derived from human stem cell lines. While transplantation has been promising, it has had limited success, in part due to the ability of the new neurons to find their correct targets in the brain. This incorrect targeting may be due to the lack of appropriate growth and guidance cues as well as to inflammation in the brain that occurs in response to transplantation, or to a combination of the two. Cytokines released upon inflammation can affect the ability of the new neurons to connect, and thus ultimately will affect their biological function. In out laboratory we have been examining which guidance molecules are required for proper targeting of dopaminergic neurons during normal development and have identified necessary cues. We have now extended these studies to determine that two of the molecules have dramitc effects on dopaminergic neurons made from human embryonic stem cellls and that at least in vitro, cytokines do not mask these effects. Ultimately, an understanding of how the environment of the transplanted brain influences the ability of the healthy new neurons to connect to their correct targets will lead to genetic, and/or drug-based strategies for optimizing transplantation therapy.
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.
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.
Human neural stem cells (hNSCs) expressing CXCR4 have been found to migrate in vivo toward an infarcted area that are representative of central nervous system (CNS) injuries, where local reactive astrocytes and vascular endothelium up-regulate the SDF-1α secretion level and generate a concentration gradient. Exposure of hNSCs to SDF-1α and the consequent induction of CXCR4-mediated signaling triggers a series of intracellular processes associated with fundamental aspects of survival, proliferation and more importantly, proper lamination and migration during the early stages of brain development . To date, there is no crystal structure available for chemokine receptors [2, 3]. Structural and modeling studies of SDF-1α and D-(1~10)-L-(11~69)-vMIP-II in complexes with CXCR4 TM helical regions led us to a plausible “two-pocket” model for CXCR4 interaction with agonists or antagonists. [4-6] In this study, we extended the employment of this model into the novel design strategy for highly potent and selective CXCR4 agonist molecules, with potentials in activating CXCR4-mediated hNSC migration by mimicking a benign version of the proinflamatory signal triggered by SDF-1α. Successful verification of directed, extensive migration of hNSCs, both in vitro and in transplanted uninjured adult mouse brains, with the latter manifesting significant advantages over the natural CXCR4 agonist SDF-1α in terms of both distribution and stability in mouse brains, strongly supports the effectiveness and high potentials of these de novo designed CXCR4 agonist molecules in optimizing directed migration of transplanted human stem cells during the reparative therapeutics for a broad range of neurodegenerative diseases in a more foreseeable future.
Our final progress report is divided into 3 subsections, each addressing progress in the 3 fundamental areas of investigation for the successful completion of this project:
(1) De-novo design and synthesis of CXCR4-specific SDF-1α analogs.
(2) In vitro studies on validating biological potencies of molecules in (1) in activating CXCR4 down-stream signaling.
(3) In vivo studies on migration of transplanted neural precursor cells (NPCs) in co-administration of molecules with validated biological activities in (2).
Parkinson’s disease is the most common movement disorder due to the degeneration of brain dopaminergic neurons. One strategy to combat the disease is to replenish these neurons in the patients, either through transplantation of stem cell-derived dopaminergic neurons, or through promoting endogenous dopaminergic neuronal production or survival. We have carried out a small molecule based screen to identify compounds that can affect the development and survival of dopaminergic neurons from pluripotent stem cells. The small molecules that we have identified will not only serve as important research tools for understanding dopaminergic neuron development and survival, but potentially could also lead to therapeutics in the induction of dopaminergic neurons for treating Parkinson’s disease.
The goal of this proposal was to generate forebrain neurons from human embryonic stem cells. Our general strategy was to sequentially expose ES cells to signals that would lead the cells to acquire characteristics typical of differentiated brain cells that are lost in disorders such as Alzheimer's Disease. The most important advance of the research was our ability to achieve this goal. We now have a well-developed protocol that can be used to generate forebrain cells in culture. We have found that these cells not only express genes typical of these cells, they extend axons and dendrites and can make synaptic connections. These cells could be very useful for transplantation studies, as well as for developing cell culture models of Alzheimer's disease. Finally, we have discovered that the same protocol is effective in generating forebrain neurons from iPS cells, attesting to the general usefulness of this strategy.