Neurological Disorders

Coding Dimension ID: 
303
Coding Dimension path name: 
Neurological Disorders

Role of the NMD RNA Decay Pathway in Maintaining the Stem-Like State

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology IV
Grant Number: 
RB4-06345
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 360 450
Disease Focus: 
Neurological Disorders
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
A subset of intellectual disability cases in humans are caused by mutations in an X-linked gene essential for a quality control mechanism called nonsense-mediated RNA decay (NMD). Patients with mutations in this gene—UPF3B—commonly have not only ID, but also schizophrenia, autism, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Thus, the study of UPF3B and NMD may provide insight into a wide spectrum of cognitive and psychological disorders. To examine how mutations in UPF3B can cause mental defects, we will generate and characterize induced-pluripotent stem cells from intellectual disability patients with mutations in the UPF3B gene. In addition to having a role in neural development, our recent evidence suggests that NMD is important for maintaining the identity of ES cells and progenitor cells. How does NMD do this? While NMD is a quality control mechanism, it is also a well characterized biochemical pathway that serves to rapidly degrade specific subsets of normal messenger ribonucleic acids (mRNAs), the transiently produced copies of our genetic material: deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). We have obtained evidence that NMD preferentially degrades mRNAs that interfere with the stem cell program (i.e., NMD promotes the decay mRNAs encoding proteins that promote differentiation and inhibit cell proliferation). In this proposal, we will identify the target mRNAs of NMD in stem and progenitor cells and directly address the role of NMD in maintaining the stem-like state.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
iPS cells provide a means to elucidate the mechanisms underlying diseases that afflict a growing number of Californians. Our proposed project concerns making and testing iPS cells from patients with mutations in the UPF3B gene, all of whom have intellectual disabilities. In addition, many of these patients have autism, attention-deficit disorders, and schizophrenia. By using iPS cells to identify the cellular and molecular defects in these patients, we have the potential to ultimately ameliorate the symptoms of many of these patients. This is important, as over 1.6 million people in California have serious mental illness. Moreover, a large proportion of patients with UPF3B mutations have autism, a disorder that has undergone an alarming 12-fold increase in California between 1987 and 2007. The public mental health facilities in California are inadequate to meet the needs of people with mental health disorders. Furthermore, what is provided is expensive: $4.4 billion was spent on public mental health agency services in California in 2006. Mental health problems also exert a heavy burden on California’s criminal justice system. In 2006, over 11,000 children and 40,000 adults with mental health disorders were incarcerated in California’s juvenile justice system. Our research is also directed towards understanding fundamental mechanisms by which all stem cells are maintained, which has the potential to also impact non-psychiatric disorders suffered by Californians.
Progress Report: 
  • A key quality of stem cells is their ability to switch from a proliferative cell state in which they reproduce themselves to a differentiated cell state that ultimately allows them to carry out the functions of a fully mature cell. Most research on the nature of this switch has focused on the role of proteins that determine whether the genetic material—DNA—generates a copy of it itself in the form of messenger RNA, a process called transcription. In stem cells, such proteins—which are called transcription factors—activate the production of messenger RNAs encoding proteins that promote the proliferative and undifferentiated cell state. They also increase the production of messenger mRNAs that encode inhibitors of differentiation and cell proliferation. The level and profile of such transcription factors are altered in response to signals that trigger stem cells to differentiate. For example, transcription factors that promote the undifferentiated cell state are decreased in level and transcription factors that drive differentiation down a particular lineage are increased in level. While this transcription factor-centric view of stem cells explains some aspects of stem cell biology, it is, in of itself, insufficient to explain many of their behaviors, including both their ability to maintain the stem-like state and to differentiate. We hypothesize that a molecular pathway that complements transcription-base mechanisms in controlling stem cell maintenance vs. differentiation decisions is an RNA decay pathway called nonsense-mediated RNA decay (NMD). Messenger RNA decay is as important as transcription in determining the level of messenger RNA. Signals that trigger increased decay of a given messenger RNA leads to decreased levels of its encoded protein, while signals that trigger the opposite response increase the level of the encoded protein. Our project revolves around two main ideas. First, that NMD promotes the stem-like state by preferentially degrading messenger RNAs that encode differentiation-promoting proteins and proliferation inhibitor proteins. Second, that NMD must be downregulated in magnitude to allow stem cells to differentiate. During the progress period, we obtained substantial evidence for both of these hypotheses. With regard to the first hypothesis, we have used genome-wide approaches to identify hundreds of messenger RNAs that are regulated by NMD in both in vivo (in mice) and in vitro (in cell lines). To determine which of these messenger mRNAs are directly degraded by NMD, we have used a variety of approaches. This work has revealed that NMD preferentially degrades messenger RNAs encoding neural differentiation inhibitors and proliferation inhibitors in neural stem cells. In contrast, very few messenger RNAs encoding pro-stem cell proteins or pro-proliferation proteins are degraded by NMD. Together this provides support for our hypothesis that NMD promotes the stem-like state by shifting the proportion of messenger RNAs in a cell towards promoting an undifferentiated, proliferative cell state. With regard to the second hypothesis, we have found that many proteins that are directly involved in the NMD pathway are downregulated upon differentiation of stem and progenitor cells. Not only are NMD proteins reduced in level, but we find that the magnitude of NMD itself is reduced. We have used a variety of molecular techniques to determine whether this NMD downregulatory response has a role in neural differentiation and found that NMD downreglation is both necessary and sufficient for this event. Such experiments have also revealed particular messenger mRNAs degraded by NMD that are crucial for the NMD downregulatory response to promote neural differentiation. Our research has implications for intellectual disability cases in humans caused by mutations in an X-linked gene essential for NMD. Patients with mutations in this gene—UPF3B—not only have intellectual disability, but also schizophrenia, autism, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Thus, the study of NMD may provide insight into a wide spectrum of cognitive and psychological disorders. We are currently in the process of generating induced-pluripotent stem (iPS) cells from intellectual disability patients with mutations in the UPF3B gene towards this goal.

Common molecular mechanisms in neurodegenerative diseases using patient based iPSC neurons

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology IV
Grant Number: 
RB4-06079
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 506 420
Disease Focus: 
Huntington's Disease
Neurological Disorders
Parkinson's Disease
Stem Cell Use: 
iPS Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
A major medical problem in CA is the growing population of individuals with neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s (PD) and Huntington’s (HD) disease. These diseases affect millions of people, sometimes during the prime of their lives, and lead to total incapacitation and ultimately death. No treatment blocks the progression of neurodegeneration. We propose to conduct fundamental studies to understand the basic common disease mechanisms of neurodegenerative disorders to begin to develop effective treatments for these diseases. Our work will target human stem cells made from cells from patients with HD and PD that are developed into the very cells that degenerate in these diseases, striatal neurons and dopamine neurons, respectively. We will use a highly integrated approach with innovative molecular analysis of gene networks that change the states of proteins in these diseases and state-of-the-art imaging technology to visualize living neurons in a culture dish to assess cause and effect relationships between biochemical changes in the cells and their gradual death. Importantly, we will test whether drugs effective in animal model systems are also effective in blocking the disease mechanisms in the human HD and PD neurons. These human preclinical studies could rapidly lead to clinical testing, since some of the drugs have already been examined extensively in humans in the past for treating other disorders and are safe.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s (PD) and Huntington’s disease (HD), are devastating to patients and families and place a major financial burden on California. No treatments effectively block progression of any neurodegenerative disease. A forward-thinking team effort will allow highly experienced investigators in neurodegenerative disease and stem cell research to investigate common basic mechanisms that cause these diseases. Most important is the translational impact of our studies. We will use neurons and astrocytes derived from patient induced pluripotent stem cells to identify novel targets and discover disease-modifying drugs to block the degenerative process. These can be quickly transitioned to testing in preclinical and clinical trials to treat HD and other neurodegenerative diseases. We are building on an existing strong team of California-based investigators to complete the studies. Future benefits to California citizens include: 1) discovery and development of new HD treatments with application to other diseases, such as PD, that affect thousands of Californians, 2) transfer of new technologies and intellectual property to the public realm with resulting IP revenues to the state with possible creation of new biotechnology spin-off companies, and 3) reductions in extensive care-giving and medical costs. We anticipate the return to the State in terms of revenue, health benefits for its Citizens and job creation will be significant.
Progress Report: 
  • The goal of our study is to identify common mechanisms that cause the degeneration of neurons and lead to most neurodegenerative disorders. Our work focuses on the protein homeostasis pathways that are disrupted in many forms of neurodegeneration, including Huntington’s disease (HD) and Parkinson’s disease (PD). In this first reporting period we have made great progress in developing novel methods to probe the autophagy pathway in single cells. This pathway is involved in the turnover of misfolded proteins and dysfunction organelles. Using our novel autophagy assays, we have preliminary data that indicate that the autophagy pathway in neurons from HD patients is modulated compared to healthy controls. We have also begun validating small molecules that activate the autophagy pathway and we are now moving these inducers into human neurons from HD patients to see if they reduce toxicity or other disease related phenotypes. Using pathway analysis we have also identified specific genes within the proteostasis network that are modulated in HD. We are now testing whether modulating these genes in human neurons from HD patients can lead to a reduction in neurodegeneration. In the final part of this study we are investigating whether neurodegenerative diseases, such as HD and PD, share changes in similar genes or pathways, specifically those involved in protein homeostasis. We have now established a human neuron model for PD and have used it to identify potential targets that modulate the disease phenotype via changes in proteostasis. Using the assays, autophagy drugs and pathway analysis described above, we hope to identify overlapping targets that could potentially rescue disease associated phenotypes in both HD and PD.

Modeling Alexander disease using patient-specific induced pluripotent stem cells

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology IV
Grant Number: 
RB4-06277
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 367 172
Disease Focus: 
Neurological Disorders
Pediatrics
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Alexander disease (AxD) is a devastating childhood disease that affects neural development and causes mental retardation, seizures and spasticity. The most common form of AxD occurs during the first two years of life and AxD children show delayed mental and physical development, and die by the age of six. AxD occurs in diverse ethnic, racial, and geographic groups and there is no cure; the available treatment only temporally relieves symptoms, but not targets the cause of the disease. Previous studies have shown that specific nervous system cells called astrocytes are abnormal in AxD patients. Astrocytes support both nerve cell growth and function, so the defects in AxD astrocytes are thought to lead to the nervous system defects. We want to generate special cells, called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from the skin or blood cells of AxD patients to create an unprecedented, new platform for the study and treatment of AxD. We can grow large quantities of iPSCs in the laboratory and then, using novel methods that we have already established, coax them to develop into AxD astrocytes. We will study these AxD astrocytes to find out how their defects cause the disease, and then use them to validate potential drug targets. In the future, these cells can also be used to screen for new drugs and to test novel treatments. In addition to benefiting AxD children, we expect that our approach and results will benefit the study of other, similar childhood nervous system diseases.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
It is estimated that California has approximately 12% of all US cases of AxD, a devastating childhood neurological disorder that leads to mental retardation and early death. At present, there is no cure or standard treatment available for AxD. Current treatment is symptomatic only. In addition to the tremendous emotional and physical pain that this disease inflicts on Californian families, it adds a medical and fiscal burden larger than that of any other states. Therefore, there is a real need to understand the underlying mechanisms of this disease in order to develop an effective treatment strategy. Stem cells provide great hope for the treatment of a variety of human diseases. Our proposal to establish a stem cell-based cellular model for AxD could lead to the development of new therapies that will represent great potential not only for Californian health care patients, but also for the Californian pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. In addition to benefiting the treatment of AxD patients, we expect that our approach and results will benefit the study of other related neurological diseases that occur in California and the US.
Progress Report: 
  • Alexander disease (AxD) is a devastating childhood disease that affects neural development and causes mental retardation, seizures and spasticity. AxD children usually die by the age of six. AxD occurs in diverse ethnic, racial, and geographic groups and there is no cure; the available treatment only temporally relieves symptoms, but not targets the cause of the disease. Previous studies have shown that specific nervous system cells called astrocytes are abnormal in AxD patients. We generated special cells, called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from the skin cells of AxD patients, and coaxed them to develop into AxD astrocytes. We will study these AxD astrocytes to find out how their defects cause the disease, and then use them to validate potential drug targets. In the future, these cells can also be used to screen for new drugs and to test novel treatments. In addition to benefiting AxD children, we expect that our approach and results will benefit the study of other, similar childhood nervous system diseases.

New Drug Discovery for SMA using Patient-derived Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells

Funding Type: 
Early Translational II
Grant Number: 
TR2-01844
Investigator: 
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$5 665 887
Disease Focus: 
Spinal Muscular Atrophy
Neurological Disorders
Pediatrics
Stem Cell Use: 
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Closed
Public Abstract: 
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is the leading genetic cause of infant death in the U.S. This devastating disease affects 1 child in every 6,000-10,000 live births, with a North American prevalence of approximately 14,000 individuals. The disease is characterized by the death of spinal cord cells called motor neurons that connect the brain to muscle. Death of these cells causes muscle weakness and atrophy, which progresses to paralysis, respiratory failure and frequently death. The three different types of SMA differ in severity and prognosis, with Type I being the most severe. SMA is caused by a genetic defect that leads to reduced levels of a single protein called SMN. There are currently no approved therapies for the disease. The existing treatments for SMA consist of supportive care for the respiratory and nutritional deficits, for example ventilation and feeding tubes. Previous attempts to develop drugs using conventional technologies, such as cultured cancer cells or cells derived from animals have been unsuccessful. These failures are likely due the fact that previous attempts used cell types that don’t reflect the disease or aren’t affected by low levels of the SMN protein. Our approach uses patient-derived motor neurons, the specific cell type that dies. We will conduct drug discovery experiments using these motor neurons to find potential therapeutics that increase the levels of the SMN protein in these diseased cells. Induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology allows us to take skin cells from patients with SMA, grow them in a dish, and turn them into motor neurons. We are conducting high-throughput screens of potential drugs with these cells to identify drug candidates that increase SMN protein levels in motor neurons derived from SMA patients. An added advantage to our approach is that we can test our drug candidates in motor neurons from many different patients, with different disease subtypes and from different ethnic backgrounds. We have generated iPSCs from many patients with SMA and we will test compounds for effectiveness against this cohort. These studies will give us an indication of the effectiveness of our compounds across patients before moving into costly and lengthy clinical trials. If our drug candidate is successful, it could be the first effective therapeutic available for SMA. It will increase the amount of SMN protein and prevent motor neuron death. Halting the death of spinal cord motor neurons prevents the progressive weakness and muscle atrophy. We anticipate that this would prevent disability in Type III patients. For Type I and II patients, we believe such a therapy would mitigate respiratory and feeding challenges and allow lifespan increase. The sponsoring institution has integrated iPSC-based drug discovery capabilities, ranging from stem cell line production, high throughput drug screening and medicinal chemistry. Accordingly, this institution is uniquely positioned to achieve the aims of this grant.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is the second-most common autosomal-recessive disorder and leading genetic cause of death of infants in the U.S. We estimate that there are up to 1,500 SMA patients currently living in California, with 100 new cases diagnosed in California every year. The CIRM Early Translational II Awards is intended to fund studies that will propel drug discovery forward for many devastating diseases. In keeping with this mission, we propose to leverage iPSC technology to generate disease-relevant cell types from patients themselves for a high throughput drug screen. A successful therapy for SMA would lead to significant cost savings to California’s health care system, and would provide relief to families of patients with this devastating disorder. Given that there are not many successful drugs in the making for neurological diseases such as ALS, SMA, Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease, our project should significantly impact drug discovery in this area by introducing iPSC technologies as a valid drug discovery and development platform. The application of iPSC-based disease modeling and drug discovery to SMA is highly innovative and represents the opportunity to establish worldwide leadership for California in this emerging field. Furthermore, the sponsoring institution will fund over 70% of the direct costs during the timeframe of this award. Accordingly, the 3:1 leverage provides great opportunity to magnify the effect of a CIRM award. Our research program will also create new, high-paying jobs in California, and will stimulate California’s economy by creating new research and clinical tools. These activities will continue to strengthen California’s leadership position at the forefront of the stem cell and regenerative medical revolution of the 21st century.
Progress Report: 
  • Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is the leading genetic cause of infant death in the U.S. This devastating disease affects 1 child in every 6,000-10,000 live births, with a North American prevalence of approximately 14,000 individuals. The disease is characterized by the death of spinal cord cells called motor neurons that connect the brain to muscle. Death of these cells causes muscle weakness and atrophy, which progresses to paralysis, respiratory failure and frequently death. The three different types of SMA differ in severity and prognosis, with Type I being the most severe. SMA is caused by a genetic defect that leads to reduced levels of a single protein called SMN. There are currently no approved therapies for the disease.
  • Existing treatments for SMA consist of supportive care for the respiratory and nutritional deficits, for example ventilation and feeding tubes. Previous attempts to develop drugs using conventional technologies, such as cultured cancer cells or cells derived from animals have been unsuccessful. These failures are likely due to the fact that previous attempts used cell types that do not reflect the disease or are not affected by low levels of the SMN protein. Our approach uses patient-derived motor neurons, the specific cell type that dies in SMA.
  • An added advantage to our approach is that we can test our drug candidates in motor neurons from many different patients and different disease subtypes. We have generated iPSCs from many patients with SMA and we will test compounds for effectiveness against this cohort. These studies will give us an indication of the effectiveness of our compounds across patients before moving into costly and lengthy clinical trials. It will increase the amount of SMN protein and prevent motor neuron death. Halting the death of spinal cord motor neurons prevents the progressive weakness and muscle atrophy. We anticipate that this would prevent disability in Type III patients. For Type I and II patients, we believe such a therapy would mitigate respiratory and feeding challenges and allow an increase in lifespan.
  • In the past year, we conducted drug discovery experiments using these motor neurons to find potential therapeutics that increase the levels of the SMN protein in these diseased cells. Induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology allows us to take skin cells from patients with SMA, grow them in a dish, and turn them into SMA motor neurons. We conducted high-throughput screens of potential drugs with these cells to identify drug candidates that increase SMN protein levels in motor neurons derived from SMA patients. Despite the high quality of these screens, no suitable drug candidate was identified. We have modified our strategy and developed a method to identify, in parallel, all targets in the “druggable” genome that regulate SMN protein levels. An exhaustive screen currently is being performed to identify such a target and will be completed by end April 2012. Once a target is identified, it will be developed into a lead and validated in animals.

Developing a drug-screening system for Autism Spectrum Disorders using human neurons

Funding Type: 
Early Translational II
Grant Number: 
TR2-01814
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 491 471
Disease Focus: 
Autism
Neurological Disorders
Pediatrics
Stem Cell Use: 
iPS Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are complex neurodevelopmental diseases that affect 1 in 150 children in the United States. Such diseases are mainly characterized by deficits in verbal communication, impaired social interaction, and limited and repetitive interests and behavior. Because autism is a complex spectrum of disorders, a different combination of genetic mutations is likely to play a role in each individual. One of the major impediments to ASD research is the lack of relevant human disease models. ASD animal models are limited and cannot reproduce the important language and social behavior impairment of ASD patients. Moreover, mouse models do not represent the vast human genetic variation. Reprogramming of somatic cells to a pluripotent state (induced pluripotent stem cells, iPSCs) has been accomplished using human cells. Isogenic pluripotent cells are attractive from the prospective to understanding complex diseases, such as ASD. Our preliminary data provide evidence for an unexplored developmental window in ASD wherein potential therapies could be successfully employed. The model recapitulates early stages of ASD and represents a promising cellular tool for drug screening, diagnosis and personalized treatment. By testing whether drugs have differential effects in iPSC-derived neurons from different ASD backgrounds, we can begin to unravel how genetic variation in ASD dictates responses to different drugs or modulation of different pathways. If we succeed, we may find new molecular mechanisms in ASD and new compounds that may interfere and rescue these pathways. The impact of this approach is significant, since it will help better design and anticipate results for translational medicine. Moreover, the collection and molecular/cellular characterization of these iPSCs will be an extremely valuable tool to understand the fundamental mechanism behind ASD. The current proposal uses human somatic cells converted into iPSC-derived neurons. The proposed experiments bring our analyses to real human cell models for the first time. We anticipate gaining insights into the causal molecular mechanisms of ASD and to discover potential biomarkers and specific therapeutic targets for ASD.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Autism spectrum disorders, including Rett syndrome, Angelman syndrome, Timothy syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, Tuberous sclerosis, Asperger syndrome or childhood disintegrative disorder, affect many Californian children. In the absence of a functionally effective cure or early diagnostic tool, the cost of caring for patients with such pediatric diseases is high, in addition to a major personal and family impact since childhood. The strikingly high prevalence of ASD, dramatically increasing over the past years, has led to the emotional view that ASD can be traced to a single source, such as vaccine, preservatives or other environmental factors. Such perspective has a negative impact on science and society in general. Our major goal is to develop a drug-screening platform to rescue deficiencies showed from neurons derived from induced pluripotent stem cells generated from patients with ASD. If successful, our model will bring novel insights on the dentification of potential diagnostics for early detection of ASD risk, or ability to predict severity of particular symptoms. In addition, the development of this type of pharmacological therapeutic approach in California will serve as an important proof of principle and stimulate the formation of businesses that seek to develop these types of therapies (providing banks of inducible pluripotent stem cells) in California with consequent economic benefit.
Progress Report: 
  • During the first year of the project, we focused on creating a cell bank of reprogrammed fibroblasts derived from several autistic patients. These pluripotent stem cells were then induced to differentiate into neurons and gene expression analyses will be done at different time points along the process. We also used some of the syndromic and non-syndromic patients for neuronal phenotypic assays and found that a subset of idiopathic autism cases displayed a molecular overlap with Rett syndrome. Our plan is to use these data to test the ability of candidate drugs on reverting some of the neuronal defects observed in patient neurons.
  • The goal of this CIRM translational award is to generate a hiPSC-based drug-screening platform to identify potential therapies or biomarkers for autism spectrum disorders. In this second year we have made significant progress toward this goal by working on validating several neuronal phenotypes derived from iPSCs from idiopathic and syndromic autistic patients. We also made significant progress in order to optimize a synaptic readout for the screening platform. This step was important to speed up drug discovery. Using Rett syndrome iPSC-derived neurons as a prototype, we showed that we could rescue defect in synaptogenesis using a collection of FDA-approved drugs. Finally, we have initiated our analyses on global gene expression, from several neurons and progenitor cells derived from controls and autistic patients. We expect to find pathways that are altered in subgroups of patients, defined by specific clinical phenotypes.
  • The goal of this CIRM translational award is to generate a hiPSC-based drug-screening platform to identify potential therapies or biomarkers for ASDs. We have made significant progress toward this goal by working on validating several neuronal phenotypes derived from iPSC from Rett syndrome (RTT) and idiopathic autistic patients. We also made significant progress to optimize the readout for our screening platform. This was important to speed up drug discovery. Using RTT iPSC as a prototype, we showed that we could rescue defect in synaptogenesis using a collection of FDA-approved drugs. Finally, we initiate our analyses on gene expression, collected from several neurons and progenitor cells derived from controls and autistic patients. We expect to find pathways that are altered in subgroups of patients, defined by specific clinical phenotypes. Here, we describe the results of our drug screening, using FDA-approved drugs in a repurposing strategy. We also show for the first time that iPSC-derived human neurons are able to generate synchronized neuronal networks. RTT neurons behave differently from controls. Our focus now is on the completion of our gene expression analyses and to validate positive drugs using a battery of secondary cellular assays.

Crosstalk: Inflammation in Parkinson’s disease (PD) in a humanized in vitro model

Funding Type: 
Early Translational II
Grant Number: 
TR2-01778
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$2 472 839
Disease Focus: 
Parkinson's Disease
Neurological Disorders
Collaborative Funder: 
Germany
Stem Cell Use: 
iPS Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is the most common neurodegenerative movement disorder. It is characterized by motor impairment such as slowness of movements, shaking and gait disturbances. Age is the most consistent risk factor for PD, and as we have an aging population, it is of upmost importance that we find therapies to limit the social, economic and emotional burden of this disease. Most of the studies to find better drugs for PD have been done in rodents. However, many of these drugs failed when tested in PD patients. One problem is that we can only investigate the diseased neurons of the brain after the PD patients have died. We propose to use skin cells from PD patients and reprogram these into neurons and other surrounding cells in the brain called glia. This is a model to study the disease while the patient is still alive. We will investigate how the glial surrounding cells affect the survival of neurons. We will also test drugs that are protective for glial cells and neurons. Overall, this approach is advantageous because it allows for the study of pathological development of PD in a human system. The goal of this project is to identify key molecular events involved at early stages in PD and exploit these as potential points of therapeutic intervention.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
The goal of this proposal is to create human cell-based models for neurodegenerative disease using transgenic human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells reprogrammed from skin samples of highly clinically characterized Parkinson’s Disease (PD) patients and age-matched controls. Given that age is the most consistent risk factor for PD, and we have an aging population, it is of utmost importance that we unravel the cellular, molecular, and genetic causes of the highly specific cell death characteristic of PD. New drugs can be developed out of these studies that will also benefit the citizens of the State of California. In addition, if our strategy can go into preclinical development, this approach would most likely be performed in a pharmaceutical company based in California.
Progress Report: 
  • In the first year of our CIRM Early Translational II Award we have largely accomplished the first two aims put forth in our proposal “Crosstalk: Inflammation in Parkinson’s disease (PD) in a humanized in vitro model.” Dr. Juergen Winkler, in Erlangen, Germany, has enrolled 10 patients and 6 controls in this project, most of which have had a biopsy of their skin cells sent to The Salk Institute in La Jolla. In Dr. Gage’s lab at The Salk Institute these patient fibroblasts are being reprogrammed into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), and initial attempts at differentiation into dopaminergic neurons are underway. Additionally, patient blood cells have been sent from Dr. Winkler’s clinic to the lab of Dr. Glass at UC San Diego, where their gene expression profile is being determined. In this initial reporting period we are successfully building the cellular tools necessary to investigate the role of nuclear receptors and inflammation in Parkinson’s Disease.
  • In the second year of our CIRM Early Translational II Award we are making substantial progress towards completing all three aims put forth in our proposal. Dr. Juergen Winkler, our German collaborator, has completed the patient recruitment phase of this project, and skin cells from all 16 subjects (10 with PD and six controls) have been reprogrammed into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) at the Salk Institute in La Jolla. The patient-specific iPSCs have been differentiated into well-characterized neural stem cells, which the Gage lab is further differentiating into both dopaminergic neurons and astrocytes. In addition to collecting patient skin cells, Dr. Winkler’s group has collected blood cells which are currently being analyzed for gene expression differences by Dr. Glass’ lab at UCSD using state-of-the-art RNA sequencing technology. We have identified a compound that is anti-inflammatory in human cells that we will test on the patient-specific cells once we finish building the cellular tools required to investigate the role of nuclear receptors and inflammation in Parkinson’s Disease.
  • In the final year of our CIRM Early Translational II Award we made considerable progress towards completing all three aims put forth in our proposal. Dr. Juergen Winkler, our German collaborator, has completed the patient recruitment phase of this project, and skin cells from all 16 subjects (10 with PD and six controls) have been reprogrammed into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) at the Salk Institute in La Jolla. The patient-specific iPSCs have been differentiated into well-characterized neural stem cells, which the Gage lab is further differentiating into both dopaminergic neurons and astrocytes. In addition to collecting patient skin cells, Dr. Winkler’s group has collected blood cells which are currently being analyzed for gene expression differences by Dr. Glass’ lab at UCSD using state-of-the-art RNA sequencing technology. We have identified a compound that is anti-inflammatory in human cells that can reduce inflammation in patient-specific cells, and we are beginning to look at its effects on neuronal survival. This award has allowed us to build the cellular tools required to investigate the role of nuclear receptors and inflammation in Parkinson’s disease, which is a model with endless potential.

Neural restricted, FAC-sorted, human neural stem cells to treat traumatic brain injury

Funding Type: 
Early Translational II
Grant Number: 
TR2-01767
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 708 549
Disease Focus: 
Neurological Disorders
Trauma
Collaborative Funder: 
Maryland
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) affects 1.4 million Americans a year; 175,000 in California. When the brain is injured, nerve cells near the site of injury die due to the initial trauma and interruption of blood flow. Secondary damage occurs as neighboring tissue is injured by the inflammatory response to the initial injury, leading to a larger area of damage. This damage happens to both neurons, the electrically active cells, and oligodendrocytes, the cell which makes the myelin insulation. A TBI patient typically loses cognitive function in one or more domains associated with the damage (e.g. attention deficits with frontal damage, or learning and memory deficits associated with temporal lobe/hippocampal damage); post-traumatic seizures are also common. Currently, no treatments have been shown to be beneficial in alleviating the cognitive problems following even a mild TBI. Neural stem cells (NSCs) provide a cell population that is promising as a therapeutic for neurotrauma. One idea is that transplanting NSCs into an injury would provide “cell replacement”; the stem cells would differentiate into new neurons and new oligodendrocytes and fill in for lost host cells. We have successfully used “sorted“ human NSCs in rodent models of spinal cord injury, showing that hNSCs migrate, proliferate, differentiate into oligodendrocytes and neurons, integrate with the host, and restore locomotor function. Killing the NSCs abolishes functional improvements, showing that integration of hNSCs mediates recovery. Two Phase I FDA trials support the potential of using sorted hNSC for brain therapy and were partially supported by studies in my lab. NSCs may also improve outcome by helping the host tissue repair itself, or by providing trophic support for newly born neurons following injury. Recently, transplantation of rodent-derived NSCs into a model of TBI showed limited, but significant improvements in some outcome measures. These results argue for the need to develop human-derived NSCs that can be used for TBI. We will establish and characterize multiple “sorted” and “non-sorted“ human NSC lines starting from 3 human ES lines. We will determine their neural potential in cell culture, and use the best 2 lines in an animal model of TBI, measuring learning, memory and seizure activity following TBI; then correlating these outcomes to tissue modifying effects. Ultimately, the proposed work may generate one or more human NSC lines suitable to use for TBI and/or other CNS injuries or disorders. A small reduction in the size of the injury or restoration of just some nerve fibers to their targets beyond the injury could have significant implications for a patient’s quality of life and considerable economic impact to the people of California. If successful over the 3-year grant, additional funding of this approach may enable a clinical trial within the next five years given success in the Phase I FDA approved trials of sorted hNSCs for other nervous system disorders.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that traumatic brain injury (TBI) affects 1.4 million Americans every year. This equates to ~175,000 Californian’s suffering a TBI each year. Additionally, at least 5.3 million Americans currently have a long-term or a lifelong need for help to perform activities of daily living as a result of suffering a TBI previously. Forty percent of patients who are hospitalized with a TBI had at least one unmet need for services one year after their injury. One example is a need to improve their memory and problem solving skills. TBI can also cause epilepsy and increases the risk for conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and other brain disorders that become more prevalent with age. The combined direct medical costs and indirect costs such as lost productivity due to TBI totaled an estimated $60 billion in the United States in 2000 (when the most recent data was available). This translates to ~$7.5 billion in costs each year just to Californians. The proposed research seeks to generate several human neural-restricted stem cell lines from ES cells. These “sorted” neural-restricted stem cell lines should have greatly reduced or no tumor forming capability, making them ideally suited for clinical use. After verifying that these lines are multipotent (e.g. they can make neurons, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes), we will test their efficacy to improve outcomes in TBI on a number of measures, including learning and memory, seizure activity, tissue sparing, preservation of host neurons, and improvements in white matter pathology. Of benefit to California is that these same outcome measures in a rodent model of TBI can also be assessed in humans with TBI, potentially speeding the translational from laboratory to clinical application. A small reduction in the size of the injury, or restoration of just some nerve fibers to their targets beyond the injury, or moderate improvement in learning and memory post-TBI, or a reduction in the number or severity of seizures could have significant implications for a patient’s quality of life and considerable economic impact to the people of California. Additionally, the cell lines we have chosen to work with are unencumbered with IP issues that would prevent us, or others, from using these cell lines to test in other central nervous system disorders. Two of the cell lines have already been manufactured to “GMP” standards, which would speed up the translation of this work from the laboratory to the clinic. Finally, if successful, these lines would be potentially useful for treating a variety of central nervous system disorders in addition to TBI, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, autism, spinal cord injury, and/or multiple sclerosis.
Progress Report: 
  • In the first year of this Early Translation Award for traumatic brain injury (TBI), our goal was to develop the stem cells lines necessary to begin testing of stem cells in an animal model of TBI in year 2. If we are fortunate to demonstrate that the stem cell products are effective in animal models of TBI, these cells will need to be grown in a way that is acceptable to the FDA for future use in man. Xenofree means that the cells are not exposed to possible animal product contaminants (e.g. serum or blood products) and that every component that the cells were exposed to is chemically defined and can be traced to the original source.
  • First, we obtained three separate embryonic stem (ES) cell lines from Sheffield, UK and imported them to the United States. These lines where then thawed and grown in “xenofree” cell culture conditions. Many labs have had difficulty transitioning human ES cells to xenofree conditions without introducing genetic defects in the cell lines or killing the cells. We were able to work out the correct conditions for all three ES cell lines to be grown xenofree. We were also successful in converting two of the three ES lines into neural stem cells (the subtype of stem cell needed for transplanting into brain tissue). These neural stem cells (NSCs) were further purified by labeling them for a stem cell surface marker present on NSCs (called CD133) and then magnetically sorting out just the CD133 positive cells and continuing to grow them. This approach is thought to enrich the stem cell population for NSCs and eliminate any remaining non-differentiated ES cells (which have an added risk of forming tumors if injected into animals or man). We successfully “sorted” both Shef cell lines and we now have four candidate populations of sorted and unsorted Shef4 and Shef6 cells. We grew these cells in culture and tested whether they differentiated into neuronal precursor or glial precursor cells. Quantification of the type of cells they turn into after 2 weeks showed that the four cell populations were different. These differences were even more apparent when looking at the cells in a microscope. At the end of year one, we have four different populations of neural stem cells which are growing in defined xenofree conditions, are frozen down in master cell banks, and which are genetically normal. There are sufficient quantities of these human neural stem cells (hNSC) to complete the remaining aims of the ETA grant over the remaining two years.
  • In the first year we also trained staff in the surgical procedures required to produce controlled cortical impact injuries in Athymic nude rats (ATNs), a type of rat that has no immune system. These procedures were necessary because no one has ever used ATN rats to model TBI. Our goal in year two is to transplant hNSCs into rats with TBI. If the rats had a normal immune system, their bodies would detect the foreign human cells and reject them. Also, because no one has ever tested TBI in ATN rats, we needed to find out if ATN rats respond like regular rats to the injury and if they have similar, predictable deficits on the cognitive tasks we plan to use in year 2 to measure whether hNCSs improve the animal’s recovery or not. This training and these pilot tests in ATN rats were completed successfully. Finally, the hypothesis is that by “sorting” the hNSCs to be CD133 positive, we are making the stem cell population safer for transplantation. This will be tested in year 2 using a tumorigenicity assay. We worked out how to conduct these assays in year 1 using a population of ES cells known to cause tumors so that we will have a positive control to compare the hNSCs to in year 2.
  • In summary, we met all of our goals and milestones for year 1 and are poised to make good progress in year 2.
  • The goal of this project is to take three human embryonic stem cell lines (Shef3, Shef4, and Shef6), transition them to multipotent neural stem cell (hNSC) populations, sort/enrich these hNSC stem/progenitor populations, and then test these cell lines for efficacy in a rat model of controlled cortical impact (CCI) model of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Our strategy is to develop xenofree culture methods for the transition of hESC to NSCs, use magnetic activated cell sorting (MAC) for the cell surface markers CD133+/CD34- to enrich the hNSC populations for stem/progenitor cells, test these sorted vs unsorted cell lines in tumorigenicity assays, and use the best two non-tumorigenic lines in a CCI model of TBI. Efficacy will be assessed on a battery of cognitive tests, via a reduction in spontaneous seizure, and in histological outcomes.
  • At the Two Year time-point in the grant, we have (A) generated 6 hNSC populations, (B) completed short-term teratoma assays which demonstrate that none of our hNSC populations form teratomas in either of two transplantation sites (sub cutaneous into the leg or intracranially into the brain, (C) established parameters for graded contusion traumatic brain injuries in ATN rats that (D) yield long-term (≥8 weeks) deficits in both learning and memory on the Morris Water Maze. (E) We have also determined that TBI yields an altered response on a conditioned taste aversion task (neophobia) and on the elevated plus maze compared to sham controls. (F) Determined that unsorted hNSCs (both Shef4 and Shef6) do not survive long-term in uninjured brain and (G) transplanted two large cohorts of TBI injured animals with Shef6 sorted NSCs of high passage, Shef6 sorted hNSCs of low passage, sham animals, and animals with a vehicle control. These two cohorts are too large to run simultaneously, so they are being run in parallel. Animals from both cohorts will complete functional all assessments by the end of June 2013.
  • Summary: We have very promising preclinical efficacy data in a rodent model of traumatic brain injury (TBI) using stem cells as a potential therapeutic. We have found that intra-cranial transplants of Shef-6 derived human neural stem cells (hNSCs) appear to induce improvement on two different behavioral domains after long-term (>2 months) survival. Importantly, Shef-6 hNSCs did not form tumors when transplanted at high doses into naïve brain. Shef-6 hNSCs are xenofree, GMP compatible, suitable for use in man (the donor and cells were certified to be free of HIV, Hepatitis A, B, C, HTLV, EBV, CMV, and are mycoplasma free). Furthermore, Shef-6 is on the FDA embryonic stem cell registry, enabling future Federal funding of their clinical testing in man if warranted. Specifically, we have demonstrated long-term efficacy in a moderate to severe controlled cortical impact (CCI) model of TBI using Shef-6 derived hNSCs on both a cognitive task (MWM Reversal Learning) and an emotional task (Elevated Plus Maze for anxiety). This dual improvement across cognitive and emotional domains is unique to the field and supports external validity of the model. These behavioral findings need to be correlated with quantification of the total number of surviving human cells and their terminal cell fate (whether the hNSCs differentiated into neurons, oligodendrocytes, or astrocytes) to confirm efficacy. Stereological quantification is currently ongoing and very labor intensive. If the correlation between surviving cells and cognitive improvements holds up after the quantification is complete, these findings will support a future Preclinical Development Award application to CIRM. Additionally, we are the first group to couple kindling and TBI to model the critical complication of post-TBI seizures. Traditional TBI models yield seizures in less than 20% of rodents, making hNSC studies cost prohibitive. Coupling kindling with TBI ensures that all animals start with a hypersensitive neural circuit so hNSCs can be tested in a more relevant environment; we will be ready to begin this important kindling test coupled with hNSCs in the Spring of 2014. These studies have paved new ground for a field with huge economic costs, no treatments, and no GMP qualified ES based solutions on the horizon.

Understanding the role of LRRK2 in iPSC cell models of Parkinson's Disease

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology III
Grant Number: 
RB3-02221
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 482 822
Disease Focus: 
Parkinson's Disease
Neurological Disorders
Stem Cell Use: 
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
The goal of this research is to utilize novel research tools to investigate the molecular mechanisms that cause Parkinson’s disease (PD). The proposed work builds on previous funding from CIRM that directed the developed patient derived models of PD. The majority of PD patients suffer from sporadic disease with no clear etiology. However some PD patients harbor specific inherited mutations have been shown to cause PD. The most frequently observed form of genetic parkinsonism is caused by the LRRK2 G2019S mutation it the most common. This mutation accounts for approximately 1.5-2% of patients with apparently sporadic PD, increasing to 4-6% of patients with a family history of PD, and even higher in isolated populations. Importantly, LRRK2 induced PD is clinically and pathologically largely indistinguishable from sporadic PD. This proposal focuses on studying the most frequent cause of familial PD and induces disease that is clinically and pathologically identical to sporadic PD cases. It is likely that LRRK2 regulates a pathway(s) that is important in the more common sporadic form of PD as well. Therefore by employing relevant models of PD, we hope to drive the biological understanding of LRRK2 in a direction that facilitates the development of disease therapeutics in the future. We ascertained patients harboring mutations in LRRK2 [heterozygous (+/G2019S) and homozygous (G2019S/G2019S)] as well as sporadic cases and age matched controls. We have successfully derived iPSCs from each genotype and differentiated these to DA neurons. We will use these as a model system to investigate these LRRK2 based models of PD. We will adapt current biochemical assays of LRRK2, which are source material intensive, to the small culture volumes required for the differentiation of iPSCs to DA neurons. This is a crucial necessity for development for utilizing iPSC derived DA neurons as tractable models of LRRK2 based PD. We will then probe the roles of LRRK2 in neuronal cell differentiation and survival. We will also ask whether the mutant LRRK2 induces changes in autophagy, as this has been postulated as a mechanism of LRRK2 induced pathogenesis. By studying wild-type and disease mutant LRRK2, in DA models of PD we hope to provide crucial understanding of the role mutant LRRK2 has in disease.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
It is estimated that by the year 2030, 75,000-120,000 Californians will be affected by Parkinson’s disease. Currently, there is no cure, early detection mechanism, preventative treatment, or effective way to slow disease progression. The increasing disability caused by the progression of disease burdens the patients, their caregivers as well as society in terms of healthcare costs. The majority of PD patients suffer from sporadic disease with no clear etiology, and a in a handful of these patients specific inherited mutations have been shown to cause PD. The most frequently mutated gene is called Leucine Rich Repeat Kinase 2 (LRRK2). Our goal is to study the mutated gene product in patient based models of Parkinson’s disease. In previous CIRM funding, we have developed patient derived induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from patients harboring mutations in LRRK2. We have been successful in differentiating populations these iPSCs into the neurons that are depleted in PD. The next step is to utilize these cells as models of mutation induced PD ‘in a dish’. We will employ these pertinent disease models to answer basic biology questions that remain about the function of LRRK2. This project brings together scientists previously funded by CIRM with scientists well versed in the study of LRRK2. This multidisciplinary approach to studying the causes of PD is a natural benefit to the State of California and its citizens. By bringing a better understanding of the role of LRRK2 in the cells that are lost in the progression of PD, we will bring more concrete knowledge of PD as a whole, bringing more hope for the development of a therapeutic for disease.
Progress Report: 
  • The overarching goal of this work is to utilize models of Parkinson's disease (PD) that originate from cells of PD affected patients harboring mutations within the LRRK2 gene so that we may discern the role of mutated LRRK2 in disease. Mutations in LRRK2 are the most common cause of familial PD. The disease presentation of patients with LRRK2 mutation is typically clinically indistinguishable from sporadic PD cases, making the onset of disease due to LRRK2 dysfunction clinically relevant. We have employed stem cells derived from these patients to generate neuronal cells in which we can determine the roles of LRRK2 in the PD mutated and the unmutated state. We have focused on a cellular process called autophagy that regulates the cell response to nutrient deprivation and plays a role in the selective degradation of proteins within the cell.
  • In the first year of funding we have analyzed the expression of the protein LRRK2 in induced pluripotent stem cells, neuronal precursor cells and have begun to differentiate the neuronal precursors to dopaminergic cells of the type lost in PD (a difficult task in itself). We have applied a novel method for detection of LRRK2 in situ by marrying the protein detection of antibodies and the sensitivity of nucleic acid amplification. We will continue to develop this methodology for maximum sensitivity to LRRK2. We have established assays to assess the effects of the LRRK2 mutant on autophagy that are relevant to PD and neurological diseases in general. We have met or made great progress on most of our anticipated milestones and are eager to proceed to the next phase of the project.
  • The overarching goal of this work is to utilize stem cell based models of Parkinson's disease (PD) derived from cells of PD affected patients that harbor mutations in the LRRK2 gene so that we may elucidate the deleterious role of mutated LRRK2 in disease. Mutations in LRRK2 are the most common cause of familial PD. The disease presentation for these patients with LRRK2 mutation is typically clinically similar to those with sporadic disease, making the onset of disease due to LRRK2 dysfunction clinically relevant. We have utilized stem cells harboring a mutation in LRRK2 and also daughter cells of that line in which genomic editing techniques have been applied to correct the PD mutation or disrupt the LRRK2 gene. We have generated the same kind of cells in culture that are lost during PD and hope that next, we can determine how these mutations that eventually cause disease disrupt normal neuronal function. We have made great progress in the understanding the expression of LRRK2 in early differentiation of stem cells to neurons and his will inform our future studies on mutation caused dysfunctions.
  • The overarching goal of this work is to utilize stem cell based models of Parkinson's disease (PD) derived from cells of PD affected patients that harbor mutations in the LRRK2 gene so that we may elucidate the deleterious role of mutated LRRK2 in disease. Mutations in LRRK2 are the most common cause of familial PD. The disease presentation for these patients with LRRK2 mutation is typically clinically similar to those with sporadic disease, making the onset of disease due to LRRK2 dysfunction clinically relevant. We have utilized stem cells harboring a mutation in LRRK2 and also daughter cells of that line in which genomic editing techniques have been applied to correct the PD mutation or disrupt the LRRK2 gene. We have generated the same kind of cells in culture that are lost during PD and hope that next, we can determine how these mutations that eventually cause disease disrupt normal neuronal function. We have made great progress in the understanding the expression of LRRK2 in early differentiation of stem cells to neurons and this will inform our future studies on mutation caused dysfunctions.

Triplet Repeat Instability in Human iPSCs

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology III
Grant Number: 
RB3-05022
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 755 861
Disease Focus: 
Huntington's Disease
Neurological Disorders
Stem Cell Use: 
iPS Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Over twenty human genetic diseases are caused by expansion of simple DNA sequences composed of repeats of three nucleotides (such as CAG, CTG, CGG and GAA) within essential genes. These repeats can occur within the region of a gene that encodes the protein, generally resulting in proteins with large stretches of repeats of just one amino acid, such as runs of glutamine. These proteins are toxic, cause the death of specific types of brain cells and result in diseases such as Huntington’s disease (HD) and many of the spinocerebellar ataxias (a type of movement disorder). Other repeats can be in regions of genes that do not code for the protein itself, but are copied into messenger RNA, which is a copy of the gene that serves to generate the protein. These RNAs with expanded repeats are also toxic to cells, and sometimes these RNAs sequester essential cellular proteins. One example of this type of disease is Myotonic Dystrophy type 1, a form of muscular dystrophy. Lastly, there are two examples of repeat disorders where the repeats silence the genes harboring these mutations: these are Friedreich’s ataxia (FRDA) and Fragile X syndrome (FXS). One limitation in the development of drugs to treat these diseases is the lack of appropriate cell models that represent the types of cells that are affected in these human diseases. With the advent of the technology to produce induced pluripotent stem cells from patient skin cells, and our ability to turn iPSCs into any cell type, such as neurons (brain cells) that are affected in these triplet repeat diseases, such cellular models are now becoming available. Our laboratories have generated iPSCs from fibroblasts obtained from patients with HD, FXS and FRDA. By comparing cells before and after reprogramming, we found that triplet repeats were expanded in the FRDA iPSCs, but not in HD iPSCs. This application is aimed at the understanding the molecular basis underlying triplet repeat expansion/instability that we have observed during the establishment and propagation of iPSCs from disease-specific fibroblasts. While artificial systems with reporter gene constructs have reproduced triplet repeat expansion in bacteria, yeast and mammalian cells, no cellular models have previously been reported that recapitulate repeat expansions at the endogenous cellular genes involved in these diseases. Therefore, our observations that repeat expansion is found in FRDA iPSCs provides the first opportunity to dissect the mechanisms involved in expansion at the molecular level for the authentic cellular genes in their natural chromatin environment. Repeat expansion is the central basis for these diseases, no matter what the outcome of the expansion (toxic protein or RNA or gene silencing), and a fuller understanding of how repeats expand may lead to new drugs to treat these diseases.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
A major obstacle in the development of new drugs for human diseases is our lack of cell models that represent the tissues or organs that are affected in these diseases. Examples of such diseases are the triplet-repeat neurodegenerative diseases, such as Huntington’s disease, the spinocerebellar ataxias, forms of muscular dystrophy, Fragile X syndrome and Friederich’s ataxia. These diseases, although relatively rare compared to cancer or heart disease, affect thousands of individuals in California. Recent advances in stem cell biology now make it possible to generate cells that reflect the cell types at risk in these diseases (such as brain, heart and muscle cells), starting from patient skin cells. Skin cells can be turned into stem cell-like cells (induced pluripotent stem cells or iPSCs), which can then give rise to just about any cell type in the human body. During the course of our studies, we found that iPSCs derived from Friedreich’s ataxia patient skin cells mimic the behavior of the genetic mutation in this disease. A simple repeat of the DNA sequence GAA is found in the gene encoding an essential protein called frataxin, and this repeat increases in length between generations in human families carrying this mutation. Over a certain threshold, the repeats silence this gene. It is also known that the repeats expand in brain cells in individuals with this disease. With the advent of patient derived iPSCs and neurons, we now have human model systems in which to study the mechanisms responsible for repeat expansion. We have already identified one set of proteins involved in repeat expansion and we now wish to delve more deeply into how the repeats expand. In this way, we may be able to identify new targets for drug development. We will extend our studies to Huntington’s disease and Fragile X syndrome. We have identified two possible therapeutic approaches for Friedreich’s ataxia, and identified molecules that either reactivate the silent gene or block repeat expansion. Our studies in related diseases may provide possible therapeutic strategies for these other disorders as well, which will be of benefit to patients suffering from these diseases, both in California and world-wide.
Progress Report: 
  • Over twenty human genetic diseases are caused by expansion of simple trinucleotide repeat sequences within essential genes, resulting in toxic proteins (as in the polyglutamine expansion diseases, such as Huntington’s disease (HD)), toxic RNAs (as in Myotonic Dystrophy type 1), or gene repression (as in Friedreich’s ataxia (FRDA) and Fragile X syndrome (FXS)). Our laboratories have generated induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from fibroblasts obtained from patients with Huntington’s disease (HD), Fragile X syndrome (FXS), Myotonic dystrophy type 1 (DM1) and Friedreich’s ataxia (FRDA). By comparing cells before and after reprogramming, we found that triplet repeats were expanded in the FRDA and DM1 iPSCs, but not in HD iPSCs. During growth of the iPSCs in culture, the repeats continue to expand, suggesting that expansion might be linked to DNA replication in these cells. The expansion we observe in iPSCs does not occur in the fibroblast (skin cells) from which the iPSCs were derived. Similarly, on differentiation of the FRDA iPSCs into neurons (brain cells), repeat expansion stops. This observation suggests that some cellular factors necessary for expansion may be selectively expressed in iPSCs, but not in fibroblasts or neurons.
  • Over the past year, our studies have been aimed at the understanding the molecular basis underlying triplet repeat expansion/instability that we have observed during the establishment and propagation of iPSCs from disease-specific fibroblasts. Previous studies have implicated the mismatch repair (MMR) enzymes in repeat expansion in mouse models for HD and DM1. We find that silencing of the MSH2 gene, encoding one of the subunits of the MMR enzymes, impedes repeat expansion in human FRDA iPSCs. We find that components of the human mismatch repair (MMR) system are associated with the disease alleles in the FRDA and DM1 iPSCs, and that silencing of these genes at the level of their messenger RNAs is sufficient to suppress repeat expansion. Moreover, we have monitored the levels of the MMR enzymes in fibroblasts, iPSCs and neurons, and as expected these enzymes are present at higher amounts in the iPSCs, suggesting that it is the availability of these enzymes in iPSCs that may be responsible for repeat expansion.
  • We wish to determine whether it is the DNA structure of triplet-repeats or protein recognition of the repeats that recruits the MMR enzymes to triplet repeats in iPSCs. To this end, we used a series of small molecule probes that can be designed to target particular DNA sequences in the human genome, and we find that a molecule that targets the GAA-TTC repeats in the FRDA frataxin gene displaces MMR enzymes and prevents repeat expansion. We are currently exploring the mechanism whereby this molecule displaces the MMR enzymes. A deeper understanding of the molecular events that lead to repeat expansion at the endogenous cellular genes responsible for these diseases will likely lead to discoveries of new therapeutic strategies for these currently untreatable disorders.
  • Over the past year, our research efforts have focused on the generality of the results we found in human induced pluripotent stem cells derived from patients with the neurodegenerative disease Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA). FRDA is one of the trinucleotide repeat (TNR) diseases, and our major previous finding was that the GAA•TCC trinucleotide repeats that cause FRDA expand during isolation and propagation of FRDA hiPSCs. This expansion was shown to be dependent on enzymes that are involved in the repair of mismatches in the human genome. To extend these studies, we have now focused on hiPSCs from the related TNR diseases myotonic dystrophy, Huntington's disease and Fragile X syndrome. Myotonic dystrophy type 1 (DM1) is an inherited dominant muscular dystrophy caused by expanded CTG•CAG triplet repeats in the 3’ UTR of the DMPK1 gene, which produces a toxic gain-of-function CUG RNA. It has been shown that the severity of disease symptoms, age of onset and progression are related to the length of the triplet repeats. However, the mechanism(s) of CTG•CAG triplet-repeat instability is not fully understood. Human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) were generated from DM1 and Huntington’s disease (HD) patient fibroblasts. We isolated 41 iPSC clones from DM1 fibroblasts, all showing different CTG•CAG repeat lengths, thus demonstrating somatic instability within the initial fibroblast population. During propagation of the iPSCs, the repeats expanded in a manner analogous to the intergenerational expansion observed in DM1 patient families. The correlation between repeat length and expansion rate identified the interval between 57 and 126 repeats as being an important length threshold where expansion rates dramatically increased. Moreover, longer repeats showed faster triplet-repeat expansion. The relatively short repeats in the gene responsible for Huntington's disease are below this threshold and hence do not expand in the iPSCs. The overall tendency of triplet repeats to expand ceased on differentiation into differentiated embryoid body or neurospheres. The mismatch repair components MSH2, MSH3 and MSH6 were highly expressed in iPSCs compared to fibroblasts, and only occupied the DMPK1 gene harboring longer CTG•CAG triplet repeats. In addition, shRNA silencing of MSH2 impeded CTG•CAG triplet-repeat expansion. We have also generated hiPSC lines from seven male subjects clinically diagnosed with fragile X syndrome. These hiPSCs have been thoroughly characterized with respect to pluripotency, DNA methylation status at the FMR1 gene, CGG repeat length, FMR1 expression and neuronal differentiation. The information gained from these studies provides new insight into a general mechanism of triplet repeat expansion in iPSCs.
  • Over the past year, our research efforts have focused on the generality of the results we found in human induced pluripotent stem cells derived from patients with the neurodegenerative disease Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA). FRDA is one of the trinucleotide repeat (TNR) diseases, and our major previous finding was that the GAA•TCC trinucleotide repeats that cause FRDA expand during isolation and propagation of FRDA hiPSCs. This expansion was shown to be dependent on enzymes that are involved in the repair of mismatches in the human genome. To extend these studies, we have focused on hiPSCs from the related TNR diseases myotonic dystrophy type 1 (DM1), Huntington's disease (HD), Fragile X syndrome (FXS), and Fuchs endothelial corneal dystrophy (FECD). DM1 is an inherited dominant muscular dystrophy caused by expanded CTG•CAG triplet repeats in the DMPK gene, which produces a toxic gain-of-function CUG RNA. It has been shown that the severity of disease symptoms, age of onset and progression are related to the length of the triplet repeats. However, the mechanism(s) of CTG•CAG triplet-repeat instability is not fully understood. hiPSCs were generated from DM1 and HD patient fibroblasts. Similar to our results in FRDA, DM1 hiPSCs show repeat instability, and repeat expansion is again dependent on the DNA mismatch repair system. We defined a threshold of repeat lengths where repeat expansion occurs. The relatively short repeats in the gene responsible for Huntington's disease are below this threshold and hence do not expand in the iPSCs. We have also generated hiPSC lines from seven male subjects clinically diagnosed with fragile X syndrome. These hiPSCs have been thoroughly characterized with respect to pluripotency, DNA methylation status at the FMR1 gene, CGG repeat length, FMR1 expression and neuronal differentiation. In recent studies, we have turned our attention to the common eye disease FECD, where ~75% or so of Caucassian patients have a CTG•CAG triplet-repeat in an intron of the gene encoding the essential transcription factor TCF4. We find repeat instability in fibroblasts from FECD patient fibroblasts, and repeat expansion in the corresponding hiPSCs. Importantly, similar to DM1 with the same repeat sequence as in FECD, the pathological mechanism in both diseases appear to be similar, namely RNA toxicity caused by sequestering essential messenger RNA processing factors. We have also identified a potential small molecule therapeutic that binds CTG•CAG triplet-repeats and are currently testing this molecule in the relevant patient iPSC-derived cell types. The information gained from these studies provides new insight into a general mechanism of triplet repeat expansion in iPSCs and has revealed a new therapeutic approach for these diseases.

Investigation of synaptic defects in autism using patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology III
Grant Number: 
RB3-05229
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 391 400
Disease Focus: 
Autism
Neurological Disorders
Pediatrics
Stem Cell Use: 
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Closed
Public Abstract: 
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a group of neurodevelopmental diseases that occur in as many as 1 in 150 children in the United States. Three hallmarks of autism are dysfunctional communication, impaired social interaction, and restricted and repetitive interests and activities. Even though no single genetic defect has been ascribed to having a causative role in the majority of ASD cases, twin concordance studies and rare familial forms of the disease strongly support a genetic malfunction and a combinatorial effect of genetic risk factors may contribute to the variability in the symptoms. One major obstacle to ASD research is the difficulty in obtaining human neural tissue to model the disease in vitro. Mouse models of ASD are limited since only rare genetic mutations have been identified so far, and single mutations in those genes cannot fully reproduce the range of critical behaviors characteristic of ASD. Direct reprogramming of patient tissues to induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells and derivation of forebrain neurons from them will provide much needed insight into the molecular mechanism of neuronal dysfunction in diverse individuals on the autism spectrum. The use of patient-derived stem cells to characterize cellular defects brings together two investigative approaches. One is the identification of common cellular and molecular mechanisms that are central to deficiencies across diverse populations of patients. The other is quantitative comparison of pathological features that address differences amongst diverse patients. Our major goal is to characterize the synaptic dysfunction using concrete, quantifiable parameters in human neurons that have specific mutations in key synaptic proteins. This approach will give us a handle into the molecular synaptic complexes that may also be altered in sporadic ASD cases and could help us develop drug strategies that can normalize synaptic function. Although several groups are interested in generating iPS cells from autistic patients, these efforts generally do not have genomic information on the patients, and the large diversity of mutations associated with autism could lead to large variation in synaptic phenotypes. By focusing on generating iPS cells from patients carrying mutations in a small number of critical synaptic proteins and characterizing the molecular components of this complex, we are likely to be in a strong position to identify novel molecular defects associated with autistic synapses. Relative biochemical comparisons of wildtype and mutant protein complexes could help us find ways to restore synaptic function in ASD.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Many children in California are affected by autism spectrum disorders, which include monogenic syndromes such as Fragile X syndrome and Rett syndrome. However, the majority of cases are idiopathic and an interplay of multiple genetic risk factors is suspected. Since no current drug therapies exist for autism and an accurate diagnosis can only be made in early childhood by largely behavioral criteria, the cost of care and social burden for such a disorder is high, not to mention the devastation to the quality of life for the families of affected children. We would like to identify a core set of proteins found in synapses that are disrupted or dysregulated in autism by a biochemical approach. If we succeed in this effort, we may be able to identify novel biomarkers and molecular targets for specific patient profiles, and by cross-correlating the genetic background to specific behavioral traits in specific individuals, we may come up with molecular targets that are able to address particular symptoms, which should greatly aid in therapeutic regimens that complement existing behavioral therapies. Generating iPS neurons with known copy number variations associated with autism would be a major resource for other laboratories in California and in the field in general. The economic benefit to California is manifold, as many pharmaceutical and biotech companies in California will want to exploit these novel cell lines and the therapeutic targets identified through them in order to design better drugs for autism.
Progress Report: 
  • The main goal of this project is to establish a cell culture model human neuronal model of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) by generating induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell lines from patients harboring mutations in genes associated with autism, differentiating them into forebrain neurons, and characterizing their synaptic defects at the cellular and molecular level. We have successfully obtained iPS cells from two autism spectrum disorders, tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) and Rett syndrome (RTT). We obtained fibroblasts from patients with mutations in the TSC1 and TSC2 genes through the Coriell biorepository. We then reprogrammed them into several TSC patient-specific iPS cell lines. Furthermore, we have obtained male MECP2 mutant iPS cell lines from the lab of Dr. Alysson Muotri to study in parallel with the TSC lines.
  • We differentiated ASD iPS cell lines into neural progenitor cell (NPCs) and have been examining differences in protein levels and signaling pathways in these cells. Pathway analyses from MECP2 mutant NPCs suggest there may be a marked deficit in several major intracellular signaling pathways, and we are validating those deficits by biochemical analyses and genetic manipulations. Both TSC and RTT forebrain neurons show significant differences in synaptic regulation compared to their respective controls. Alterations in synaptic regulation are being assessed by gene expression analysis, staining for synaptic markers, and electrophysiology. We have made major progress toward realizing our goal of establishing novel iPS cell models for ASD. Furthermore, we obtained very interesting data that should help us elucidate the cell signaling deficits that lead to neuronal dysfunction.
  • We set out to establish an in vitro human neuronal model of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) by generating induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell lines from patients harboring specific genetic mutations in syndromic forms of autism, such as Rett Syndrome (RTT) and Tuberous sclerosis (TS). We then differentiated them into neural progenitor cells (NPCs) and forebrain neurons, in order to compare their differentiation potential and to characterize mutation-associated deficits at the cellular and molecular level. Previously published data on cellular and animal models indicate that synaptic deficits are a major feature of the pathophysiology of RTT and TS.
  • We employed patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from male RTT patients and gender-matched parental controls to probe for functional and molecular deficits in RTT. A similar approach was taken for TS.
  • As MECP2 is expressed in both the developing and mature central nervous system, we investigated deficits that may arise during early developmental stages (i.e. at the neural progenitor cell or NPC stage), which could then significantly affect neurodevelopmental processes such as neurogenesis and gliogenesis. By quantitative proteomics, we showed that the RTT cells have changes on the molecular level, at both the NPC and neuron stage, compared to their WT control, and that these changes may reflect some of the deficits in the developmental process. We report delays in maturation, such as misregulation of LIN28 at the NPC stage and subsequent deficits in glial differentiation.
  • Taken together, these results provide a framework for identifying novel early pathways that are perturbed in RTT, as well as potential therapeutics to minimize functional deficits. More generally, it will be of interest to see if these pathways and possible therapeutics may carry over to other related forms of neurodevelopmental disorders, in particular, idiopathic autism.

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