Year 3

The goal of this proposal has been to establish a novel research tool to explore the molecular basis of Parkinson’s disease (PD) – a critical step toward the development of new therapies. To date, a small handful of specific genes and associated mutations have been causally linked to the development of PD. However, how these mutations provoke the degeneration of specific neurons in the brain remains poorly understood.

Moreover, conducting such genotype-phenotype studies has been hampered by two significant experimental problems. First, we have historically lacked the ability to model the relevant human cell types carrying the appropriate gene mutation. Second, the genetic variation between individuals means that the comparison of a cell from a disease-carrier to a cell derived from a normal subject is confounded by the many thousands of genetic changes that normally differentiate two individuals from one another.

We proposed to use zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs) in patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) to accelerate the generation of a panel of genetically identical cell lines differing only in the presence or absence of a single disease-linked gene mutation.

To this end, we have successfully generated a panel of LRRK2 isogenic cell lines that differ only in “one building block” in the genomic DNA of a cell which can cause PD, therefore we genetically ‘cured’ the cells in the culture dish. These lines are invaluable because they are a set of tools that allow to study the effect of this mutation in the context of neurodegeneration and cell death. We received interest from many outside academic laboratories and industry to distribute these novel tools and these cell lines will hopefully lead to the discovery of new drugs that can halt or even reverse PD.