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2019 Publications

A Comprehensive Resource for Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells from Patients with Primary Tauopathies

Primary tauopathies are characterized neuropathologically by inclusions containing abnormal forms of the microtubule-associated protein tau (MAPT) and clinically by diverse neuropsychiatric, cognitive, and motor impairments. Autosomal dominant mutations in the MAPT gene cause heterogeneous forms of frontotemporal lobar degeneration with tauopathy (FTLD-Tau). Common and rare variants in the MAPT gene increase the risk for sporadic FTLD-Tau, including progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) and corticobasal degeneration (CBD). We generated a collection of fibroblasts from 140 MAPT mutation/risk variant carriers, PSP, CBD, and cognitively normal controls; 31 induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) lines from MAPT mutation carriers, non-carrier family members, and autopsy-confirmed PSP patients; 33 genome engineered iPSCs that were corrected or mutagenized; and forebrain neural progenitor cells (NPCs). Here, we present a resource of fibroblasts, iPSCs, and NPCs with comprehensive clinical histories that can be accessed by the scientific community for disease modeling and development of novel therapeutics for tauopathies.

A farnesyltransferase inhibitor activates lysosomes and reduces tau pathology in mice with tauopathy

Tau inclusions are a shared feature of many neurodegenerative diseases, among them frontotemporal dementia caused by tau mutations. Treatment approaches for these conditions include targeting posttranslational modifications of tau proteins, maintaining a steady-state amount of tau, and preventing its tendency to aggregate. We discovered a new regulatory pathway for tau degradation that operates through the farnesylated protein, Rhes, a GTPase in the Ras family. Here, we show that treatment with the farnesyltransferase inhibitor lonafarnib reduced Rhes and decreased brain atrophy, tau inclusions, tau sumoylation, and tau ubiquitination in the rTg4510 mouse model of tauopathy. In addition, lonafarnib treatment attenuated behavioral abnormalities in rTg4510 mice and reduced microgliosis in mouse brain. Direct reduction of Rhes in the rTg4510 mouse by siRNA reproduced the results observed with lonafarnib treatment. The mechanism of lonafarnib action mediated by Rhes to reduce tau pathology was shown to operate through activation of lysosomes. We finally showed in mouse brain and in human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived neurons a normal developmental increase in Rhes that was initially suppressed by tau mutations. The known safety of lonafarnib revealed in human clinical trials for cancer suggests that this drug could be repurposed for treating tauopathies.

A microRNA cluster in the Fragile-X region expressed during spermatogenesis targets FMR1

Testis-expressed X-linked genes typically evolve rapidly. Here, we report on a testis-expressed X-linked microRNA (miRNA) cluster that despite rapid alterations in sequence has retained its position in the Fragile-X region of the X chromosome in placental mammals. Surprisingly, the miRNAs encoded by this cluster (Fx-mir) have a predilection for targeting the immediately adjacent gene, Fmr1, an unexpected finding given that miRNAs usually act in trans, not in cis Robust repression of Fmr1 is conferred by combinations of Fx-mir miRNAs induced in Sertoli cells (SCs) during postnatal development when they terminate proliferation. Physiological significance is suggested by the finding that FMRP, the protein product of Fmr1, is downregulated when Fx-mir miRNAs are induced, and that FMRP loss causes SC hyperproliferation and spermatogenic defects. Fx-mir miRNAs not only regulate the expression of FMRP, but also regulate the expression of eIF4E and CYFIP1, which together with FMRP form a translational regulatory complex. Our results support a model in which Fx-mir family members act cooperatively to regulate the translation of batteries of mRNAs in a developmentally regulated manner in SCs.

Activation of WNT and CREB signaling pathways in human neuronal cells in response to the Omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

A subset of individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD) elects treatment with complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs), including the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Previous studies in rodents suggest that DHA modulates neurodevelopmental processes, including adult neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, but the molecular and cellular mechanisms of DHA's potential therapeutic effect in the context of human neurobiology have not been well established. Here we sought to address this knowledge gap by investigating the effects of DHA using human iPSC-derived neural progenitor cells (NPCs) and post-mitotic neurons using pathway-selective reporter genes, multiplexed mRNA expression profiling, and a panel of metabolism-based viability assays. Finally, real-time, live-cell imaging was employed to monitor neurite outgrowth upon DHA treatment. Overall, these studies showed that DHA treatment (0-50 μM) significantly upregulated both WNT and CREB signaling pathways in human neuronal cells in a dose-dependent manner with 2- to 3-fold increases in pathway activation. Additionally, we observed that DHA treatment enhanced survival of iPSC-derived NPCs and differentiation of post-mitotic neurons with live-cell imaging, revealing increased neurite outgrowth with DHA treatment within 24 h. Taken together, this study provides evidence that DHA treatment activates critical pathways regulating neuroplasticity, which may contribute to enhanced neuronal cell viability and neuronal connectivity. The extent to which these pathways represent molecular mechanisms underlying the potential beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids in MDD and other brain disorders merits further investigation.

An Autophagy Modifier Screen Identifies Small Molecules Capable of Reducing Autophagosome Accumulation in a Model of CLN3-Mediated Neurodegeneration

Alterations in the autophagosomal-lysosomal pathway are a major pathophysiological feature of CLN3 disease, which is the most common form of childhood-onset neurodegeneration. Accumulating autofluorescent lysosomal storage material in CLN3 disease, consisting of dolichols, lipids, biometals, and a protein that normally resides in the mitochondria, subunit c of the mitochondrial ATPase, provides evidence that autophagosomal-lysosomal turnover of cellular components is disrupted upon loss of CLN3 protein function. Using a murine neuronal cell model of the disease, which accurately mimics the major gene defect and the hallmark features of CLN3 disease, we conducted an unbiased search for modifiers of autophagy, extending previous work by further optimizing a GFP-LC3 based assay and performing a high-content screen on a library of ~2000 bioactive compounds. Here we corroborate our earlier screening results and identify expanded, independent sets of autophagy modifiers that increase or decrease the accumulation of autophagosomes in the CLN3 disease cells, highlighting several pathways of interest, including the regulation of calcium signaling, microtubule dynamics, and the mevalonate pathway. Follow-up analysis on fluspirilene, nicardipine, and verapamil, in particular, confirmed activity in reducing GFP-LC3 vesicle burden, while also demonstrating activity in normalizing lysosomal positioning and, for verapamil, in promoting storage material clearance in CLN3 disease neuronal cells. This study demonstrates the potential for cell-based screening studies to identify candidate molecules and pathways for further work to understand CLN3 disease pathogenesis and in drug development efforts.

Deep Learning Benchmarks on L1000 Gene Expression Data

Gene expression data can offer deep, physiological insights beyond the static coding of the genome alone. We believe that realizing this potential requires specialized, high-capacity machine learning methods capable of using underlying biological structure, but the development of such models is hampered by the lack of published benchmark tasks and well characterized baselines. In this work, we establish such benchmarks and baselines by profiling many classifiers against biologically motivated tasks on two curated views of a large, public gene expression dataset (the LINCS corpus) and one privately produced dataset. We provide these two curated views of the public LINCS dataset and our benchmark tasks to enable direct comparisons to future methodological work and help spur deep learning method development on this modality. In addition to profiling a battery of traditional classifiers, including linear models, random forests, decision trees, K nearest neighbor (KNN) classifiers, and feed-forward artificial neural networks (FF-ANNs), we also test a method novel to this data modality: graph convolugtional neural networks (GCNNs), which allow us to incorporate prior biological domain knowledge. We find that GCNNs can be highly performant, with large datasets, whereas FF-ANNs consistently perform well. Non-neural classifiers are dominated by linear models and KNN classifiers.

Drug discovery for psychiatric disorders using high-content single-cell screening of signaling network responses ex vivo

There is a paucity of efficacious new compounds to treat neuropsychiatric disorders. We present a novel approach to neuropsychiatric drug discovery based on high-content characterization of druggable signaling network responses at the single-cell level in patient-derived lymphocytes ex vivo. Primary T lymphocytes showed functional responses encompassing neuropsychiatric medications and central nervous system ligands at established (e.g., GSK-3β) and emerging (e.g., CrkL) drug targets. Clinical application of the platform to schizophrenia patients over the course of antipsychotic treatment revealed therapeutic targets within the phospholipase Cγ1-calcium signaling pathway. Compound library screening against the target phenotype identified subsets of L-type calcium channel blockers and corticosteroids as novel therapeutically relevant drug classes with corresponding activity in neuronal cells. The screening results were validated by predicting in vivo efficacy in an independent schizophrenia cohort. The approach has the potential to discern new drug targets and accelerate drug discovery and personalized medicine for neuropsychiatric conditions.

Identification of evolutionarily conserved gene networks mediating neurodegenerative dementia

Identifying the mechanisms through which genetic risk causes dementia is an imperative for new therapeutic development. Here, we apply a multistage, systems biology approach to elucidate the disease mechanisms in frontotemporal dementia. We identify two gene coexpression modules that are preserved in mice harboring mutations in MAPT, GRN and other dementia mutations on diverse genetic backgrounds. We bridge the species divide via integration with proteomic and transcriptomic data from the human brain to identify evolutionarily conserved, disease-relevant networks. We find that overexpression of miR-203, a hub of a putative regulatory microRNA (miRNA) module, recapitulates mRNA coexpression patterns associated with disease state and induces neuronal cell death, establishing this miRNA as a regulator of neurodegeneration. Using a database of drug-mediated gene expression changes, we identify small molecules that can normalize the disease-associated modules and validate this experimentally. Our results highlight the utility of an integrative, cross-species network approach to drug discovery.

Kinetic Tuning of HDAC Inhibitors Affords Potent Inducers of Progranulin Expression

Histone deacetylases (HDACs) are enzymes involved in the epigenetic control of gene expression. A handful of HDAC inhibitors have been approved for the treatment of cancer, and HDAC inhibition has also been proposed as a novel therapeutic strategy for neurodegenerative disorders. These disorders include progranulin (PGRN)-deficient forms of frontotemporal dementia caused by mutations in the GRN gene that lead to haploinsufficiency. Hydroxamic-acid-based inhibitors of HDACs 1-3, reported to have fast-on/fast-off binding kinetics, induce increased expression of PGRN in human neuronal models, while the benzamide class of slow-binding HDAC inhibitors does not produce this effect. These observations indicate that the kinetics of HDAC inhibitor binding can be tuned for optimal induction of human PGRN expression in neurons. Here, we further expand on these findings using human cortical-like, glutamatergic neurons. We provide evidence that two prototypical, potent hydroxamic acid HDAC inhibitors that induce PGRN (panobinostat and trichostatin A) exhibit an initial fast-binding step followed by a second, slower step, referred to as mechanism B of slow binding, rather than simpler fast-on/fast-off binding kinetics. In addition, we show that trapoxin A, a macrocyclic, epoxyketone-containing class I HDAC inhibitor, exhibits slow binding with high, picomolar potency and also induces PGRN expression in human neurons. Finally, we demonstrate induction of PGRN expression by fast-on/fast-off, highly potent, macrocyclic HDAC inhibitors with ethyl ketone or ethyl ester Zn2+ binding groups. Taken together, these data expand our understanding of HDAC1-3 inhibitor binding kinetics, and further delineate the specific combinations of structural and kinetic features of HDAC inhibitors that are optimal for upregulating PGRN expression in human neurons and thus may have translational relevance in neurodegenerative disease.

PET neuroimaging reveals histone deacetylase dysregulation in schizophrenia

Patients with schizophrenia (SCZ) experience chronic cognitive deficits. Histone deacetylases (HDACs) are enzymes that regulate cognitive circuitry; however, the role of HDACs in cognitive disorders, including SCZ, remains unknown in humans. We previously determined that HDAC2 mRNA levels were lower in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) tissue from donors with SCZ compared with controls. Here we investigated the relationship between in vivo HDAC expression and cognitive impairment in patients with SCZ and matched healthy controls using [11C]Martinostat positron emission tomography (PET).

Positron emission tomography probes targeting bromodomain and extra-terminal (BET) domains to enable in vivo neuroepigenetic imaging

Here, we report the development of novel PET radiotracer ([11C]CW22) of BET proteins. In vivo imaging results in rodents and nonhuman primates (NHP) demonstrate that [11C]CW22 has excellent brain uptake, good specificity, good selectivity, suitable metabolism, appropriate kinetics and distribution in the brain. Our studies demonstrated that [11C]CW22 exhibits ideal properties as a PET imaging probe of BET proteins for further validation.

Structural Basis for Achieving GSK-3β Inhibition with High Potency, Selectivity, and Brain Exposure for Positron Emission Tomography Imaging and Drug Discovery

Using structure-guided design, several cell based assays, and microdosed positron emission tomography (PET) imaging, we identified a series of highly potent, selective, and brain-penetrant oxazole-4-carboxamide-based inhibitors of glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK-3). An isotopologue of our first-generation lead, [3H]PF-367, demonstrates selective and specific target engagement in vitro, irrespective of the activation state. We discovered substantial ubiquitous GSK-3-specific radioligand binding in Tg2576 Alzheimer's disease (AD), suggesting application for these compounds in AD diagnosis and identified [11C]OCM-44 as our lead GSK-3 radiotracer, with optimized brain uptake by PET imaging in nonhuman primates. GSK-3β-isozyme selectivity was assessed to reveal OCM-51, the most potent (IC50 = 0.030 nM) and selective (>10-fold GSK-3β/GSK-3α) GSK-3β inhibitor known to date. Inhibition of CRMP2T514 and tau phosphorylation, as well as favorable therapeutic window against WNT/β-catenin signaling activation, was observed in cells.

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