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2020 Publications

A psychiatric disease-related circular RNA controls synaptic gene expression and cognition

Although circular RNAs (circRNAs) are enriched in the mammalian brain, very little is known about their potential involvement in brain function and psychiatric disease. Here, we show that circHomer1a, a neuronal-enriched circRNA abundantly expressed in the frontal cortex, derived from Homer protein homolog 1 (HOMER1), is significantly reduced in both the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and induced pluripotent stem cell-derived neuronal cultures from patients with schizophrenia (SCZ) and bipolar disorder (BD). Moreover, alterations in circHomer1a were positively associated with the age of onset of SCZ in both the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). No correlations between the age of onset of SCZ and linear HOMER1 mRNA were observed, whose expression was mostly unaltered in BD and SCZ postmortem brain. Using in vivo circRNA-specific knockdown of circHomer1a in mouse PFC, we show that it modulates the expression of numerous alternative mRNA transcripts from genes involved in synaptic plasticity and psychiatric disease. Intriguingly, in vivo circHomer1a knockdown in mouse OFC resulted in specific deficits in OFC-mediated cognitive flexibility. Lastly, we demonstrate that the neuronal RNA-binding protein HuD binds to circHomer1a and can influence its synaptic expression in the frontal cortex. Collectively, our data uncover a novel psychiatric disease-associated circRNA that regulates synaptic gene expression and cognitive flexibility.

Active immunotherapy and alternative therapeutic modalities for Alzheimer's disease

As knowledge of Alzheimer's disease (AD) progression improves, the field has recognized the need to diversify the pipeline, broaden strategies and approaches to therapies, as well as delivery mechanisms. A better understanding of the earliest biological processes of AD/dementia would help inform drug target selection. Currently there are a number of programs exploring these alternate avenues. This meeting will allow experts in the field (academia, industry, government) to provide perspectives and experiences that can help elucidate what the pipeline looks like today and what avenues hold promise in developing new therapies across the stages of AD. The focus here is on Active Immunotherapies and Alternative Therapeutic Modalities. This topic includes active vaccines, antisense oligomers, and cell-based therapy among others, and highlights new clinical developments that utilize these modalities.

Advances toward precision medicine for bipolar disorder: mechanisms & molecules

Given its chronicity, contribution to disability and morbidity, and prevalence of more than 2%, the effective treatment, and prevention of bipolar disorder represents an area of significant unmet medical need. While more than half a century has passed since the introduction of lithium into widespread use at the birth of modern psychopharmacology, that medication remains a mainstay for the acute treatment and prevention of recurrent mania/hypomania and depression that characterize bipolar disorder. However, the continued limited understanding of how lithium modulates affective behavior and lack of validated cellular and animal models have resulted in obstacles to discovering more effective mood stabilizers with fewer adverse side effects. In particular, while there has been progress in developing new pharmacotherapy for mania, developing effective treatments for acute bipolar depression remain inadequate. Recent large-scale human genetic studies have confirmed the complex, polygenic nature of the risk architecture of bipolar disorder, and its overlap with other major neuropsychiatric disorders. Such discoveries have begun to shed light on the pathophysiology of bipolar disorder. Coupled with broader advances in human neurobiology, neuropharmacology, noninvasive neuromodulation, and clinical trial design, we can envision novel therapeutic strategies informed by defined molecular mechanisms and neural circuits and targeted to the root cause of the pathophysiology. Here, we review recent advances toward the goal of better treatments for bipolar disorder, and we outline major challenges for the field of translational neuroscience that necessitate continued focus on fundamental research and discovery.

Benzothiazole-Based LRRK2 Inhibitors as Wnt Enhancers and Promoters of Oligodendrocytic Fate

Leucine rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2) is an enigmatic enzyme and a relevant target for Parkinson's disease (PD). However, despite the significant amount of research done in the past decade, the precise function of LRRK2 remains largely unknown. Moreover, the therapeutic potential of its inhibitors is in its infancy with the first clinical trial having just started. In the present work, the molecular mechanism of LRRK2 in the control of neurogenesis or gliogenesis was investigated. We designed and synthesized novel benzothiazole-based LRRK2 inhibitors and showed that they can modulate the Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway. Furthermore, compounds 5 and 14 were able to promote neural progenitors proliferation and drive their differentiation toward neuronal and oligodendrocytic cell fates. These results suggest potential new avenues for the application of LRRK2 inhibitors in demyelinating diseases in which oligodendrocyte cell-death is one of the pathological features.

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.

Discovery of suppressors of CRMP2 phosphorylation reveals compounds that mimic the behavioral effects of lithium on amphetamine-induced hyperlocomotion

The effective treatment of bipolar disorder (BD) represents a significant unmet medical need. Although lithium remains a mainstay of treatment for BD, limited knowledge regarding how it modulates affective behavior has proven an obstacle to discovering more effective mood stabilizers with fewer adverse side effects. One potential mechanism of action of lithium is through inhibition of the serine/threonine protein kinase GSK3β, however, relevant substrates whose change in phosphorylation may mediate downstream changes in neuroplasticity remain poorly understood. Here, we used human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC)-derived neuronal cells and stable isotope labeling by amino acids in cell culture (SILAC) along with quantitative mass spectrometry to identify global changes in the phosphoproteome upon inhibition of GSK3α/β with the highly selective, ATP-competitive inhibitor CHIR-99021. Comparison of phosphorylation changes to those induced by therapeutically relevant doses of lithium treatment led to the identification of collapsin response mediator protein 2 (CRMP2) as being highly sensitive to both treatments as well as an extended panel of structurally distinct GSK3α/β inhibitors. On this basis, a high-content image-based assay in hiPSC-derived neurons was developed to screen diverse compounds, including FDA-approved drugs, for their ability to mimic lithium's suppression of CRMP2 phosphorylation without directly inhibiting GSK3β kinase activity. Systemic administration of a subset of these CRMP2-phosphorylation suppressors were found to mimic lithium's attenuation of amphetamine-induced hyperlocomotion in mice. Taken together, these studies not only provide insights into the neural substrates regulated by lithium, but also provide novel human neuronal assays for supporting the development of mechanism-based therapeutics for BD and related neuropsychiatric disorders.

HDAC1 modulates OGG1-initiated oxidative DNA damage repair in the aging brain and Alzheimer's disease

DNA damage contributes to brain aging and neurodegenerative diseases. However, the factors stimulating DNA repair to stave off functional decline remain obscure. We show that HDAC1 modulates OGG1-initated 8-oxoguanine (8-oxoG) repair in the brain. HDAC1-deficient mice display age-associated DNA damage accumulation and cognitive impairment. HDAC1 stimulates OGG1, a DNA glycosylase known to remove 8-oxoG lesions that are associated with transcriptional repression. HDAC1 deficiency causes impaired OGG1 activity, 8-oxoG accumulation at the promoters of genes critical for brain function, and transcriptional repression. Moreover, we observe elevated 8-oxoG along with reduced HDAC1 activity and downregulation of a similar gene set in the 5XFAD mouse model of Alzheimer's disease. Notably, pharmacological activation of HDAC1 alleviates the deleterious effects of 8-oxoG in aged wild-type and 5XFAD mice. Our work uncovers important roles for HDAC1 in 8-oxoG repair and highlights the therapeutic potential of HDAC1 activation to counter functional decline in brain aging and neurodegeneration.

Histone deacetylase knockouts modify transcription, CAG instability and nuclear pathology in Huntington disease mice

Somatic expansion of the Huntington's disease (HD) CAG repeat drives the rate of a pathogenic process ultimately resulting in neuronal cell death. Although mechanisms of toxicity are poorly delineated, transcriptional dysregulation is a likely contributor. To identify modifiers that act at the level of CAG expansion and/or downstream pathogenic processes, we tested the impact of genetic knockout, in HttQ111 mice, of Hdac2 or Hdac3 in medium-spiny striatal neurons that exhibit extensive CAG expansion and exquisite disease vulnerability. Both knockouts moderately attenuated CAG expansion, with Hdac2 knockout decreasing nuclear huntingtin pathology. Hdac2 knockout resulted in a substantial transcriptional response that included modification of transcriptional dysregulation elicited by the HttQ111 allele, likely via mechanisms unrelated to instability suppression. Our results identify novel modifiers of different aspects of HD pathogenesis in medium-spiny neurons and highlight a complex relationship between the expanded Htt allele and Hdac2 with implications for targeting transcriptional dysregulation in HD.

Human pluripotent stem cell-derived models and drug screening in CNS precision medicine

Development of effective therapeutics for neurological disorders has historically been challenging partly because of lack of accurate model systems in which to investigate disease etiology and test new therapeutics at the preclinical stage. Human stem cells, particularly patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) upon differentiation, have the ability to recapitulate aspects of disease pathophysiology and are increasingly recognized as robust scalable systems for drug discovery. We review advances in deriving cellular models of human central nervous system (CNS) disorders using iPSCs along with strategies for investigating disease-relevant phenotypes, translatable biomarkers, and therapeutic targets. Given their potential to identify novel therapeutic targets and leads, we focus on phenotype-based, small-molecule screens employing human stem cell-derived models. Integrated efforts to assemble patient iPSC-derived cell models with deeply annotated clinicopathological data, along with molecular and drug-response signatures, may aid in the stratification of patients, diagnostics, and clinical trial success, shifting translational science and precision medicine approaches. A number of remaining challenges, including the optimization of cost-effective, large-scale culture of iPSC-derived cell types, incorporation of aging into neuronal models, as well as robustness and automation of phenotypic assays to support quantitative drug efficacy, toxicity, and metabolism testing workflows, are covered. Continued advancement of the field is expected to help fully humanize the process of CNS drug discovery.

Identification and Mechanistic Characterization of a Peptide Inhibitor of Glycogen Synthase Kinase (GSK3β) Derived from the Disrupted in Schizophrenia 1 (DISC1) Protein

Glycogen synthase kinase 3-beta (GSK3β) is a critical regulator of several cellular pathways involved in neurodevelopment and neuroplasticity and as such is a potential focus for the discovery of new neurotherapeutics toward the treatment of neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases. The majority of efforts to develop inhibitors of GSK3β have been focused on developing small molecule inhibitors that compete with adenosine triphosphate (ATP) through direct interaction with the ATP binding site. This strategy has presented selectivity challenges due to the evolutionary conservation of this domain within the kinome. The disrupted in schizophrenia 1 (DISC1) protein has previously been shown to bind and inhibit GSK3β activity. Here, we report the characterization of a 44-mer peptide derived from human DISC1 (hDISCtide) that is sufficient to both bind and inhibit GSK3β in a noncompetitive mode distinct from classical ATP competitive inhibitors. Based on multiple independent biochemical and biophysical assays, we propose that hDISCtide interacts at two distinct regions of GSK3β: an inhibitory region that partially overlaps with the binding site of FRATide, a well-known GSK3β binding peptide, and a specific binding region that is unique to hDISCtide. Taken together, our findings present a novel avenue for developing a peptide-based selective inhibitor of GSK3β.

Prolonged tau clearance and stress vulnerability rescue by pharmacological activation of autophagy in tauopathy neurons

Tauopathies are neurodegenerative diseases associated with accumulation of abnormal tau protein in the brain. Patient iPSC-derived neuronal cell models replicate disease-relevant phenotypes ex vivo that can be pharmacologically targeted for drug discovery. Here, we explored autophagy as a mechanism to reduce tau burden in human neurons and, from a small-molecule screen, identify the mTOR inhibitors OSI-027, AZD2014 and AZD8055. These compounds are more potent than rapamycin, and robustly downregulate phosphorylated and insoluble tau, consequently reducing tau-mediated neuronal stress vulnerability. MTORC1 inhibition and autophagy activity are directly linked to tau clearance. Notably, single-dose treatment followed by washout leads to a prolonged reduction of tau levels and toxicity for 12 days, which is mirrored by a sustained effect on mTORC1 inhibition and autophagy. This new insight into the pharmacodynamics of mTOR inhibitors in regulation of neuronal autophagy may contribute to development of therapies for tauopathies.

Radiosynthesis and in vivo evaluation of a new positron emission tomography radiotracer targeting bromodomain and extra-terminal domain (BET) family proteins

Introduction: Bromodomain and extra-terminal domain (BET) family proteins play a vital role in the epigenetic regulation process by interacting with acetylated lysine (Ac-K) residues in histones. BET inhibitors have become promising candidates to treat various diseases through the inhibition of the interaction between BET bromodomains and Ac-K of histone tails. With a molecular imaging probe, noninvasive imaging such as positron emission tomography (PET) can visualize the distribution and roles of BET family proteins in vivo and enlighten our understanding of BET protein function in both healthy and diseased tissue. Methods: We radiolabeled the potent BET inhibitor INCB054329 by N-methylation to make [11C]PB003 as a BET PET radiotracer. The bioactivity evaluation of unlabeled PB003 in vitro was performed to confirm its binding affinity for BRDs, then the PET/CT imaging in rodents was performed to evaluate the bioactivity of [11C]PB003 in vivo.
Results: In our in vitro evaluation, PB003 showed a high BET binding affinity for BRDs (Kd = 2 nM, 1.2 nM, and 1.2 nM for BRD2, BRD3, and BRD4, respectively). In vivo PET/CT imaging demonstrated that [11C]PB003 has favorable uptake with appropriate kinetics and distributions in main peripheral organs. Besides, the blockade of [11C]PB003 binding was found in our blocking study which indicated the specificity of [11C]PB003. However, the BBB penetration and brain uptake of [11C]PB003 was limited, with only a maximum 0.2% injected dose/g at ~2 min post-injection. Conclusion: The imaging results in rodents in vivo demonstrate that [11C]PB003 binds to BET with high selectivity and specificity and has favorable uptake in peripheral organs. However, the low brain uptake of [11C]PB003 limits the visualization of brain regions indicating the efforts are still needed to discover the new BET imaging probes for brain visualization.

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