Doctor of Philosophy, Rutgers University (2011)
Marius Wernig, Postdoctoral Faculty Sponsor
Direct conversion of nonneural cells to functional neurons holds great promise for neurological disease modeling and regenerative medicine. We previously reported rapid reprogramming of mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) into mature induced neuronal (iN) cells by forced expression of three transcription factors: ASCL1, MYT1L, and BRN2. Here, we show that ASCL1 alone is sufficient to generate functional iN cells from mouse and human fibroblasts and embryonic stem cells, indicating that ASCL1 is the key driver of iN cell reprogramming in different cell contexts and that the role of MYT1L and BRN2 is primarily to enhance the neuronal maturation process. ASCL1-induced single-factor neurons (1F-iN) expressed mature neuronal markers, exhibited typical passive and active intrinsic membrane properties, and formed functional pre- and postsynaptic structures. Surprisingly, ASCL1-induced iN cells were predominantly excitatory, demonstrating that ASCL1 is permissive but alone not deterministic for the inhibitory neuronal lineage.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.stemcr.2014.05.020
View details for Web of Science ID 000340882400008
Development of the nervous system begins with neural induction, which is controlled by complex signaling networks functioning in concert with one another. Fine-tuning of the bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) pathway is essential for neural induction in the developing embryo. However, the molecular mechanisms by which cells integrate the signaling pathways that contribute to neural induction have remained unclear. We find that neural induction is dependent on the Ca(2+)-activated phosphatase calcineurin (CaN). Fibroblast growth factor (FGF)-regulated Ca(2+) entry activates CaN, which directly and specifically dephosphorylates BMP-regulated Smad1/5 proteins. Genetic and biochemical analyses revealed that CaN adjusts the strength and transcriptional output of BMP signaling and that a reduction of CaN activity leads to an increase of Smad1/5-regulated transcription. As a result, FGF-activated CaN signaling opposes BMP signaling during gastrulation, thereby promoting neural induction and the development of anterior structures.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.neuron.2014.02.015
View details for Web of Science ID 000333804800012
We and others have reported the successful conversion of human fibroblasts into functional induced neuronal (iN) cells; however the reprogramming efficiencies were very low. Robust reprogramming methods must be developed before iN cells can be used for translational applications such as disease modeling or transplantation-based therapies. Here, we describe a novel approach in which we significantly enhance iN cell conversion efficiency of human fibroblast cells by reprogramming under hypoxic conditions (5% O2). Fibroblasts were derived under high (21%) or low (5%) oxygen conditions and reprogrammed into iN cells using a combination of the four transcription factors BRN2, ASCL1, MYT1L and NEUROD1. An increase in Map2 immunostaining was only observed when fibroblasts experienced an acute drop in O2 tension upon infection. Interestingly, cells derived and reprogrammed under hypoxic conditions did not produce more iN cells. Approximately 100% of patched cells fired action potentials in low O2 conditions compared to 50% under high O2 growth conditions, confirming the beneficial aspect of reprogramming under low O2. Further characterization showed no significant difference in the intrinsic properties of iN cells reprogrammed in either condition. Surprisingly, the acute drop in oxygen tension did not affect cell proliferation or cell survival and was not synergistic with the blockade of GSK3β and Smad-mediated pathways. Our results showed that lowering the O2 tension at the initiation of reprogramming is a simple and efficient stratergy to enhance the production of iN cells which will facilitate their use for basic discovery and regenerative medicine.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.jneumeth.2013.03.020
View details for PubMedID 23562599
In recent years, microRNAs or miRNAs have been proposed to target neuronal mRNAs localized near the synapse, exerting a pivotal role in modulating local protein synthesis, and presumably affecting adaptive mechanisms such as synaptic plasticity. In the present study we have characterized the distribution of miRNAs in five regions of the adult mammalian brain and compared the relative abundance between total fractions and purified synaptoneurosomes (SN), using three different methodologies. The results show selective enrichment or depletion of some miRNAs when comparing total versus SN fractions. These miRNAs were different for each brain region explored. Changes in distribution could not be attributed to simple diffusion or to a targeting sequence inside the miRNAs. In silico analysis suggest that the differences in distribution may be related to the preferential concentration of synaptically localized mRNA targeted by the miRNAs. These results favor a model of co-transport of the miRNA-mRNA complex to the synapse, although further studies are required to validate this hypothesis. Using an in vivo model for increasing excitatory activity in the cortex and the hippocampus indicates that the distribution of some miRNAs can be modulated by enhanced neuronal (epileptogenic) activity. All these results demonstrate the dynamic modulation in the local distribution of miRNAs from the adult brain, which may play key roles in controlling localized protein synthesis at the synapse.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.brainres.2011.12.001
View details for Web of Science ID 000301403900003
View details for PubMedID 22197703
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) play important roles during development and also in adult organisms by regulating the expression of multiple target genes. Here, we studied the function of miR-133b during zebrafish spinal cord regeneration and show upregulation of miR-133b expression in regenerating neurons of the brainstem after transection of the spinal cord. miR-133b has been shown to promote tissue regeneration in other tissue, but its ability to do so in the nervous system has yet to be tested. Inhibition of miR-133b expression by antisense morpholino (MO) application resulted in impaired locomotor recovery and reduced regeneration of axons from neurons in the nucleus of the medial longitudinal fascicle, superior reticular formation and intermediate reticular formation. miR-133b targets the small GTPase RhoA, which is an inhibitor of axonal growth, as well as other neurite outgrowth-related molecules. Our results indicate that miR-133b is an important determinant in spinal cord regeneration of adult zebrafish through reduction in RhoA protein levels by direct interaction with its mRNA. While RhoA has been studied as a therapeutic target in spinal cord injury, this is the first demonstration of endogenous regulation of RhoA by a microRNA that is required for spinal cord regeneration in zebrafish. The ability of miR-133b to suppress molecules that inhibit axon regrowth may underlie the capacity for adult zebrafish to recover locomotor function after spinal cord injury.
View details for DOI 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2011.07643.x
View details for Web of Science ID 000290169500004
View details for PubMedID 21447094
Embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells are characterized by their ability to self-renew and differentiate into any cell type. The molecular mechanism behind this process is a complex interplay between the transcriptional factors with epigenetic regulators and signaling pathways. miRNAs are an integral part of this regulatory network, with essential roles in pluripotent maintenance, proliferation and differentiation. miRNAs are a class of small noncoding RNAs that target protein-encoding mRNA to inhibit translation and protein synthesis. Discovered close to 20 years ago, miRNAs have rapidly emerged as key regulatory molecules in several critical cellular processes across species. Recent studies have begun to clarify the specific role of miRNA in regulatory circuitries that control self-renewal and pluripotency of both embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells. These advances suggest a critical role for miRNAs in the process of reprogramming somatic cells to pluripotent cells.
View details for DOI 10.2217/RME.10.34
View details for Web of Science ID 000280467900014
View details for PubMedID 20632858
MicroRNAs are required for maintenance of pluripotency as well as differentiation, but since more microRNAs have been computationally predicted in genome than have been found, there are likely to be undiscovered microRNAs expressed early in stem cell differentiation.SOLiD ultra-deep sequencing identified >10(7) unique small RNAs from human embryonic stem cells (hESC) and neural-restricted precursors that were fit to a model of microRNA biogenesis to computationally predict 818 new microRNA genes. These predicted genomic loci are associated with chromatin patterns of modified histones that are predictive of regulated gene expression. 146 of the predicted microRNAs were enriched in Ago2-containing complexes along with 609 known microRNAs, demonstrating association with a functional RISC complex. This Ago2 IP-selected subset was consistently expressed in four independent hESC lines and exhibited complex patterns of regulation over development similar to previously-known microRNAs, including pluripotency-specific expression in both hESC and iPS cells. More than 30% of the Ago2 IP-enriched predicted microRNAs are new members of existing families since they share seed sequences with known microRNAs.Extending the classic definition of microRNAs, this large number of new microRNA genes, the majority of which are less conserved than their canonical counterparts, likely represent evolutionarily recent regulators of early differentiation. The enrichment in Ago2 containing complexes, the presence of chromatin marks indicative of regulated gene expression, and differential expression over development all support the identification of 146 new microRNAs active during early hESC differentiation.
View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0007192
View details for Web of Science ID 000270290000009
View details for PubMedID 19784364
We have generated clones (L2.3 and RG3.6) of neural progenitors with radial glial properties from rat E14.5 cortex that differentiate into astrocytes, neurons, and oligodendrocytes. Here, we describe a different clone (L2.2) that gives rise exclusively to neurons, but not to glia. Neuronal differentiation of L2.2 cells was inhibited by bone morphogenic protein 2 (BMP2) and enhanced by Sonic Hedgehog (SHH) similar to cortical interneuron progenitors. Compared with L2.3, differentiating L2.2 cells expressed significantly higher levels of mRNAs for glutamate decarboxylases (GADs), DLX transcription factors, calretinin, calbindin, neuropeptide Y (NPY), and somatostatin. Increased levels of DLX-2, GADs, and calretinin proteins were confirmed upon differentiation. L2.2 cells differentiated into neurons that fired action potentials in vitro, and their electrophysiological differentiation was accelerated and more complete when cocultured with developing astroglial cells but not with conditioned medium from these cells. The combined results suggest that clone L2.2 resembles GABAergic interneuron progenitors in the developing forebrain.
View details for DOI 10.1002/dneu.20679
View details for Web of Science ID 000261631600004
View details for PubMedID 18814314
RNA binding proteins are a large and varied group of factors that are the driving force behind post-transcriptional gene regulation. By analogy with transcription factors, RNA binding proteins bind to various regions of the mRNAs that they regulate, usually upstream or downstream from the coding region, and modulate one of the five major processes in mRNA metabolism: splicing, polyadenylation, export, translation and decay. The most abundant RNA binding protein domain is called the RNA Recognition Motif (RRM)1. It is probably safe to say that an RRM-containing protein is making some contact with an mRNA throughout its existence. The transcriptional counterpart would likely be the histones, yet the multitude of specific functions that are results of RRM based interactions belies the universality of the motif. This complex and diverse application of a single protein motif was used as the basis to develop an advanced graduate level seminar course in RNA:protein interactions. The course, utilizing a learner-centered empowerment model, was developed to dissect each step in RNA metabolism from the perspective of an RRM containing protein. This provided a framework to discuss the development of specificity for the RRM for each required process.
View details for DOI 10.1002/bmb.20149
View details for Web of Science ID 000255017500001
View details for PubMedID 21591152
Regulated mRnAs during differentiation of rat neural stem cells were analyzed using the ABi1700 microarray platform. This microarray, while technically advanced, suffers from the difficulty of integrating hybridization results into public databases for systems-level analysis. This is particularly true for the rat array, since many of the probes were designed for transcripts based on predicted human and mouse homologs. using several strategies, we increased the public annotation of the 27,531 probes from 43% to over 65%. To increase the dynamic range of annotation, probes were mapped to numerous public keys from several data sources. consensus annotation from multiple sources was determined for well-scoring alignments, and a confidence-based ranking system established for probes with less agreement across multiple data sources. previous attempts at genomic interpretation using the celera annotation model resulted in poor overlap with expected genomic sequences. since the public keys are more precisely mapped to the genome, we could now analyze the relationships between predicted transcription-factor binding sites and expression clusters. Results collected from a differentiation time course of two neural stem cell clones were clustered using a model-based algorithm. Transcription-factor binding sites were predicted from upstream regions of mapped transcripts using position weight matrices from either JAspAR or TRAnsFAc, and the resulting scores were used to discriminate between observed expression clusters. A classification and regression tree analysis was conducted using cluster numbers as gene identifiers and TFBs scores as predictors, pruning back to obtain a tree with the lowest gene class prediction error rate. Results identify several transcription factors, the presence or absence of which are sufficient to describe clusters of mRnAs changing over time-those that are static, as well as clusters describing cell line differences. public annotation of the AB1700 rat genome array will be valuable for integrating results into future systems-level analyses.
View details for PubMedID 17916793
Genomic recombination requires cutting, processing, and rejoining of DNA by endonucleases, polymerases, and ligases, among other factors. We have proposed that DNA recombination mechanisms may contribute to long-term memory (LTM) formation in the brain. Our previous studies with the nucleoside analog 1-beta-D-arabinofuranosylcytosine triphosphate (ara-CTP), a known inhibitor of DNA ligases and polymerases, showed that this agent blocked consolidation of conditioned taste aversion without interfering with short-term memory (STM). However, because polymerases and ligases are also essential for DNA replication, it remained unclear whether the effects of this drug on consolidation were attributable to interference with DNA recombination or neurogenesis. Here we show, using C57BL/6 mice, that ara-CTP specifically blocks consolidation but not STM of context fear conditioning, a task previously shown not to require neurogenesis. The effects of a single systemic dose of cytosine arabinoside (ara-C) on LTM were evident as early as 6 h after training. In addition, although ara-C impaired LTM, it did not impair general locomotor activity nor induce brain neurotoxicity. Importantly, hippocampal, but not insular cortex, infusions of ara-C also blocked consolidation of context fear conditioning. Separate studies revealed that context fear conditioning training significantly induced nonhomologous DNA end joining activity indicative of DNA ligase-dependent recombination in hippocampal, but not cortex, protein extracts. Finally, unlike inhibition of protein synthesis, systemic ara-C did not block reconsolidation of context fear conditioning. Our results support the idea that DNA recombination is a process specific to consolidation that is not involved in the postreactivation editing of memories.
View details for DOI 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3050-05.2006
View details for Web of Science ID 000237608400025
View details for PubMedID 16707804