Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine, Neuroscience (2020)
B.S., Peking University, Biology (2014)
Aaron Gitler, Postdoctoral Faculty Sponsor
Rnq1! You are still dangerous, but you can be my wingman anytime.
2022; 82 (22): 4194-4196
In this issue of Molecular Cell, Gropp etal. identify how the cellular background affects whether or not the Huntington's disease protein will form toxic pathological aggregates, providing insight into selective neuronal vulnerability in neurodegenerative disease.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.molcel.2022.10.019
View details for PubMedID 36400005
TDP-43 represses cryptic exon inclusion in the FTD-ALS gene UNC13A.
A hallmark pathological feature of the neurodegenerative diseases amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is the depletion of RNA-binding protein TDP-43 from the nucleus of neurons in the brain and spinal cord1. A major function of TDP-43 is as a repressor of cryptic exon inclusion during RNA splicing2-4. Single nucleotide polymorphisms in UNC13A are among the strongest hits associated with FTD and ALS in human genome-wide association studies5,6, but how those variants increase risk for disease is unknown. Here we show that TDP-43 represses a cryptic exon-splicing event in UNC13A. Loss of TDP-43 from the nucleus in human brain, neuronal cell lines and motor neurons derived from induced pluripotent stem cells resulted in the inclusion of a cryptic exon in UNC13A mRNA and reduced UNC13A protein expression. The top variants associated with FTD or ALS risk in humans are located in the intron harbouring the cryptic exon, and we show that they increase UNC13A cryptic exon splicing in the face of TDP-43 dysfunction. Together, our data provide a direct functional link between one of the strongest genetic risk factors for FTD and ALS (UNC13A genetic variants), and loss of TDP-43 function.
View details for DOI 10.1038/s41586-022-04424-7
View details for PubMedID 35197626
Integrated analysis of the aging brain transcriptome and proteome in tauopathy
2020; 15 (1): 56
Tau neurofibrillary tangle pathology characterizes Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative tauopathies. Brain gene expression profiles can reveal mechanisms; however, few studies have systematically examined both the transcriptome and proteome or differentiated Tau- versus age-dependent changes.Paired, longitudinal RNA-sequencing and mass-spectrometry were performed in a Drosophila model of tauopathy, based on pan-neuronal expression of human wildtype Tau (TauWT) or a mutant form causing frontotemporal dementia (TauR406W). Tau-induced, differentially expressed transcripts and proteins were examined cross-sectionally or using linear regression and adjusting for age. Hierarchical clustering was performed to highlight network perturbations, and we examined overlaps with human brain gene expression profiles in tauopathy.TauWT induced 1514 and 213 differentially expressed transcripts and proteins, respectively. TauR406W had a substantially greater impact, causing changes in 5494 transcripts and 697 proteins. There was a ~ 70% overlap between age- and Tau-induced changes and our analyses reveal pervasive bi-directional interactions. Strikingly, 42% of Tau-induced transcripts were discordant in the proteome, showing opposite direction of change. Tau-responsive gene expression networks strongly implicate innate immune activation. Cross-species analyses pinpoint human brain gene perturbations specifically triggered by Tau pathology and/or aging, and further differentiate between disease amplifying and protective changes.Our results comprise a powerful, cross-species functional genomics resource for tauopathy, revealing Tau-mediated disruption of gene expression, including dynamic, age-dependent interactions between the brain transcriptome and proteome.
View details for DOI 10.1186/s13024-020-00405-4
View details for Web of Science ID 000576854700001
View details for PubMedID 32993812
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC7526226
Tau-Mediated Disruption of the Spliceosome Triggers Cryptic RNA Splicing and Neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's Disease
2019; 29 (2): 301-+
In Alzheimer's disease (AD), spliceosomal proteins with critical roles in RNA processing aberrantly aggregate and mislocalize to Tau neurofibrillary tangles. We test the hypothesis that Tau-spliceosome interactions disrupt pre-mRNA splicing in AD. In human postmortem brain with AD pathology, Tau coimmunoprecipitates with spliceosomal components. In Drosophila, pan-neuronal Tau expression triggers reductions in multiple core and U1-specific spliceosomal proteins, and genetic disruption of these factors, including SmB, U1-70K, and U1A, enhances Tau-mediated neurodegeneration. We further show that loss of function in SmB, encoding a core spliceosomal protein, causes decreased survival, progressive locomotor impairment, and neuronal loss, independent of Tau toxicity. Lastly, RNA sequencing reveals a similar profile of mRNA splicing errors in SmB mutant and Tau transgenic flies, including intron retention and non-annotated cryptic splice junctions. In human brains, we confirm cryptic splicing errors in association with neurofibrillary tangle burden. Our results implicate spliceosome disruption and the resulting transcriptome perturbation in Tau-mediated neurodegeneration in AD.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.celrep.2019.08.104
View details for Web of Science ID 000489308800005
View details for PubMedID 31597093
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC6919331
Tau Activates Transposable Elements in Alzheimer's Disease
2018; 23 (10): 2874–80
Aging and neurodegenerative disease are characterized by genomic instability in neurons, including aberrant activation and mobilization of transposable elements (TEs). Integrating studies of human postmortem brain tissue and Drosophila melanogaster models, we investigate TE activation in association with Tau pathology in Alzheimer's disease (AD). Leveraging RNA sequencing from 636 human brains, we discover differential expression for several retrotransposons in association with neurofibrillary tangle burden and highlight evidence for global TE transcriptional activation among the long interspersed nuclear element 1 and endogenous retrovirus clades. In addition, we detect Tau-associated, active chromatin signatures at multiple HERV-Fc1 genomic loci. To determine whether Tau is sufficient to induce TE activation, we profile retrotransposons in Drosophila expressing human wild-type or mutant Tau throughout the brain. We discover heterogeneous response profiles, including both age- and genotype-dependent activation of TE expression by Tau. Our results implicate TE activation and associated genomic instability in Tau-mediated AD mechanisms.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.celrep.2018.05.004
View details for Web of Science ID 000434982000005
View details for PubMedID 29874575
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC6181645
Uncoupling neuronal death and dysfunction in Drosophila models of neurodegenerative disease
ACTA NEUROPATHOLOGICA COMMUNICATIONS
2016; 4: 62
Common neurodegenerative proteinopathies, such as Alzheimer's disease (AD) and Parkinson's disease (PD), are characterized by the misfolding and aggregation of toxic protein species, including the amyloid beta (Aß) peptide, microtubule-associated protein Tau (Tau), and alpha-synuclein (αSyn) protein. These factors also show toxicity in Drosophila; however, potential limitations of prior studies include poor discrimination between effects on the adult versus developing nervous system and neuronal versus glial cell types. In addition, variable expression paradigms and outcomes hinder systematic comparison of toxicity profiles. Using standardized conditions and medium-throughput assays, we express human Tau, Aß or αSyn selectively in neurons of the adult Drosophila retina and monitor age-dependent changes in both structure and function, based on tissue histology and recordings of the electroretinogram (ERG), respectively. We find that each protein causes a unique profile of neurodegenerative pathology, demonstrating distinct and separable impacts on neuronal death and dysfunction. Strikingly, expression of Tau leads to progressive loss of ERG responses whereas retinal architecture and neuronal numbers are largely preserved. By contrast, Aß induces modest, age-dependent neuronal loss without degrading the retinal ERG. αSyn expression, using a codon-optimized transgene, is characterized by marked retinal vacuolar change, progressive photoreceptor cell death, and delayed-onset but modest ERG changes. Lastly, to address potential mechanisms, we perform transmission electron microscopy (TEM) to reveal potential degenerative changes at the ultrastructural level. Surprisingly, Tau and αSyn each cause prominent but distinct synaptotoxic profiles, including disorganization or enlargement of photoreceptor terminals, respectively. Our findings highlight variable and dynamic properties of neurodegeneration triggered by these disease-relevant proteins in vivo, and suggest that Drosophila may be useful for revealing determinants of neuronal dysfunction that precede cell loss, including synaptic changes, in the adult nervous system.
View details for DOI 10.1186/s40478-016-0333-4
View details for Web of Science ID 000379522500002
View details for PubMedID 27338814
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4918017
Transplantation of Human Neural Progenitor Cells Expressing IGF-1 Enhances Retinal Ganglion Cell Survival
2015; 10 (4): e0125695
We have previously characterized human neuronal progenitor cells (hNP) that can adopt a retinal ganglion cell (RGC)-like morphology within the RGC and nerve fiber layers of the retina. In an effort to determine whether hNPs could be used a candidate cells for targeted delivery of neurotrophic factors (NTFs), we evaluated whether hNPs transfected with an vector that expresses IGF-1 in the form of a fusion protein with tdTomato (TD), would increase RGC survival in vitro and confer neuroprotective effects in a mouse model of glaucoma. RGCs co-cultured with hNPIGF-TD cells displayed enhanced survival, and increased neurite extension and branching as compared to hNPTD or untransfected hNP cells. Application of various IGF-1 signaling blockers or IGF-1 receptor antagonists abrogated these effects. In vivo, using a model of glaucoma we showed that IOP elevation led to reductions in retinal RGC count. In this model, evaluation of retinal flatmounts and optic nerve cross sections indicated that only hNPIGF-TD cells effectively reduced RGC death and showed a trend to improve optic nerve axonal loss. RT-PCR analysis of retina lysates over time showed that the neurotrophic effects of IGF-1 were also attributed to down-regulation of inflammatory and to some extent, angiogenic pathways. This study shows that neuronal progenitor cells that hone into the RGC and nerve fiber layers may be used as vehicles for local production and delivery of a desired NTF. Transplantation of hNPIGF-TD cells improves RGC survival in vitro and protects against RGC loss in a rodent model of glaucoma. Our findings have provided experimental evidence and form the basis for applying cell-based strategies for local delivery of NTFs into the retina. Application of cell-based delivery may be extended to other disease conditions beyond glaucoma.
View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0125695
View details for Web of Science ID 000353711600158
View details for PubMedID 25923430
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4414591