Honors & Awards

  • Stanford Maternal & Child Health Research Institute Grant & Postdoctoral Award, Stanford School of Medicine (2015)

Education & Certifications

  • PhD, IFB UG&MUG & Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, NY, Biochemistry (2011)
  • MSc, Intercollegiate Faculty of Biotechnology, University of Gdansk and Medical University of Gdansk, Poland (IFB UG&MUG), Biotechnology (2003)

All Publications

  • Insights and applications of direct neuronal reprogramming. Current opinion in genetics & development Schaukowitch, K., Janas, J. A., Wernig, M. 2023; 83: 102128


    Direct neuronal reprogramming converts somatic cells of a defined lineage into induced neuronal cells without going through a pluripotent intermediate. This approach not only provides access to the otherwise largely inaccessible cells of the brain for neuronal disease modeling, but also holds great promise for ultimately enabling neuronal cell replacement without the use of transplantation. To improve efficiency and specificity of direct neuronal reprogramming, much of the current efforts aim to understand the mechanisms that safeguard cell identities and how the reprogramming cells overcome the barriers resisting fate changes. Here, we review recent discoveries into the mechanisms by which the donor cell program is silenced, and new cell identities are established. We also discuss advancements that have been made toward fine-tuning the output of these reprogramming systems to generate specific types of neuronal cells. Finally, we highlight the benefit of using direct neuronal reprogramming to study age-related disorders and the potential of in vivo direct reprogramming in regenerative medicine.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.gde.2023.102128

    View details for PubMedID 37862835

  • Transcription Factor-Directed Dopaminergic Neuron Differentiation from Human Pluripotent Stem Cells. Methods in molecular biology (Clifton, N.J.) Ng, Y. H., Janas, J. A. 2023; 2683: 39-51


    The ability to differentiate pluripotent stem cells and to generate specific cell types is a long-standing goal of regenerative medicine. This can be accomplished by recreating the developmental trajectories using sequential activation of the corresponding signaling pathways, or more recently-by direct programming of cell identities using lineage-specific transcription factors. Notably, to be functional in cell replacement therapies, generation of complex cell types, such as specialized neuronal sub-types of the brain, requires precise induction of molecular profiles and regional specification of the cells. However, the induction of the correct cellular identity and marker gene expression can be hampered by technical challenges, one of which is the robust co-expression of multiple transcription factors that is often required for correct cell identity specification. Here, we describe in detail a method for co-expression of seven transcription factors required for efficient induction of dopaminergic neurons with midbrain characteristics from human embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells.

    View details for DOI 10.1007/978-1-0716-3287-1_4

    View details for PubMedID 37300765

  • Tip60-mediated H2A.Z acetylation promotes neuronal fate specification and bivalent gene activation. Molecular cell Janas, J. A., Zhang, L., Luu, J. H., Demeter, J., Meng, L., Marro, S. G., Mall, M., Mooney, N. A., Schaukowitch, K., Ng, Y. H., Yang, N., Huang, Y., Neumayer, G., Gozani, O., Elias, J. E., Jackson, P. K., Wernig, M. 2022


    Cell lineage specification is accomplished by a concerted action of chromatin remodeling and tissue-specific transcription factors. However, the mechanisms that induce and maintain appropriate lineage-specific gene expression remain elusive. Here, we used an unbiased proteomics approach to characterize chromatin regulators that mediate the induction of neuronal cell fate. We found that Tip60 acetyltransferase is essential to establish neuronal cell identity partly via acetylation of the histone variant H2A.Z. Despite its tight correlation with gene expression and active chromatin, loss of H2A.Z acetylation had little effect on chromatin accessibility or transcription. Instead, loss of Tip60 and acetyl-H2A.Z interfered with H3K4me3 deposition and activation of a unique subset of silent, lineage-restricted genes characterized by a bivalent chromatin configuration at their promoters. Altogether, our results illuminate the mechanisms underlying bivalent chromatin activation and reveal that H2A.Z acetylation regulates neuronal fate specification by establishing epigenetic competence for bivalent gene activation and cell lineage transition.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.molcel.2022.11.002

    View details for PubMedID 36417913

  • Mapping cis-regulatory elements in human neurons links psychiatric disease heritability and activity-regulated transcriptional programs. Cell reports Sanchez-Priego, C., Hu, R., Boshans, L. L., Lalli, M., Janas, J. A., Williams, S. E., Dong, Z., Yang, N. 2022; 39 (9): 110877


    Genome-wide association studies (GWASs) have identified hundreds of loci associated with psychiatric diseases, yet there is a lack of understanding of disease pathophysiology. Common risk variants can shed light on the underlying molecular mechanisms; however, identifying causal variants remains challenging. We map cis-regulatory elements in human neurons derived from pluripotent stem cells. This system allows us to determine enhancers that activate the transcription of neuronal activity-regulated gene programs, which are thought to be critical for synaptic plasticity and are not possible to identify from postmortem tissues. Using the activity-by-contact model, we create variant-to-gene maps to interpret the function of GWAS variants. Our work nominates a subset of variants to elucidate the molecular mechanisms involving GWAS-significant loci. It also highlights that in vitro human cellular models are a powerful platform for identifying and mechanistic studies of human trait-associated genetic variants in cell states that are inaccessible from other types of human samples.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.celrep.2022.110877

    View details for PubMedID 35649373

  • Myt1l haploinsufficiency leads to obesity and multifaceted behavioral alterations in mice. Molecular autism Wohr, M., Fong, W. M., Janas, J. A., Mall, M., Thome, C., Vangipuram, M., Meng, L., Sudhof, T. C., Wernig, M. 2022; 13 (1): 19


    BACKGROUND: The zinc finger domain containing transcription factor Myt1l is tightly associated with neuronal identity and is the only transcription factor known that is both neuron-specific and expressed in all neuronal subtypes. We identified Myt1l as a powerful reprogramming factor that, in combination with the proneural bHLH factor Ascl1, could induce neuronal fate in fibroblasts. Molecularly, we found it to repress many non-neuronal gene programs, explaining its supportive role to induce and safeguard neuronal identity in combination with proneural bHLH transcriptional activators. Moreover, human genetics studies found MYT1L mutations to cause intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder often coupled with obesity.METHODS: Here, we generated and characterized Myt1l-deficient mice. A comprehensive, longitudinal behavioral phenotyping approach was applied.RESULTS: Myt1l was necessary for survival beyond 24h but not for overall histological brain organization. Myt1l heterozygous mice became increasingly overweight and exhibited multifaceted behavioral alterations. In mouse pups, Myt1l haploinsufficiency caused mild alterations in early socio-affective communication through ultrasonic vocalizations. In adulthood, Myt1l heterozygous mice displayed hyperactivity due to impaired habituation learning. Motor performance was reduced in Myt1l heterozygous mice despite intact motor learning, possibly due to muscular hypotonia. While anxiety-related behavior was reduced, acoustic startle reactivity was enhanced, in line with higher sensitivity to loud sound. Finally, Myt1l haploinsufficiency had a negative impact on contextual fear memory retrieval, while cued fear memory retrieval appeared to be intact.LIMITATIONS: In future studies, additional phenotypes might be identified and a detailed characterization of direct reciprocal social interaction behavior might help to reveal effects of Myt1l haploinsufficiency on social behavior in juvenile and adult mice.CONCLUSIONS: Behavioral alterations in Myt1l haploinsufficient mice recapitulate several clinical phenotypes observed in humans carrying heterozygous MYT1L mutations and thus serve as an informative model of the human MYT1L syndrome.

    View details for DOI 10.1186/s13229-022-00497-3

    View details for PubMedID 35538503

  • Efficient generation of dopaminergic induced neuronal cells with midbrain characteristics. Stem cell reports Ng, Y. H., Chanda, S., Janas, J. A., Yang, N., Kokubu, Y., Sudhof, T. C., Wernig, M. 2021


    The differentiation of pluripotent stem cells can be accomplished by sequential activation of signaling pathways or through transcription factor programming. Multistep differentiation imitates embryonic development to obtain authentic cell types, but it suffers from asynchronous differentiation with variable efficiency. Transcription factor programming induces synchronous and efficient differentiation with higher reproducibility but may not always yield authentic cell types. We systematically explored the generation of dopaminergic induced neuronal cells from mouse and human pluripotent stem cells. We foundthat the proneural factor Ascl1 in combination with mesencephalic factors Lmx1a and Nurr1 induce peripheral dopaminergic neurons. Co-delivery of additional midbrain transcription factors En1, FoxA2, and Pitx3 resulted in facile and robust generation of functional dopaminergic neurons of midbrain character. Our results suggest that more complex combinations of transcription factors may be needed for proper regional specification of induced neuronal cells generated by direct lineage induction.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.stemcr.2021.05.017

    View details for PubMedID 34171286

  • Neuroligin-4 Regulates Excitatory Synaptic Transmission in Human Neurons. Neuron Marro, S. G., Chanda, S., Yang, N., Janas, J. A., Valperga, G., Trotter, J., Zhou, B., Merrill, S., Yousif, I., Shelby, H., Vogel, H., Kalani, M. Y., Sudhof, T. C., Wernig, M. 2019


    The autism-associated synaptic-adhesion gene Neuroligin-4 (NLGN4) is poorly conserved evolutionarily, limiting conclusions from Nlgn4 mouse models for human cells. Here, we show that the cellular and subcellular expression of human and murine Neuroligin-4 differ, with human Neuroligin-4 primarily expressed in cerebral cortex and localized to excitatory synapses. Overexpression of NLGN4 in human embryonic stem cell-derived neurons resulted in an increase in excitatory synapse numbers but a remarkable decrease in synaptic strength. Human neurons carrying the syndromic autism mutation NLGN4-R704C also formed more excitatory synapses but with increased functional synaptic transmission due to a postsynaptic mechanism, while genetic loss of NLGN4 did not significantly affect synapses in the human neurons analyzed. Thus, the NLGN4-R704C mutation represents a change-of-function mutation. Our work reveals contrasting roles of NLGN4 in human and mouse neurons, suggesting that human evolution has impacted even fundamental cell biological processes generally assumed to be highly conserved.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.neuron.2019.05.043

    View details for PubMedID 31257103

  • Generation of pure GABAergic neurons by transcription factor programming. Nature methods Yang, N., Chanda, S., Marro, S., Ng, Y., Janas, J. A., Haag, D., Ang, C. E., Tang, Y., Flores, Q., Mall, M., Wapinski, O., Li, M., Ahlenius, H., Rubenstein, J. L., Chang, H. Y., Buylla, A. A., Südhof, T. C., Wernig, M. 2017; 14 (6): 621-628


    Approaches to differentiating pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) into neurons currently face two major challenges-(i) generated cells are immature, with limited functional properties; and (ii) cultures exhibit heterogeneous neuronal subtypes and maturation stages. Using lineage-determining transcription factors, we previously developed a single-step method to generate glutamatergic neurons from human PSCs. Here, we show that transient expression of the transcription factors Ascl1 and Dlx2 (AD) induces the generation of exclusively GABAergic neurons from human PSCs with a high degree of synaptic maturation. These AD-induced neuronal (iN) cells represent largely nonoverlapping populations of GABAergic neurons that express various subtype-specific markers. We further used AD-iN cells to establish that human collybistin, the loss of gene function of which causes severe encephalopathy, is required for inhibitory synaptic function. The generation of defined populations of functionally mature human GABAergic neurons represents an important step toward enabling the study of diseases affecting inhibitory synaptic transmission.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/nmeth.4291

    View details for PubMedID 28504679

  • Regulation of Chandelier Cell Cartridge and Bouton Development via DOCK7-Mediated ErbB4 Activation. Cell reports Tai, Y., Janas, J. A., Wang, C., Van Aelst, L. 2014; 6 (2): 254-263


    Chandelier cells (ChCs), typified by their unique axonal morphology, are the most distinct interneurons present in cortical circuits. Via their distinctive axonal terminals, called cartridges, these cells selectively target the axon initial segment of pyramidal cells and control action potential initiation; however, the mechanisms that govern the characteristic ChC axonal structure have remained elusive. Here, by employing an in utero electroporation-based method that enables genetic labeling and manipulation of ChCs in vivo, we identify DOCK7, a member of the DOCK180 family, as a molecule essential for ChC cartridge and bouton development. Furthermore, we present evidence that DOCK7 functions as a cytoplasmic activator of the schizophrenia-associated ErbB4 receptor tyrosine kinase and that DOCK7 modulates ErbB4 activity to control ChC cartridge and bouton development. Thus, our findings define DOCK7 and ErbB4 as key components of a pathway that controls the morphological differentiation of ChCs, with implications for the pathogenesis of schizophrenia.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.celrep.2013.12.034

    View details for PubMedID 24440718

  • DOK2 Inhibits EGFR-Mutated Lung Adenocarcinoma. PloS one Berger, A. H., Chen, M., Morotti, A., Janas, J. A., Niki, M., Bronson, R. T., Taylor, B. S., Ladanyi, M., Van Aelst, L., Politi, K., Varmus, H. E., Pandolfi, P. P. 2013; 8 (11)


    Somatic mutations in the EGFR proto-oncogene occur in ~15% of human lung adenocarcinomas and the importance of EGFR mutations for the initiation and maintenance of lung cancer is well established from mouse models and cancer therapy trials in human lung cancer patients. Recently, we identified DOK2 as a lung adenocarcinoma tumor suppressor gene. Here we show that genomic loss of DOK2 is associated with EGFR mutations in human lung adenocarcinoma, and we hypothesized that loss of DOK2 might therefore cooperate with EGFR mutations to promote lung tumorigenesis. We tested this hypothesis using genetically engineered mouse models and find that loss of Dok2 in the mouse accelerates lung tumorigenesis initiated by oncogenic EGFR, but not that initiated by mutated Kras. Moreover, we find that DOK2 participates in a negative feedback loop that opposes mutated EGFR; EGFR mutation leads to recruitment of DOK2 to EGFR and DOK2-mediated inhibition of downstream activation of RAS. These data identify DOK2 as a tumor suppressor in EGFR-mutant lung adenocarcinoma.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0079526

    View details for PubMedID 24255704

  • Oncogenic Tyrosine Kinases Target Dok-1 for Ubiquitin-Mediated Proteasomal Degradation To Promote Cell Transformation MOLECULAR AND CELLULAR BIOLOGY Janas, J. A., Van Aelst, L. 2011; 31 (13): 2552-2565


    Cellular transformation induced by oncogenic tyrosine kinases is a multistep process involving activation of growth-promoting signaling pathways and inactivation of suppressor molecules. Dok-1 is an adaptor protein that acts as a negative regulator of tyrosine kinase-initiated signaling and opposes oncogenic tyrosine kinase-mediated cell transformation. Findings that its loss facilitates transformation induced by oncogenic tyrosine kinases suggest that Dok-1 inactivation could constitute an intermediate step in oncogenesis driven by these oncoproteins. However, whether Dok-1 is subject to regulation by oncogenic tyrosine kinases remained unknown. In this study, we show that oncogenic tyrosine kinases, including p210(bcr-abl) and oncogenic forms of Src, downregulate Dok-1 by targeting it for degradation through the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway. This process is dependent on the tyrosine kinase activity of the oncoproteins and is mediated primarily by lysine-dependent polyubiquitination of Dok-1. Importantly, restoration of Dok-1 levels strongly suppresses transformation of cells expressing oncogenic tyrosine kinases, and this suppression is more pronounced in the context of a Dok-1 mutant that is largely refractory to oncogenic tyrosine kinase-induced degradation. Our findings suggest that proteasome-mediated downregulation of Dok-1 is a key mechanism by which oncogenic tyrosine kinases overcome the inhibitory effect of Dok-1 on cellular transformation and tumor progression.

    View details for DOI 10.1128/MCB.05045-11

    View details for Web of Science ID 000291431400002

    View details for PubMedID 21536658

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC3133381

  • The Rac activator DOCK7 regulates neuronal polarity through local phosphorylation of stathmin/Op18 NEURON Watabe-Uchida, M., John, K. A., Janas, J. A., Newey, S. E., Van Aelst, L. 2006; 51 (6): 727-739


    The polarization of a neuron generally results in the formation of one axon and multiple dendrites, allowing for the establishment of neuronal circuitry. The molecular mechanisms involved in priming one neurite to become the axon, particularly those regulating the microtubule network, remain elusive. Here we report the identification of DOCK7, a member of the DOCK180-related protein superfamily, as a Rac GTPase activator that is asymmetrically distributed in unpolarized hippocampal neurons and selectively expressed in the axon. Knockdown of DOCK7 expression prevents axon formation, whereas overexpression induces formation of multiple axons. We further demonstrate that DOCK7 and Rac activation lead to phosphorylation and inactivation of the microtubule destabilizing protein stathmin/Op18 in the nascent axon and that this event is important for axon development. Our findings unveil a pathway linking the Rac activator DOCK7 to a microtubule regulatory protein and highlight the contribution of microtubule network regulation to axon development.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.neuron.2006.07.020

    View details for Web of Science ID 000240997900012

    View details for PubMedID 16982419

  • Dok-1 independently attenuates Ras/mitogen-activated protein kinase and Src/c-Myc pathways to inhibit platelet-derived growth factor-induced mitogenesis MOLECULAR AND CELLULAR BIOLOGY Zhao, M. M., Janas, J. A., Niki, M., Pandolfi, P. P., Van Aelst, L. 2006; 26 (7): 2479-2489


    The Dok adaptor proteins play key regulatory roles in receptor and non-receptor kinase-initiated signaling pathways. Dok-1, the prototype member of this family, negatively regulates cell proliferation elicited by numerous growth factors, including platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF). However, how Dok-1 exerts its negative effect on mitogenesis has remained elusive. Using Dok-1 knockout cells and Dok-1 mutants deficient in binding to specific Dok-1-interacting proteins, we show that Dok-1 interferes with PDGF-stimulated c-myc induction and Ras/mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) activation by tethering different signaling components to the cell membrane. Specifically, Dok-1 attenuates PDGF-elicited c-myc induction by recruiting Csk to active Src kinases, whereupon their activities and consequent c-myc induction are diminished. On the other hand, Dok-1 negatively regulates PDGF-induced MAPK activation by acting on Ras-GAP and at least one other Dok-1-interacting protein. Importantly, we demonstrate that Dok-1's actions on both of these signaling pathways contribute to its inhibitory effect on mitogenesis. Our data suggest a mechanistic basis for the inhibitory effect of Dok-1 on growth factor-induced mitogenesis and its role as a tumor suppressor.

    View details for DOI 10.1128/MCB.26.7.2479-2489.2006

    View details for Web of Science ID 000236312200002

    View details for PubMedID 16537894

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC1430334

  • Lentiviral delivery of RNAi in hippocampal neurons METHODS IN ENZYMOLOGY, VOL 406, REGULATORS AND EFFECTORS OF SMALL GTPASES: RHO FAMILY Janas, J., Skowronski, J., Van Aelst, L. 2006; 406: 593-605


    The breakthrough discovery that double-stranded RNA of 21 nucleotides in length (referred to as short or small interfering RNA; siRNA) can trigger sequence-specific gene silencing in mammalian cells has led to the development of a powerful new approach to study gene function (Dillon et al., 2005; Dykxhoorn et al., 2003; Elbashir et al., 2001; Hannon et al., 2004). Effective delivery of siRNA molecules into target cells or tissues is critical for successful RNA interference (RNAi) application. Here, we describe the use of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1)-based lentiviral vectors for delivery of short hairpin RNA (shRNA), a precursor of siRNA, into primary neurons to suppress gene expression. Major advantages of lentiviral vectors are their ability to transduce nondividing cells and to confer long-term expression of transgenes. This chapter covers selection of short hairpin sequences, vector design, production of lentiviral supernatants, transduction of dissociated primary hippocampal neurons, and testing the effectiveness of shRNA-mediated silencing.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/S0076-6879(06)06046-0

    View details for Web of Science ID 000235750600046

    View details for PubMedID 16472690