Dr. Minyin Li is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University School of Medicine. His main research interests are genetic and cellular mechanisms underlying psychiatric disorders including autism and schizophrenia. By using iPS cell derived brain organoid technology, he anticipates novel approaches to interrogate autism and neurodevelopmental diseases with human disease models.
Honors & Awards
Best poster award, Gordon Research Conference Functional Genomics of Human Brain Development and Disease (4/7/2023)
PhD, Institute of Neuroscience, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Neuroscience (2017)
Sergiu Pasca, Postdoctoral Faculty Sponsor
Maturation and circuit integration of transplanted human cortical organoids.
2022; 610 (7931): 319-326
Self-organizing neural organoids represent a promising in vitro platform with which to model human development and disease1-5. However, organoids lack the connectivity that exists in vivo, which limits maturation and makes integration with other circuits that control behaviour impossible. Here we show that human stem cell-derived cortical organoids transplanted into the somatosensory cortex of newborn athymic rats develop mature cell types that integrate into sensory and motivation-related circuits. MRI reveals post-transplantation organoid growth across multiple stem cell lines and animals, whereas single-nucleus profiling shows progression of corticogenesis and the emergence of activity-dependent transcriptional programs. Indeed, transplanted cortical neurons display more complex morphological, synaptic and intrinsic membrane properties than their in vitro counterparts, which enables the discovery of defects in neurons derived from individuals with Timothy syndrome. Anatomical and functional tracings show that transplanted organoids receive thalamocortical and corticocortical inputs, and in vivo recordings of neural activity demonstrate that these inputs can produce sensory responses in human cells. Finally, cortical organoids extend axons throughout the rat brain and their optogenetic activation can drive reward-seeking behaviour. Thus, transplanted human cortical neurons mature and engage host circuits that control behaviour. We anticipate that this approach will be useful for detecting circuit-level phenotypes in patient-derived cells that cannot otherwise be uncovered.
View details for DOI 10.1038/s41586-022-05277-w
View details for PubMedID 36224417
Engineering brain assembloids to interrogate human neural circuits.
The development of neural circuits involves wiring of neurons locally following their generation and migration, as well as establishing long-distance connections between brain regions. Studying these developmental processes in the human nervous system remains difficult because of limited access to tissue that can be maintained as functional over time in vitro. We have previously developed a method to convert human pluripotent stem cells into brain region-specific organoids that can be fused and integrated to form assembloids and study neuronal migration. In contrast to approaches that mix cell lineages in 2D cultures or engineer microchips, assembloids leverage self-organization to enable complex cell-cell interactions, circuit formation and maturation in long-term cultures. In this protocol, we describe approaches to model long-range neuronal connectivity in human brain assembloids. We present how to generate 3D spheroids resembling specific domains of the nervous system and then how to integrate them physically to allow axonal projections and synaptic assembly. In addition, we describe a series of assays including viral labeling and retrograde tracing, 3D live imaging of axon projection and optogenetics combined with calcium imaging and electrophysiological recordings to probe and manipulate the circuits in assembloids. The assays take 3-4 months to complete and require expertise in stem cell culture, imaging and electrophysiology. We anticipate that these approaches will be useful in deciphering human-specific aspects of neural circuit assembly and in modeling neurodevelopmental disorders with patient-derived cells.
View details for DOI 10.1038/s41596-021-00632-z
View details for PubMedID 34992269
Dissecting the molecular basis of human interneuron migration in forebrain assembloids from Timothy syndrome.
Cell stem cell
Defects in interneuron migration can disrupt the assembly of cortical circuits and lead to neuropsychiatric disease. Using forebrain assembloids derived by integration of cortical and ventral forebrain organoids, we have previously discovered a cortical interneuron migration defect in Timothy syndrome (TS), a severe neurodevelopmental disease caused by a mutation in the L-type calcium channel (LTCC) Cav1.2. Here, we find that acute pharmacological modulation of Cav1.2 can regulate the saltation length, but not the frequency, of interneuron migration in TS. Interestingly, the defect in saltation length is related to aberrant actomyosin and myosin light chain (MLC) phosphorylation, while the defect in saltation frequency is driven by enhanced γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) sensitivity and can be restored by GABA-A receptor antagonism. Finally, we describe hypersynchronous hCS network activity in TS that is exacerbated by interneuron migration. Taken together, these studies reveal a complex role of LTCC function in human cortical interneuron migration and strategies to restore deficits in the context of disease.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.stem.2021.11.011
View details for PubMedID 34990580
Retinoid X Receptor α Regulates DHA-Dependent Spinogenesis and Functional Synapse Formation In Vivo.
2020; 31 (7): 107649
Coordinated intracellular and extracellular signaling is critical to synapse development and functional neural circuit wiring. Here, we report that unesterified docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) regulates functional synapse formation in vivo via retinoid X receptor α (Rxra) signaling. Using Rxra conditional knockout (cKO) mice and virus-mediated transient gene expression, we show that endogenous Rxra plays important roles in regulating spinogenesis and excitatory synaptic transmission in cortical pyramidal neurons. We further show that the effects of RXRA are mediated through its DNA-binding domain in a cell-autonomous and reversible manner. Moreover, unesterified DHA increases spine formation and excitatory synaptic transmission in vivo in an Rxra-dependent fashion. Rxra cKO mice generally behave normally but show deficits in behavior tasks associated with social memory. Together, these results demonstrate that unesterified DHA signals through RXRA to regulate spinogenesis and functional synapse formation, providing insight into the mechanism through which DHA promotes brain development and cognitive function.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.celrep.2020.107649
View details for PubMedID 32433958
Neuronal defects in a human cellular model of 22q11.2 deletion syndrome.
22q11.2 deletion syndrome (22q11DS) is a highly penetrant and common genetic cause of neuropsychiatric disease. Here we generated induced pluripotent stem cells from 15 individuals with 22q11DS and 15 control individuals and differentiated them into three-dimensional (3D) cerebral cortical organoids. Transcriptional profiling across 100 days showed high reliability of differentiation and revealed changes in neuronal excitability-related genes. Using electrophysiology and live imaging, we identified defects in spontaneous neuronal activity and calcium signaling in both organoid- and 2D-derived cortical neurons. The calcium deficit was related to resting membrane potential changes that led to abnormal inactivation of voltage-gated calcium channels. Heterozygous loss of DGCR8 recapitulated the excitability and calcium phenotypes and its overexpression rescued these defects. Moreover, the 22q11DS calcium abnormality could also be restored by application of antipsychotics. Taken together, our study illustrates how stem cell derived models can be used to uncover and rescue cellular phenotypes associated with genetic forms of neuropsychiatric disease.
View details for DOI 10.1038/s41591-020-1043-9
View details for PubMedID 32989314
Generation of human striatal organoids and cortico-striatal assembloids from human pluripotent stem cells.
2020; 38 (12): 1421–30
Cortico-striatal projections are critical components of forebrain circuitry that regulate motivated behaviors. To enable the study of the human cortico-striatal pathway and how its dysfunction leads to neuropsychiatric disease, we developed a method to convert human pluripotent stem cells into region-specific brain organoids that resemble the developing human striatum and include electrically active medium spiny neurons. We then assembled these organoids with cerebral cortical organoids in three-dimensional cultures to form cortico-striatal assembloids. Using viral tracing and functional assays in intact or sliced assembloids, we show that cortical neurons send axonal projections into striatal organoids and form synaptic connections. Medium spiny neurons mature electrophysiologically following assembly and display calcium activity after optogenetic stimulation of cortical neurons. Moreover, we derive cortico-striatal assembloids from patients with a neurodevelopmental disorder caused by a deletion on chromosome 22q13.3 and capture disease-associated defects in calcium activity, showing that this approach will allow investigation of the development and functional assembly of cortico-striatal connectivity using patient-derived cells.
View details for DOI 10.1038/s41587-020-00763-w
View details for PubMedID 33273741
A Critical Role of Presynaptic Cadherin/Catenin/p140Cap Complexes in Stabilizing Spines and Functional Synapses in the Neocortex.
2017; 94 (6): 1155-1172.e8
The formation of functional synapses requires coordinated assembly of presynaptic transmitter release machinery and postsynaptic trafficking of functional receptors and scaffolds. Here, we demonstrate a critical role of presynaptic cadherin/catenin cell adhesion complexes in stabilizing functional synapses and spines in the developing neocortex. Importantly, presynaptic expression of stabilized β-catenin in either layer (L) 4 excitatory neurons or L2/3 pyramidal neurons significantly upregulated excitatory synaptic transmission and dendritic spine density in L2/3 pyramidal neurons, while its sparse postsynaptic expression in L2/3 neurons had no such effects. In addition, presynaptic β-catenin expression enhanced release probability of glutamatergic synapses. Newly identified β-catenin-interacting protein p140Cap is required in the presynaptic locus for mediating these effects. Together, our results demonstrate that cadherin/catenin complexes stabilize functional synapses and spines through anterograde signaling in the neocortex and provide important molecular evidence for a driving role of presynaptic components in spinogenesis in the neocortex.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.neuron.2017.05.022
View details for PubMedID 28641114
CRISPR-Cas9-mediated genome editing in one blastomere of two-cell embryos reveals a novel Tet3 function in regulating neocortical development.
2017; 27 (6): 815-829
Studying the early function of essential genes is an important and challenging problem in developmental biology. Here, we established a method for rapidly inducing CRISPR-Cas9-mediated mutations in one blastomere of two-cell stage embryos, termed 2-cell embryo-CRISPR-Cas9 injection (2CC), to study the in vivo function of essential (or unknown) genes in founder chimeric mice. By injecting both Cre mRNA and CRISPR-Cas9 targeting the gene of interest into fluorescent reporter mice, the 2CC method can trace both wild-type and mutant cells at different developmental stages, offering internal control for phenotypic analyses of mutant cells. Using this method, we identified novel functions of the essential gene Tet3 in regulating excitatory and inhibitory synaptic transmission in the developing mouse cerebral cortex. By generating chimeric mutant mice, the 2CC method allows for the rapid screening of gene function in multiple tissues and cell types in founder chimeric mice, significantly expanding the current armamentarium of genetic tools.
View details for DOI 10.1038/cr.2017.58
View details for PubMedID 28429771
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5518876
Postsynaptic spiking homeostatically induces cell-autonomous regulation of inhibitory inputs via retrograde signaling.
The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
2010; 30 (48): 16220-31
Developing neural circuits face the dual challenge of growing in an activity-induced fashion and maintaining stability through homeostatic mechanisms. Compared to our understanding of homeostatic regulation of excitatory synapses, relatively little is known about the mechanism mediating homeostatic plasticity of inhibitory synapses, especially that following activity elevation. Here, we found that elevating neuronal activity in cultured hippocampal neurons for 4 h significantly increased the frequency and amplitude of mIPSCs, before detectable change at excitatory synapses. Consistently, we observed increases in presynaptic and postsynaptic proteins of GABAergic synapses, including GAD65, vGAT, and GABA(A)Rα1. By suppressing activity-induced increase of neuronal firing with expression of the inward rectifier potassium channel Kir2.1 in individual neurons, we showed that elevation in postsynaptic spiking activity is required for activity-dependent increase in the frequency and amplitude of mIPSCs. Importantly, directly elevating spiking in individual postsynaptic neurons, by capsaicin activation of overexpressed TRPV1 channels, was sufficient to induce increased mIPSC amplitude and frequency, mimicking the effect of elevated neuronal activity. Downregulating BDNF expression in the postsynaptic neuron or its extracellular scavenging prevented activity-induced increase in mIPSC frequency, consistent with a role of BDNF-dependent retrograde signaling in this process. Finally, elevating activity in vivo by kainate injection increased both mIPSC amplitude and frequency in CA1 pyramidal neurons. Thus, spiking-induced, cell-autonomous upregulation of GABAergic synaptic inputs, through retrograde BDNF signaling, represents an early adaptive response of neural circuits to elevated network activity.
View details for DOI 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3085-10.2010
View details for PubMedID 21123568