Professional Education

  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of California Davis, Integrative Genetics and Genomics (2017)
  • Bachelor of Science, University of California Davis, Genetics (2011)

All Publications

  • Translational modulator ISRIB alleviates synaptic and behavioral phenotypes in Fragile X syndrome. iScience Coulson, R. L., Frattini, V., Moyer, C. E., Hodges, J., Walter, P., Mourrain, P., Zuo, Y., Wang, G. X. 2024; 27 (4): 109259


    Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is caused by the loss of fragile X messenger ribonucleoprotein (FMRP), a translational regulator that binds the transcripts of proteins involved in synaptic function and plasticity. Dysregulated protein synthesis is a central effect of FMRP loss, however, direct translational modulation has not been leveraged in the treatment of FXS. Thus, we examined the effect of the translational modulator integrated stress response inhibitor (ISRIB) in treating synaptic and behavioral symptoms of FXS. We show that FMRP loss dysregulates synaptic protein abundance, stabilizing dendritic spines through increased PSD-95 levels while preventing spine maturation through reduced glutamate receptor accumulation, thus leading to the formation of dense, immature dendritic spines, characteristic of FXS patients and Fmr1 knockout (KO) mice. ISRIB rescues these deficits and improves social recognition in Fmr1 KO mice. These findings highlight the therapeutic potential of targeting core translational mechanisms in FXS and neurodevelopmental disorders more broadly.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.isci.2024.109259

    View details for PubMedID 38510125

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC10951902

  • The intersection of sleep and synaptic translation in synaptic plasticity deficits in neurodevelopmental disorders. Journal of comparative physiology. B, Biochemical, systemic, and environmental physiology Coulson, R. L., Mourrain, P., Wang, G. X. 2024


    Individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders experience persistent sleep deficits, and there is increasing evidence that sleep dysregulation is an underlying cause, rather than merely an effect, of the synaptic and behavioral defects observed in these disorders. At the molecular level, dysregulation of the synaptic proteome is a common feature of neurodevelopmental disorders, though the mechanism connecting these molecular and behavioral phenotypes is an ongoing area of investigation. A role for eIF2α in shifting the local proteome in response to changes in the conditions at the synapse has emerged. Here, we discuss recent progress in characterizing the intersection of local synaptic translation and sleep and propose a reciprocal mechanism of dysregulation in the development of synaptic plasticity defects in neurodevelopmental disorders.

    View details for DOI 10.1007/s00360-023-01531-3

    View details for PubMedID 38396062

    View details for PubMedCentralID 2969179

  • Sleep deficiency as a driver of cellular stress and damage in neurological disorders. Sleep medicine reviews Coulson, R. L., Mourrain, P., Wang, G. X. 2022; 63: 101616


    Neurological disorders encompass an extremely broad range of conditions, including those that present early in development and those that progress slowly or manifest with advanced age. Although these disorders have distinct underlying etiologies, the activation of shared pathways, e.g., integrated stress response (ISR) and the development of shared phenotypes (sleep deficits) may offer clues toward understanding some of the mechanistic underpinnings of neurologic dysfunction. While it is incontrovertibly complex, the relationship between sleep and persistent stress in the brain has broad implications in understanding neurological disorders from development to degeneration. The convergent nature of the ISR could be a common thread linking genetically distinct neurological disorders through the dysregulation of a core cellular homeostasis pathway.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.smrv.2022.101616

    View details for PubMedID 35381445

  • Epigenomic Convergence of Neural-Immune Risk Factors in Neurodevelopmental Disorder Cortex. Cerebral cortex (New York, N.Y. : 1991) Vogel Ciernia, A., Laufer, B. I., Hwang, H., Dunaway, K. W., Mordaunt, C. E., Coulson, R. L., Yasui, D. H., LaSalle, J. M. 2019


    Neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) affect 7-14% of all children in developed countries and are one of the leading causes of lifelong disability. Epigenetic modifications are poised at the interface between genes and environment and are predicted to reveal insight into NDD etiology. Whole-genome bisulfite sequencing was used to examine DNA cytosine methylation in 49 human cortex samples from 3 different NDDs (autism spectrum disorder, Rett syndrome, and Dup15q syndrome) and matched controls. Integration of methylation changes across NDDs with relevant genomic and genetic datasets revealed differentially methylated regions (DMRs) unique to each type of NDD but with shared regulatory functions in neurons and microglia. NDD DMRs were enriched within promoter regions and for transcription factor binding sites with identified methylation sensitivity. DMRs from all 3 disorders were enriched for ontologies related to nervous system development and genes with disrupted expression in brain from neurodevelopmental or neuropsychiatric disorders. Genes associated with NDD DMRs showed expression patterns indicating an important role for altered microglial function during brain development. These findings demonstrate an NDD epigenomic signature in human cortex that will aid in defining therapeutic targets and early biomarkers at the interface of genetic and environmental NDD risk factors.

    View details for DOI 10.1093/cercor/bhz115

    View details for PubMedID 31240313

  • Placental DNA methylation levels at CYP2E1 and IRS2 are associated with child outcome in a prospective autism study. Human molecular genetics Zhu, Y., Mordaunt, C. E., Yasui, D. H., Marathe, R., Coulson, R. L., Dunaway, K. W., Jianu, J. M., Walker, C. K., Ozonoff, S., Hertz-Picciotto, I., Schmidt, R. J., LaSalle, J. M. 2019


    DNA methylation acts at the interface of genetic and environmental factors relevant for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Placenta, normally discarded at birth, is a potentially rich source of DNA methylation patterns predictive of ASD in the child. Here, we performed whole methylome analyses of placentas from a prospective study MARBLES (Markers of Autism Risk in Babies-Learning Early Signs) of high-risk pregnancies. 400 differentially methylated regions (DMRs) discriminated placentas stored from children later diagnosed with ASD compared to typically developing controls. These ASD DMRs were significantly enriched at promoters, mapped to 596 genes functionally enriched in neuronal development, and overlapped genetic ASD risk. ASD DMRs at CYP2E1 and IRS2 reached genome-wide significance, replicated by pyrosequencing, and correlated with expression differences in brain. Methylation at CYP2E1 associated with both ASD diagnosis and genotype within the DMR. In contrast, methylation at IRS2 was unaffected by within DMR genotype, but modified by preconceptional maternal prenatal vitamin use. This study therefore identified two potentially useful early epigenetic markers for ASD in placenta.

    View details for DOI 10.1093/hmg/ddz084

    View details for PubMedID 31009952

  • Prader-Willi locus Snord116 RNA processing requires an active endogenous allele and neuron-specific splicing by Rbfox3/NeuN. Human molecular genetics Coulson, R. L., Powell, W. T., Yasui, D. H., Dileep, G., Resnick, J., LaSalle, J. M. 2018


    Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS), an imprinted neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by metabolic, sleep, and neuropsychiatric features, is caused by the loss of paternal SNORD116, containing only noncoding RNAs. The primary SNORD116 transcript is processed into small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs), which localize to nucleoli, and their spliced host gene 116HG, which is retained at its site of transcription. While functional complementation of the SNORD116 noncoding RNAs is a desirable goal for treating PWS, the mechanistic requirements of SNORD116 RNA processing are poorly understood. Here we developed and tested a novel transgenic mouse which ubiquitously expresses Snord116 on both a wild-type and Snord116 paternal deletion (Snord116+/-) background. Interestingly, while the Snord116 transgene was ubiquitously expressed in multiple tissues, splicing of the transgene and production of snoRNAs was limited to brain tissues. Knockdown of Rbfox3, encoding neuron-specific splicing factor NeuN, in Snord116+/--derived neurons reduced splicing of the transgene in neurons. RNA fluorescent in situ hybridization for 116HG revealed a single significantly larger signal in transgenic mice, demonstrating colocalization of transgenic and endogenous 116HG RNAs. Similarly, significantly increased snoRNA levels were detected in transgenic neuronal nucleoli, indicating that transgenic Snord116 snoRNAs were effectively processed and localized. In contrast, neither transgenic 116HG nor snoRNAs were detectable in either non-neuronal tissues or Snord116+/- neurons. Together, these results demonstrate that exogenous expression and neuron-specific splicing of the Snord116 locus are insufficient to rescue the genetic deficiency of Snord116 paternal deletion. Elucidating the mechanisms regulating Snord116 processing and localization are essential to develop effective gene replacement therapies for PWS.

    View details for DOI 10.1093/hmg/ddy296

    View details for PubMedID 30124848

  • Cognitive deficits in the Snord116 deletion mouse model for Prader-Willi syndrome. Neurobiology of learning and memory Adhikari, A., Copping, N. A., Onaga, B., Pride, M. C., Coulson, R. L., Yang, M., Yasui, D. H., LaSalle, J. M., Silverman, J. L. 2018


    Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS) is an imprinted neurodevelopmental disease caused by a loss of paternal genes on chromosome 15q11-q13. It is characterized by cognitive impairments, developmental delay, sleep abnormalities, and hyperphagia often leading to obesity. Clinical research has shown that a lack of expression of SNORD116, a paternally expressed imprinted gene cluster that encodes multiple copies of a small nucleolar RNA (snoRNA) in both humans and mice, is most likely responsible for many PWS symptoms seen in humans. The majority of previous research using PWS preclinical models focused on characterization of the hyperphagic and metabolic phenotypes. However, a crucial understudied clinical phenotype is cognitive impairments and thus we investigated the learning and memory abilities using a model of PWS, with a heterozygous deletion in Snord116. We utilized the novel object recognition task, which doesn't require external motivation, or exhaustive swim training. Automated findings were further confirmed with manual scoring by a highly trained blinded investigator. We discovered deficits in Snord116+/- mutant mice in the novel object recognition, location memory and tone cue fear conditioning assays when compared to age-, sex- matched, littermate control Snord116+/+ mice. Further, we confirmed that despite physical neo-natal developmental delays, Snord116+/- mice had normal exploratory and motor abilities. These results show that the Snord116+/- deletion murine model is a valuable preclinical model for investigating learning and memory impairments in individuals with PWS without common confounding phenotypes.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.nlm.2018.05.011

    View details for PubMedID 29800646

  • Snord116-dependent diurnal rhythm of DNA methylation in mouse cortex NATURE COMMUNICATIONS Coulson, R. L., Yasui, D. H., Dunaway, K. W., Laufer, B. I., Ciernia, A., Zhu, Y., Mordaunt, C. E., Totah, T. S., LaSalle, J. M. 2018; 9: 1616


    Rhythmic oscillations of physiological processes depend on integrating the circadian clock and diurnal environment. DNA methylation is epigenetically responsive to daily rhythms, as a subset of CpG dinucleotides in brain exhibit diurnal rhythmic methylation. Here, we show a major genetic effect on rhythmic methylation in a mouse Snord116 deletion model of the imprinted disorder Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS). More than 23,000 diurnally rhythmic CpGs are identified in wild-type cortex, with nearly all lost or phase-shifted in PWS. Circadian dysregulation of a second imprinted Snord cluster at the Temple/Kagami-Ogata syndrome locus is observed at the level of methylation, transcription, and chromatin, providing mechanistic evidence of cross-talk. Genes identified by diurnal epigenetic changes in PWS mice overlapped rhythmic and PWS-specific genes in human brain and are enriched for PWS-relevant phenotypes and pathways. These results support the proposed evolutionary relationship between imprinting and sleep, and suggest possible chronotherapy in the treatment of PWS and related disorders.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41467-018-03676-0

    View details for Web of Science ID 000430674000005

    View details for PubMedID 29691382

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5915486

  • Epigenetics of Circadian Rhythms in Imprinted Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Progress in molecular biology and translational science Coulson, R. L., LaSalle, J. M. 2018; 157: 67-92


    DNA sequence information alone cannot account for the immense variability between chromosomal alleles within diverse cell types in the brain, whether these differences are observed across time, cell type, or parental origin. The complex control and maintenance of gene expression and modulation are regulated by a multitude of molecular and cellular mechanisms that layer on top of the genetic code. The integration of genetic and environmental signals required for regulating brain development and function is achieved in part by a dynamic epigenetic landscape that includes DNA methylation, histone modifications, and noncoding RNAs. These epigenetic mechanisms establish and maintain core biological processes, including genomic imprinting and entrainment of circadian rhythms. This chapter will focus on how the epigenetic layers of DNA methylation and long, noncoding RNAs interact with circadian rhythms at specific imprinted chromosomal loci associated with the human neurodevelopmental disorders Prader-Willi, Angelman, Kagami-Ogata, and Temple syndromes.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/bs.pmbts.2017.11.023

    View details for PubMedID 29933957

  • Experience-dependent neuroplasticity of the developing hypothalamus: integrative epigenomic approaches EPIGENETICS Ciernia, A., Laufer, B., Dunaway, K. W., Mordaunt, C. E., Coulson, R. L., Totah, T. S., Stolzenberg, D. S., Frahm, J. C., Singh-Taylor, A., Baram, T. Z., LaSalle, J. M., Yasui, D. H. 2018; 13 (3): 318–30


    Augmented maternal care during the first postnatal week promotes life-long stress resilience and improved memory compared with the outcome of routine rearing conditions. Recent evidence suggests that this programming commences with altered synaptic connectivity of stress sensitive hypothalamic neurons. However, the epigenomic basis of the long-lived consequences is not well understood. Here, we employed whole-genome bisulfite sequencing (WGBS), RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq), and a multiplex microRNA (miRNA) assay to examine the effects of augmented maternal care on DNA cytosine methylation, gene expression, and miRNA expression. A total of 9,439 differentially methylated regions (DMRs) associated with augmented maternal care were identified in male offspring hypothalamus, as well as a modest but significant decrease in global DNA methylation. Differentially methylated and expressed genes were enriched for functions in neurotransmission, neurodevelopment, protein synthesis, and oxidative phosphorylation, as well as known stress response genes. Twenty prioritized genes were identified as highly relevant to the stress resiliency phenotype. This combined unbiased approach enabled the discovery of novel genes and gene pathways that advance our understanding of the epigenomic mechanisms underlying the effects of maternal care on the developing brain.

    View details for DOI 10.1080/15592294.2018.1451720

    View details for Web of Science ID 000434326600011

    View details for PubMedID 29613827

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5997166

  • Cumulative Impact of Polychlorinated Biphenyl and Large Chromosomal Duplications on DNA Methylation, Chromatin, and Expression of Autism Candidate Genes. Cell reports Dunaway, K. W., Islam, M. S., Coulson, R. L., Lopez, S. J., Vogel Ciernia, A., Chu, R. G., Yasui, D. H., Pessah, I. N., Lott, P., Mordaunt, C., Meguro-Horike, M., Horike, S. I., Korf, I., LaSalle, J. M. 2016; 17 (11): 3035-3048


    Rare variants enriched for functions in chromatin regulation and neuronal synapses have been linked to autism. How chromatin and DNA methylation interact with environmental exposures at synaptic genes in autism etiologies is currently unclear. Using whole-genome bisulfite sequencing in brain tissue and a neuronal cell culture model carrying a 15q11.2-q13.3 maternal duplication, we find that significant global DNA hypomethylation is enriched over autism candidate genes and affects gene expression. The cumulative effect of multiple chromosomal duplications and exposure to the pervasive persistent organic pollutant PCB 95 altered methylation of more than 1,000 genes. Hypomethylated genes were enriched for H2A.Z, increased maternal UBE3A in Dup15q corresponded to reduced levels of RING1B, and bivalently modified H2A.Z was altered by PCB 95 and duplication. These results demonstrate the compounding effects of genetic and environmental insults on the neuronal methylome that converge upon dysregulation of chromatin and synaptic genes.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.celrep.2016.11.058

    View details for PubMedID 27974215

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5206988

  • A PraderWilli locus lncRNA cloud modulates diurnal genes and energy expenditure HUMAN MOLECULAR GENETICS Powell, W. T., Coulson, R. L., Crary, F. K., Wong, S. S., Ach, R. A., Tsang, P., Yamada, N., Yasui, D. H., LaSalle, J. M. 2013; 22 (21): 4318–28


    Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS), a genetic disorder of obesity, intellectual disability and sleep abnormalities, is caused by loss of non-coding RNAs on paternal chromosome 15q11-q13. The imprinted minimal PWS locus encompasses a long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) transcript processed into multiple SNORD116 small nucleolar RNAs and the spliced exons of the host gene, 116HG. However, both the molecular function and the disease relevance of the spliced lncRNA 116HG are unknown. Here, we show that 116HG forms a subnuclear RNA cloud that co-purifies with the transcriptional activator RBBP5 and active metabolic genes, remains tethered to the site of its transcription and increases in size in post-natal neurons and during sleep. Snord116del mice lacking 116HG exhibited increased energy expenditure corresponding to the dysregulation of diurnally expressed Mtor and circadian genes Clock, Cry1 and Per2. These combined genomic and metabolic analyses demonstrate that 116HG regulates the diurnal energy expenditure of the brain. These novel molecular insights into the energy imbalance in PWS should lead to improved therapies and understanding of lncRNA roles in complex neurodevelopmental and metabolic disorders.

    View details for DOI 10.1093/hmg/ddt281

    View details for Web of Science ID 000325771500007

    View details for PubMedID 23771028

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC3792690

  • R-loop formation at Snord116 mediates topotecan inhibition of Ube3a-antisense and allele-specific chromatin decondensation PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Powell, W. T., Coulson, R. L., Gonzales, M. L., Crary, F. K., Wong, S. S., Adams, S., Ach, R. A., Tsang, P., Yamada, N., Yasui, D. H., Chedin, F., LaSalle, J. M. 2013; 110 (34): 13938–43


    Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS) and Angelman syndrome (AS) are oppositely imprinted autism-spectrum disorders with known genetic bases, but complex epigenetic mechanisms underlie their pathogenesis. The PWS/AS locus on 15q11-q13 is regulated by an imprinting control region that is maternally methylated and silenced. The PWS imprinting control region is the promoter for a one megabase paternal transcript encoding the ubiquitous protein-coding Snrpn gene and multiple neuron-specific noncoding RNAs, including the PWS-related Snord116 repetitive locus of small nucleolar RNAs and host genes, and the antisense transcript to AS-causing ubiquitin ligase encoding Ube3a (Ube3a-ATS). Neuron-specific transcriptional progression through Ube3a-ATS correlates with paternal Ube3a silencing and chromatin decondensation. Interestingly, topoisomerase inhibitors, including topotecan, were recently identified in an unbiased drug screen for compounds that could reverse the silent paternal allele of Ube3a in neurons, but the mechanism of topotecan action on the PWS/AS locus is unknown. Here, we demonstrate that topotecan treatment stabilizes the formation of RNA:DNA hybrids (R loops) at G-skewed repeat elements within paternal Snord116, corresponding to increased chromatin decondensation and inhibition of Ube3a-ATS expression. Neural precursor cells from paternal Snord116 deletion mice exhibit increased Ube3a-ATS levels in differentiated neurons and show a reduced effect of topotecan compared with wild-type neurons. These results demonstrate that the AS candidate drug topotecan acts predominantly through stabilizing R loops and chromatin decondensation at the paternally expressed PWS Snord116 locus. Our study holds promise for targeted therapies to the Snord116 locus for both AS and PWS.

    View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.1305426110

    View details for Web of Science ID 000323271400061

    View details for PubMedID 23918391

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC3752217

  • Genome-Wide Association Mapping in Dogs Enables Identification of the Homeobox Gene, NKX2-8, as a Genetic Component of Neural Tube Defects in Humans PLOS GENETICS Safra, N., Bassuk, A. G., Ferguson, P. J., Aguilar, M., Coulson, R. L., Thomas, N., Hitchens, P. L., Dickinson, P. J., Vernau, K. M., Wolf, Z. T., Bannasch, D. L. 2013; 9 (7): e1003646


    Neural tube defects (NTDs) is a general term for central nervous system malformations secondary to a failure of closure or development of the neural tube. The resulting pathologies may involve the brain, spinal cord and/or vertebral column, in addition to associated structures such as soft tissue or skin. The condition is reported among the more common birth defects in humans, leading to significant infant morbidity and mortality. The etiology remains poorly understood but genetic, nutritional, environmental factors, or a combination of these, are known to play a role in the development of NTDs. The variable conditions associated with NTDs occur naturally in dogs, and have been previously reported in the Weimaraner breed. Taking advantage of the strong linkage-disequilibrium within dog breeds we performed genome-wide association analysis and mapped a genomic region for spinal dysraphism, a presumed NTD, using 4 affected and 96 unaffected Weimaraners. The associated region on canine chromosome 8 (pgenome  =3.0 × 10(-5)), after 100,000 permutations, encodes 18 genes, including NKX2-8, a homeobox gene which is expressed in the developing neural tube. Sequencing NKX2-8 in affected Weimaraners revealed a G to AA frameshift mutation within exon 2 of the gene, resulting in a premature stop codon that is predicted to produce a truncated protein. The exons of NKX2-8 were sequenced in human patients with spina bifida and rare variants (rs61755040 and rs10135525) were found to be significantly over-represented (p=0.036). This is the first documentation of a potential role for NKX2-8 in the etiology of NTDs, made possible by investigating the molecular basis of naturally occurring mutations in dogs.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pgen.1003646

    View details for Web of Science ID 000322321100044

    View details for PubMedID 23874236

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC3715436