All Publications

  • Antisense oligonucleotide therapeutic approach for Timothy syndrome. Nature Chen, X., Birey, F., Li, M. Y., Revah, O., Levy, R., Thete, M. V., Reis, N., Kaganovsky, K., Onesto, M., Sakai, N., Hudacova, Z., Hao, J., Meng, X., Nishino, S., Huguenard, J., Pașca, S. P. 2024; 628 (8009): 818-825


    Timothy syndrome (TS) is a severe, multisystem disorder characterized by autism, epilepsy, long-QT syndrome and other neuropsychiatric conditions1. TS type 1 (TS1) is caused by a gain-of-function variant in the alternatively spliced and developmentally enriched CACNA1C exon 8A, as opposed to its counterpart exon 8. We previously uncovered several phenotypes in neurons derived from patients with TS1, including delayed channel inactivation, prolonged depolarization-induced calcium rise, impaired interneuron migration, activity-dependent dendrite retraction and an unanticipated persistent expression of exon 8A2-6. We reasoned that switching CACNA1C exon utilization from 8A to 8 would represent a potential therapeutic strategy. Here we developed antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) to effectively decrease the inclusion of exon 8A in human cells both in vitro and, following transplantation, in vivo. We discovered that the ASO-mediated switch from exon 8A to 8 robustly rescued defects in patient-derived cortical organoids and migration in forebrain assembloids. Leveraging a transplantation platform previously developed7, we found that a single intrathecal ASO administration rescued calcium changes and in vivo dendrite retraction of patient neurons, suggesting that suppression of CACNA1C exon 8A expression is a potential treatment for TS1. Broadly, these experiments illustrate how a multilevel, in vivo and in vitro stem cell model-based approach can identify strategies to reverse disease-relevant neural pathophysiology.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41586-024-07310-6

    View details for PubMedID 38658687

    View details for PubMedCentralID 1149428

  • Kirigami electronics for long-term electrophysiological recording of human neural organoids and assembloids. Nature biotechnology Yang, X., Forro, C., Li, T. L., Miura, Y., Zaluska, T. J., Tsai, C., Kanton, S., McQueen, J. P., Chen, X., Mollo, V., Santoro, F., Pașca, S. P., Cui, B. 2024


    Realizing the full potential of organoids and assembloids to model neural development and disease will require improved methods for long-term, minimally invasive recording of electrical activity. Current technologies, such as patch clamp, penetrating microelectrodes, planar electrode arrays and substrate-attached flexible electrodes, do not allow chronic recording of organoids in suspension, which is necessary to preserve architecture. Inspired by kirigami art, we developed flexible electronics that transition from a two-dimensional to a three-dimensional basket-like configuration with either spiral or honeycomb patterns to accommodate the long-term culture of organoids in suspension. Here we show that this platform, named kirigami electronics (KiriE), integrates with and enables chronic recording of cortical organoids for up to 120days while preserving their morphology, cytoarchitecture and cell composition. We demonstrate integration of KiriE with optogenetic and pharmacological manipulation and modeling phenotypes related to a genetic disease. Moreover, KiriE can capture corticostriatal connectivity in assembloids following optogenetic stimulation. Thus, KiriE will enable investigation of disease and activity patterns underlying nervous system assembly.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41587-023-02081-3

    View details for PubMedID 38253880

  • Assembloid CRISPR screens reveal impact of disease genes in human neurodevelopment NATURE Meng, X., Yao, D., Imaizumi, K., Chen, X., Kelley, K. W., Reis, N., Thete, M., Arjun McKinney, A., Kulkarni, S., Panagiotakos, G., Bassik, M. C., Pasca, S. P. 2023
  • Single-cell transcriptomic landscape of the developing human spinal cord. Nature neuroscience Andersen, J., Thom, N., Shadrach, J. L., Chen, X., Onesto, M. M., Amin, N. D., Yoon, S. J., Li, L., Greenleaf, W. J., Müller, F., Pașca, A. M., Kaltschmidt, J. A., Pașca, S. P. 2023


    Understanding spinal cord assembly is essential to elucidate how motor behavior is controlled and how disorders arise. The human spinal cord is exquisitely organized, and this complex organization contributes to the diversity and intricacy of motor behavior and sensory processing. But how this complexity arises at the cellular level in the human spinal cord remains unknown. Here we transcriptomically profiled the midgestation human spinal cord with single-cell resolution and discovered remarkable heterogeneity across and within cell types. Glia displayed diversity related to positional identity along the dorso-ventral and rostro-caudal axes, while astrocytes with specialized transcriptional programs mapped into white and gray matter subtypes. Motor neurons clustered at this stage into groups suggestive of alpha and gamma neurons. We also integrated our data with multiple existing datasets of the developing human spinal cord spanning 22 weeks of gestation to investigate the cell diversity over time. Together with mapping of disease-related genes, this transcriptomic mapping of the developing human spinal cord opens new avenues for interrogating the cellular basis of motor control in humans and guides human stem cell-based models of disease.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41593-023-01311-w

    View details for PubMedID 37095394

    View details for PubMedCentralID 8353162

  • Maturation and circuit integration of transplanted human cortical organoids. Nature Revah, O., Gore, F., Kelley, K. W., Andersen, J., Sakai, N., Chen, X., Li, M. Y., Birey, F., Yang, X., Saw, N. L., Baker, S. W., Amin, N. D., Kulkarni, S., Mudipalli, R., Cui, B., Nishino, S., Grant, G. A., Knowles, J. K., Shamloo, M., Huguenard, J. R., Deisseroth, K., Pașca, S. P. 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

  • Generation of Functional Human 3D Cortico-Motor Assembloids. Cell Andersen, J. n., Revah, O. n., Miura, Y. n., Thom, N. n., Amin, N. D., Kelley, K. W., Singh, M. n., Chen, X. n., Thete, M. V., Walczak, E. M., Vogel, H. n., Fan, H. C., Paşca, S. P. 2020


    Neurons in the cerebral cortex connect through descending pathways to hindbrain and spinal cord to activate muscle and generate movement. Although components of this pathway have been previously generated and studied in vitro, the assembly of this multi-synaptic circuit has not yet been achieved with human cells. Here, we derive organoids resembling the cerebral cortex or the hindbrain/spinal cord and assemble them with human skeletal muscle spheroids to generate 3D cortico-motor assembloids. Using rabies tracing, calcium imaging, and patch-clamp recordings, we show that corticofugal neurons project and connect with spinal spheroids, while spinal-derived motor neurons connect with muscle. Glutamate uncaging or optogenetic stimulation of cortical spheroids triggers robust contraction of 3D muscle, and assembloids are morphologically and functionally intact for up to 10 weeks post-fusion. Together, this system highlights the remarkable self-assembly capacity of 3D cultures to form functional circuits that could be used to understand development and disease.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cell.2020.11.017

    View details for PubMedID 33333020

  • Expanding the editable genome and CRISPR-Cas9 versatility using DNA cutting-free gene targeting based on in trans paired nicking. Nucleic acids research Chen, X. n., Tasca, F. n., Wang, Q. n., Liu, J. n., Janssen, J. M., Brescia, M. D., Bellin, M. n., Szuhai, K. n., Kenrick, J. n., Frock, R. L., Gonçalves, M. A. 2019


    Genome editing typically involves recombination between donor nucleic acids and acceptor genomic sequences subjected to double-stranded DNA breaks (DSBs) made by programmable nucleases (e.g. CRISPR-Cas9). Yet, nucleases yield off-target mutations and, most pervasively, unpredictable target allele disruptions. Remarkably, to date, the untoward phenotypic consequences of disrupting allelic and non-allelic (e.g. pseudogene) sequences have received scant scrutiny and, crucially, remain to be addressed. Here, we demonstrate that gene-edited cells can lose fitness as a result of DSBs at allelic and non-allelic target sites and report that simultaneous single-stranded DNA break formation at donor and acceptor DNA by CRISPR-Cas9 nickases (in trans paired nicking) mostly overcomes such disruptive genotype-phenotype associations. Moreover, in trans paired nicking gene editing can efficiently and precisely add large DNA segments into essential and multiple-copy genomic sites. As shown herein by genotyping assays and high-throughput genome-wide sequencing of DNA translocations, this is achieved while circumventing most allelic and non-allelic mutations and chromosomal rearrangements characteristic of nuclease-dependent procedures. Our work demonstrates that in trans paired nicking retains target protein dosages in gene-edited cell populations and expands gene editing to chromosomal tracts previously not possible to modify seamlessly due to their recurrence in the genome or essentiality for cell function.

    View details for DOI 10.1093/nar/gkz1121

    View details for PubMedID 31799604

  • The Chromatin Structure of CRISPR-Cas9 Target DNA Controls the Balance between Mutagenic and Homology-Directed Gene-Editing Events. Molecular therapy. Nucleic acids Janssen, J. M., Chen, X. n., Liu, J. n., Gonçalves, M. A. 2019; 16: 141–54


    Gene editing based on homology-directed repair (HDR) depends on donor DNA templates and programmable nucleases, e.g., RNA-guided CRISPR-Cas9 nucleases. However, next to inducing HDR involving the mending of chromosomal double-stranded breaks (DSBs) with donor DNA substrates, programmable nucleases also yield gene disruptions, triggered by competing non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) pathways. It is, therefore, imperative to identify parameters underlying the relationship between these two outcomes in the context of HDR-based gene editing. Here we implemented quantitative cellular systems, based on epigenetically regulated isogenic target sequences and donor DNA of viral, non-viral, and synthetic origins, to investigate gene-editing outcomes resulting from the interaction between different chromatin conformations and donor DNA structures. We report that, despite a significantly higher prevalence of NHEJ-derived events at euchromatin over Krüppel-associated box (KRAB)-impinged heterochromatin, HDR frequencies are instead generally less impacted by these alternative chromatin conformations. Hence, HDR increases in relation to NHEJ when open euchromatic target sequences acquire a closed heterochromatic state, with donor DNA structures determining, to some extent, the degree of this relative increase in HDR events at heterochromatin. Finally, restricting nuclease activity to HDR-permissive G2 and S phases of the cell cycle through a Cas9-Geminin construct yields lower, hence more favorable, NHEJ to HDR ratios, independently of the chromatin structure.

    View details for PubMedID 30884291

  • DNA, RNA, and Protein Tools for Editing the Genetic Information in Human Cells. iScience Chen, X., Gonçalves, M. A. 2018; 6: 247-263


    Solving the structure of DNA in 1953 has unleashed a tour de force in molecular biology that has illuminated how the genetic information stored in DNA is copied and flows downstream into RNA and proteins. Currently, increasingly powerful technologies permit not only reading and writing DNA in vitro but also editing the genetic instructions in cells from virtually any organism. Editing specific genomic sequences in living cells has been particularly accelerated with the introduction of programmable RNA-guided nucleases (RGNs) based on prokaryotic CRISPR adaptive immune systems. The repair of chromosomal breaks made by RGNs with donor DNA patches results in targeted genome editing involving the introduction of specific genetic changes at predefined genomic positions. Hence, donor DNAs, guide RNAs, and nuclease proteins, each representing the molecular entities underlying the storage, transmission, and expression of genetic information, are, once delivered into cells, put to work as agents of change of that very same genetic text. Here, after providing an outline of the programmable nuclease-assisted genome editing field, we review the increasingly diverse range of DNA, RNA, and protein components (e.g., nucleases and "nickases") that, when brought together, underlie RGN-based genome editing in eukaryotic cells.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.isci.2018.08.001

    View details for PubMedID 30240615

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC6137403

  • In trans paired nicking triggers seamless genome editing without double-stranded DNA cutting NATURE COMMUNICATIONS Chen, X., Janssen, J. M., Liu, J., Maggio, I., t' Jong, A. J., Mikkers, H. M., Goncalves, M. V. 2017; 8: 657


    Precise genome editing involves homologous recombination between donor DNA and chromosomal sequences subjected to double-stranded DNA breaks made by programmable nucleases. Ideally, genome editing should be efficient, specific, and accurate. However, besides constituting potential translocation-initiating lesions, double-stranded DNA breaks (targeted or otherwise) are mostly repaired through unpredictable and mutagenic non-homologous recombination processes. Here, we report that the coordinated formation of paired single-stranded DNA breaks, or nicks, at donor plasmids and chromosomal target sites by RNA-guided nucleases based on CRISPR-Cas9 components, triggers seamless homology-directed gene targeting of large genetic payloads in human cells, including pluripotent stem cells. Importantly, in addition to significantly reducing the mutagenicity of the genome modification procedure, this in trans paired nicking strategy achieves multiplexed, single-step, gene targeting, and yields higher frequencies of accurately edited cells when compared to the standard double-stranded DNA break-dependent approach.CRISPR-Cas9-based gene editing involves double-strand breaks at target sequences, which are often repaired by mutagenic non-homologous end-joining. Here the authors use Cas9 nickases to generate coordinated single-strand breaks in donor and target DNA for precise homology-directed gene editing.

    View details for PubMedID 28939824

  • The Chromatin Structure Differentially Impacts High-Specificity CRISPR-Cas9 Nuclease Strategies MOLECULAR THERAPY-NUCLEIC ACIDS Chen, X., Liu, J., Janssen, J. M., Goncalves, M. V. 2017; 8: 558–63

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.omtn.2017.08.005

    View details for Web of Science ID 000410543000005

    View details for PubMedID 28918055

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5577405

  • Adenoviral vectors encoding CRISPR/Cas9 multiplexes rescue dystrophin synthesis in unselected populations of DMD muscle cells. Scientific reports Maggio, I., Liu, J., Janssen, J. M., Chen, X., Gonçalves, M. A. 2016; 6: 37051


    Mutations disrupting the reading frame of the ~2.4 Mb dystrophin-encoding DMD gene cause a fatal X-linked muscle-wasting disorder called Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). Genome editing based on paired RNA-guided nucleases (RGNs) from CRISPR/Cas9 systems has been proposed for permanently repairing faulty DMD loci. However, such multiplexing strategies require the development and testing of delivery systems capable of introducing the various gene editing tools into target cells. Here, we investigated the suitability of adenoviral vectors (AdVs) for multiplexed DMD editing by packaging in single vector particles expression units encoding the Streptococcus pyogenes Cas9 nuclease and sequence-specific gRNA pairs. These RGN components were customized to trigger short- and long-range intragenic DMD excisions encompassing reading frame-disrupting exons in patient-derived muscle progenitor cells. By allowing synchronous and stoichiometric expression of the various RGN components, we demonstrate that dual RGN-encoding AdVs can correct over 10% of target DMD alleles, readily leading to the detection of Becker-like dystrophin proteins in unselected muscle cell populations. Moreover, we report that AdV-based gene editing can be tailored for removing mutations located within the over 500-kb major DMD mutational hotspot. Hence, this single DMD editing strategy can in principle tackle a broad spectrum of mutations present in more than 60% of patients with DMD.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/srep37051

    View details for PubMedID 27845387

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5109245

  • Probing the impact of chromatin conformation on genome editing tools NUCLEIC ACIDS RESEARCH Chen, X., Rinsma, M., Janssen, J. M., Liu, J., Maggio, I., Goncalves, M. V. 2016; 44 (13): 6482–92


    Transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs) and RNA-guided nucleases derived from clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)-Cas9 systems have become ubiquitous genome editing tools. Despite this, the impact that distinct high-order chromatin conformations have on these sequence-specific designer nucleases is, presently, ill-defined. The same applies to the relative performance of TALENs and CRISPR/Cas9 nucleases at isogenic target sequences subjected to different epigenetic modifications. Here, to address these gaps in our knowledge, we have implemented quantitative cellular systems based on genetic reporters in which the euchromatic and heterochromatic statuses of designer nuclease target sites are stringently controlled by small-molecule drug availability. By using these systems, we demonstrate that TALENs and CRISPR/Cas9 nucleases are both significantly affected by the high-order epigenetic context of their target sequences. In addition, this outcome could also be ascertained for S. pyogenes CRISPR/Cas9 complexes harbouring Cas9 variants whose DNA cleaving specificities are superior to that of the wild-type Cas9 protein. Thus, the herein investigated cellular models will serve as valuable functional readouts for screening and assessing the role of chromatin on designer nucleases based on different platforms or with different architectures or compositions.

    View details for PubMedID 27280977

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5291272

  • The emerging role of viral vectors as vehicles for DMD gene editing GENOME MEDICINE Maggio, I., Chen, X., Goncalves, M. V. 2016; 8: 59


    Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a genetic disorder caused by mutations in the dystrophin-encoding DMD gene. The DMD gene, spanning over 2.4 megabases along the short arm of the X chromosome (Xp21.2), is the largest genetic locus known in the human genome. The size of DMD, combined with the complexity of the DMD phenotype and the extent of the affected tissues, begs for the development of novel, ideally complementary, therapeutic approaches. Genome editing based on the delivery of sequence-specific programmable nucleases into dystrophin-defective cells has recently enriched the portfolio of potential therapies under investigation. Experiments involving different programmable nuclease platforms and target cell types have established that the application of genome-editing principles to the targeted manipulation of defective DMD loci can result in the rescue of dystrophin protein synthesis in gene-edited cells. Looking towards translation into the clinic, these proof-of-principle experiments have been swiftly followed by the conversion of well-established viral vector systems into delivery agents for DMD editing. These gene-editing tools consist of zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs), engineered homing endoculeases (HEs), transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs), and RNA-guided nucleases (RGNs) based on clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)-Cas9 systems. Here, we succinctly review these fast-paced developments and technologies, highlighting their relative merits and potential bottlenecks, when used as part of in vivo and ex vivo gene-editing strategies.

    View details for PubMedID 27215286

  • Engineered Viruses as Genome Editing Devices MOLECULAR THERAPY Chen, X., Goncalves, M. V. 2016; 24 (3): 447–57


    Genome editing based on sequence-specific designer nucleases, also known as programmable nucleases, seeks to modify in a targeted and precise manner the genetic information content of living cells. Delivering into cells designer nucleases alone or together with donor DNA templates, which serve as surrogate homologous recombination (HR) substrates, can result in gene knockouts or gene knock-ins, respectively. As engineered replication-defective viruses, viral vectors are having an increasingly important role as delivery vehicles for donor DNA templates and designer nucleases, namely, zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs), transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs) and clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)-associated Cas9 (CRISPR-Cas9) nucleases, also known as RNA-guided nucleases (RGNs). We review this dual role played by engineered viral particles on genome editing while focusing on their main scaffolds, consisting of lentiviruses, adeno-associated viruses, and adenoviruses. In addition, the coverage of the growing body of research on the repurposing of viral vectors as delivery systems for genome editing tools is complemented with information regarding their main characteristics, pros, and cons. Finally, this information is framed by a concise description of the chief principles, tools, and applications of the genome editing field as a whole.

    View details for PubMedID 26336974

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4786910

  • Selection-free gene repair after adenoviral vector transduction of designer nucleases: rescue of dystrophin synthesis in DMD muscle cell populations. Nucleic acids research Maggio, I., Stefanucci, L., Janssen, J. M., Liu, J., Chen, X., Mouly, V., Gonçalves, M. A. 2016; 44 (3): 1449-70


    Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a fatal X-linked muscle-wasting disorder caused by mutations in the 2.4 Mb dystrophin-encoding DMD gene. The integration of gene delivery and gene editing technologies based on viral vectors and sequence-specific designer nucleases, respectively, constitutes a potential therapeutic modality for permanently repairing defective DMD alleles in patient-derived myogenic cells. Therefore, we sought to investigate the feasibility of combining adenoviral vectors (AdVs) with CRISPR/Cas9 RNA-guided nucleases (RGNs) alone or together with transcriptional activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs), for endogenous DMD repair through non-homologous end-joining (NHEJ). The strategies tested involved; incorporating small insertions or deletions at out-of-frame sequences for reading frame resetting, splice acceptor knockout for DNA-level exon skipping, and RGN-RGN or RGN-TALEN multiplexing for targeted exon(s) removal. We demonstrate that genome editing based on the activation and recruitment of the NHEJ DNA repair pathway after AdV delivery of designer nuclease genes, is a versatile and robust approach for repairing DMD mutations in bulk populations of patient-derived muscle progenitor cells (up to 37% of corrected DMD templates). These results open up a DNA-level genetic medicine strategy in which viral vector-mediated transient designer nuclease expression leads to permanent and regulated dystrophin synthesis from corrected native DMD alleles.

    View details for DOI 10.1093/nar/gkv1540

    View details for PubMedID 26762977

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4756843

  • Adenoviral vector delivery of RNA-guided CRISPR/Cas9 nuclease complexes induces targeted mutagenesis in a diverse array of human cells. Scientific reports Maggio, I., Holkers, M., Liu, J., Janssen, J. M., Chen, X., Gonçalves, M. A. 2014; 4: 5105


    CRISPR/Cas9-derived RNA-guided nucleases (RGNs) are DNA targeting systems, which are rapidly being harnessed for gene regulation and gene editing purposes in model organisms and cell lines. As bona fide gene delivery vehicles, viral vectors may be particularly fit to broaden the applicability of RGNs to other cell types including dividing and quiescent primary cells. Here, the suitability of adenoviral vectors (AdVs) for delivering RGN components into various cell types is investigated. We demonstrate that AdVs, namely second-generation fiber-modified AdVs encoding Cas9 or single guide RNA (gRNA) molecules addressing the Cas9 nuclease to the AAVS1 "safe harbor" locus or to a recombinant model allele can be produced to high-titers (up to 20 × 10(10) transducing units/ml). Importantly, AdV-mediated transduction of gRNA:Cas9 ribonucleoprotein complexes into transformed and non-transformed cells yields rates of targeted mutagenesis similar to or approaching those achieved by isogenic AdVs encoding TALENs targeting the same AAVS1 chromosomal region. RGN-induced gene disruption frequencies in the various cell types ranged from 18% to 65%. We conclude that AdVs constitute a valuable platform for introducing RGNs into human somatic cells regardless of their transformation status. This approach should aid investigating the potential and limitations of RGNs in numerous experimental settings.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/srep05105

    View details for PubMedID 24870050

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4037712