Academic Appointments

  • Assistant Professor, Ophthalmology

Honors & Awards

  • Gabilan Fellowship, Stanford University (2024)
  • NEI Director's Award- Eye on the Future Team, National Eye Institute (2023)
  • K99 Pathway to Independence Award, National Eye Institute (2020)
  • NEI Director's Award- In recognition to receiving an external grant through a competitive process, National Eye Institute (2020)
  • NEI Director's Award- Rising star, National Eye Institute (2020)
  • NEI Director's Award- Spotlight on mentorship award, National Eye Institute (2020)
  • Connie Lee Lerea Travel Grant, The Association for research in vision and ophthalmology (ARVO) (2018)
  • Fellows Award for Research Excellence (FARE) Travel Grant, OITE, National Institutes of Health (2018)
  • Graduate studentship award, Child and Family Research Institute (CFRI) (2010)
  • Provost Doctoral Entrance Award, University of Alberta (2007)

Professional Education

  • PhD, University of British Columbia, Genetics
  • MSc, University of Alberta, Neuroscience
  • BS, Universidad de los Andes, Biology

Current Research and Scholarly Interests

We are interested in unraveling the roles of RNA-binding proteins (RBPs) and regulatory RNAs in retinal development and homeostasis.

RNA-binding proteins mediate functional integration of transcriptional and post-transcriptional machineries influencing various aspects of gene expression and RNA metabolism. Several RBPs have cell-type enriched expression patterns in the retina or cause blinding diseases, however their role in retinal development and function is poorly understood. We have identified several RBPs that interact with the photoreceptor-specific transcription factor NRL and are likely involved in development and homeostasis of this retinal cell-type. We are pursuing the following lines of research:

1) RBPs in retinal development and degeneration. We will study the role of RBPs in regulating retinal development and maintaining homeostasis. We will focus on RBPs enriched in the retina, their interactions with retinal transcription factors like NRL, and their relevance to retinal diseases.

2) RBPs in R-loop regulation in the retina. R-loops are triple-stranded structures created when RNA anneals to one of the strands of the DNA duplex. R-loops have many regulatory roles during gene expression and their dysregulation can be detrimental to genome integrity. We observed that R-loops are dynamic during retinal development and identified key R-loop-associated RBPs that are enriched in rod photoreceptors and that interact with the transcription factor NRL. We will study the role of R-loops and their regulatory RBPs in retinal development and homeostasis.

3) Chromatin-associated regulatory RNAs through the retina lifespan. Chromatin-associated RNAs contribute to the dynamic regulation of gene expression, chromatin structure, and genome organization, playing essential roles in various biological processes, including development, differentiation, and disease. We will study how regulatory RNAs, together with their cognate RBPs, influence expression programs and chromatin dynamics through the retina lifespan.

All Publications

  • QTL mapping of human retina DNA methylation identifies 87 gene-epigenome interactions in age-related macular degeneration. Nature communications Advani, J., Mehta, P. A., Hamel, A. R., Mehrotra, S., Kiel, C., Strunz, T., Corso-Díaz, X., Kwicklis, M., van Asten, F., Ratnapriya, R., Chew, E. Y., Hernandez, D. G., Montezuma, S. R., Ferrington, D. A., Weber, B. H., Segrè, A. V., Swaroop, A. 2024; 15 (1): 1972


    DNA methylation provides a crucial epigenetic mark linking genetic variations to environmental influence. We have analyzed array-based DNA methylation profiles of 160 human retinas with co-measured RNA-seq and >8 million genetic variants, uncovering sites of genetic regulation in cis (37,453 methylation quantitative trait loci and 12,505 expression quantitative trait loci) and 13,747 DNA methylation loci affecting gene expression, with over one-third specific to the retina. Methylation and expression quantitative trait loci show non-random distribution and enrichment of biological processes related to synapse, mitochondria, and catabolism. Summary data-based Mendelian randomization and colocalization analyses identify 87 target genes where methylation and gene-expression changes likely mediate the genotype effect on age-related macular degeneration. Integrated pathway analysis reveals epigenetic regulation of immune response and metabolism including the glutathione pathway and glycolysis. Our study thus defines key roles of genetic variations driving methylation changes, prioritizes epigenetic control of gene expression, and suggests frameworks for regulation of macular degeneration pathology by genotype-environment interaction in retina.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41467-024-46063-8

    View details for PubMedID 38438351

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC10912779

  • The photoreceptor-specific transcription factor NRL interacts with RNA-binding proteins and regulates R-loop levels Diaz, X., Dandewad, V., Liang, X., Preston, K., Swaroop, A. ASSOC RESEARCH VISION OPHTHALMOLOGY INC. 2023
  • High-resolution genome topology of human retina uncovers super enhancer-promoter interactions at tissue-specific and multifactorial disease loci. Nature communications Marchal, C., Singh, N., Batz, Z., Advani, J., Jaeger, C., Corso-Díaz, X., Swaroop, A. 2022; 13 (1): 5827


    Chromatin organization and enhancer-promoter contacts establish unique spatiotemporal gene expression patterns in distinct cell types. Non-coding genetic variants can influence cellular phenotypes by modifying higher-order transcriptional hubs and consequently gene expression. To elucidate genomic regulation in human retina, we mapped chromatin contacts at high resolution and integrated with super-enhancers (SEs), histone marks, binding of CTCF and select transcription factors. We show that topologically associated domains (TADs) with central SEs exhibit stronger insulation and augmented contact with retinal genes relative to TADs with edge SEs. Merging genome-wide expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs) with topology map reveals physical links between 100 eQTLs and corresponding eGenes associated with retinal neurodegeneration. Additionally, we uncover candidate genes for susceptibility variants linked to age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma. Our study of high-resolution genomic architecture of human retina provides insights into genetic control of tissue-specific functions, suggests paradigms for missing heritability, and enables the dissection of common blinding disease phenotypes.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41467-022-33427-1

    View details for PubMedID 36207300

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC9547065

  • HiCRes: a computational method to estimate and predict the genomic resolution of Hi-C libraries. Nucleic acids research Marchal, C., Singh, N., Corso-Díaz, X., Swaroop, A. 2022; 50 (6): e35


    Three-dimensional (3D) conformation of the chromatin is crucial to stringently regulate gene expression patterns and DNA replication in a cell-type specific manner. Hi-C is a key technique for measuring 3D chromatin interactions genome wide. Estimating and predicting the resolution of a library is an essential step in any Hi-C experimental design. Here, we present the mathematical concepts to estimate the resolution of a dataset and predict whether deeper sequencing would enhance the resolution. We have developed HiCRes, a docker pipeline, by applying these concepts to several Hi-C libraries.

    View details for DOI 10.1093/nar/gkab1235

    View details for PubMedID 34928367

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC8990515

  • Aging of the Retina: Molecular and Metabolic Turbulences and Potential Interventions. Annual review of vision science Campello, L., Singh, N., Advani, J., Mondal, A. K., Corso-Díaz, X., Swaroop, A. 2021; 7: 633-664


    Multifaceted and divergent manifestations across tissues and cell types have curtailed advances in deciphering the cellular events that accompany advanced age and contribute to morbidities and mortalities. Increase in human lifespan during the past century has heightened awareness of the need to prevent age-associated frailty of neuronal and sensory systems to allow a healthy and productive life. In this review, we discuss molecular and physiological attributes of aging of the retina, with a goal of understanding age-related impairment of visual function. We highlight the epigenome-metabolism nexus and proteostasis as key contributors to retinal aging and discuss lifestyle changes as potential modulators of retinal function. Finally, we deliberate promising intervention strategies for promoting healthy aging of the retina for improved vision.

    View details for DOI 10.1146/annurev-vision-100419-114940

    View details for PubMedID 34061570

  • Genome wide mapping of promoter-anchored interactions in the human retina Singh, N., Marchal, C., Gentry, J., Jaeger, C., Corso-Diaz, X., Swaroop, A. ASSOC RESEARCH VISION OPHTHALMOLOGY INC. 2020
  • Genome-wide Profiling Identifies DNA Methylation Signatures of Aging in Rod Photoreceptors Associated with Alterations in Energy Metabolism. Cell reports Corso-Díaz, X., Gentry, J., Rebernick, R., Jaeger, C., Brooks, M. J., van Asten, F., Kooragayala, K., Gieser, L., Nellissery, J., Covian, R., Cogliati, T., Mondal, A. K., Jiang, K., Swaroop, A. 2020; 31 (3): 107525


    Aging-associated functional decline is accompanied by alterations in the epigenome. To explore DNA modifications that could influence visual function with age, we perform whole-genome bisulfite sequencing of purified mouse rod photoreceptors at four ages and identify 2,054 differentially methylated regions (DMRs). We detect many DMRs during early stages of aging and in rod regulatory regions, and some of these cluster at chromosomal hotspots, especially on chromosome 10, which includes a longevity interactome. Integration of methylome to age-related transcriptome changes, chromatin signatures, and first-order protein-protein interactions uncover an enrichment of DMRs in altered pathways that are associated with rod function, aging, and energy metabolism. In concordance, we detect reduced basal mitochondrial respiration and increased fatty acid dependency with retinal age in ex vivo assays. Our study reveals age-dependent genomic and chromatin features susceptible to DNA methylation changes in rod photoreceptors and identifies a link between DNA methylation and energy metabolism in aging.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.celrep.2020.107525

    View details for PubMedID 32320661

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC7228806

  • Epigenetic control of gene regulation during development and disease: A view from the retina. Progress in retinal and eye research Corso-Díaz, X., Jaeger, C., Chaitankar, V., Swaroop, A. 2018; 65: 1-27


    Complex biological processes, such as organogenesis and homeostasis, are stringently regulated by genetic programs that are fine-tuned by epigenetic factors to establish cell fates and/or to respond to the microenvironment. Gene regulatory networks that guide cell differentiation and function are modulated and stabilized by modifications to DNA, RNA and proteins. In this review, we focus on two key epigenetic changes - DNA methylation and histone modifications - and discuss their contribution to retinal development, aging and disease, especially in the context of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic retinopathy. We highlight less-studied roles of DNA methylation and provide the RNA expression profiles of epigenetic enzymes in human and mouse retina in comparison to other tissues. We also review computational tools and emergent technologies to profile, analyze and integrate epigenetic information. We suggest implementation of editing tools and single-cell technologies to trace and perturb the epigenome for delineating its role in transcriptional regulation. Finally, we present our thoughts on exciting avenues for exploring epigenome in retinal metabolism, disease modeling, and regeneration.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.preteyeres.2018.03.002

    View details for PubMedID 29544768

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC6054546

  • Epigenetic disease mechanisms associated with age-related macular degeneration Van Asten, F., Diaz, X., Chaitankar, V., Ratnapriya, R., Starostik, M., Chew, E. Y., Ferrington, D. A., Swaroop, A. ASSOC RESEARCH VISION OPHTHALMOLOGY INC. 2018
  • Epigenomic reconfiguration during aging of rod photoreceptors Diaz, X., Rebernick, R., Jaeger, C., Van Asten, F., Brooks, M., Cogliati, T., Chaitankar, V., Swaroop, A. ASSOC RESEARCH VISION OPHTHALMOLOGY INC. 2018
  • Transcriptional and DNA methylation changes during aging in rod photoreceptors Diaz, X., Van Asten, F., Cogliati, T., Barb, J., Gotoh, N., Brooks, M., Swaroop, A. ASSOC RESEARCH VISION OPHTHALMOLOGY INC. 2017
  • Co-activator candidate interactions for orphan nuclear receptor NR2E1. BMC genomics Corso-Díaz, X., de Leeuw, C. N., Alonso, V., Melchers, D., Wong, B. K., Houtman, R., Simpson, E. M. 2016; 17 (1): 832


    NR2E1 (Tlx) is an orphan nuclear receptor that regulates the maintenance and self-renewal of neural stem cells, and promotes tumourigenesis. Nr2e1-null mice exhibit reduced cortical and limbic structures and pronounced retinal dystrophy. NR2E1 functions mainly as a repressor of gene transcription in association with the co-repressors atrophin-1, LSD1, HDAC and BCL11A. Recent evidence suggests that NR2E1 also acts as an activator of gene transcription. However, co-activator complexes that interact with NR2E1 have not yet been identified. In order to find potential novel co-regulators for NR2E1, we used a microarray assay for real-time analysis of co-regulator-nuclear receptor interaction (MARCoNI) that contains peptides representing interaction motifs from potential co-regulatory proteins, including known co-activator nuclear receptor box sequences (LxxLL motif).We found that NR2E1 binds strongly to an atrophin-1 peptide (Atro box) used as positive control and to 19 other peptides that constitute candidate NR2E1 partners. Two of these proteins, p300 and androgen receptor (AR), were further validated by reciprocal pull-down assays. The specificity of NR2E1 binding to peptides in the array was evaluated using two single amino acid variants, R274G and R276Q, which disrupted the majority of the binding interactions observed with wild-type NR2E1. The decreased binding affinity of these variants to co-regulators was further validated by pull-down assays using atrophin1 as bait. Despite the high conservation of arginine 274 in vertebrates, its reduced interactions with co-regulators were not significant in vivo as determined by retinal phenotype analysis in single-copy Nr2e1-null mice carrying the variant R274G.We showed that MARCoNI is a specific assay to test interactions of NR2E1 with candidate co-regulators. In this way, we unveiled 19 potential co-regulator partners for NR2E1, including eight co-activators. All the candidates here identified need to be further validated using in vitro and in vivo models. This assay was sensitive to point mutations in NR2E1 ligand binding domain making it useful to identify mutations and/or small molecules that alter binding of NR2E1 to protein partners.

    View details for DOI 10.1186/s12864-016-3173-5

    View details for PubMedID 27782803

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5080790

  • Combined serial analysis of gene expression and transcription factor binding site prediction identifies novel-candidate-target genes of Nr2e1 in neocortex development. BMC genomics Schmouth, J. F., Arenillas, D., Corso-Díaz, X., Xie, Y. Y., Bohacec, S., Banks, K. G., Bonaguro, R. J., Wong, S. H., Jones, S. J., Marra, M. A., Simpson, E. M., Wasserman, W. W. 2015; 16 (1): 545


    Nr2e1 (nuclear receptor subfamily 2, group e, member 1) encodes a transcription factor important in neocortex development. Previous work has shown that nuclear receptors can have hundreds of target genes, and bind more than 300 co-interacting proteins. However, recognition of the critical role of Nr2e1 in neural stem cells and neocortex development is relatively recent, thus the molecular mechanisms involved for this nuclear receptor are only beginning to be understood. Serial analysis of gene expression (SAGE), has given researchers both qualitative and quantitative information pertaining to biological processes. Thus, in this work, six LongSAGE mouse libraries were generated from laser microdissected tissue samples of dorsal VZ/SVZ (ventricular zone and subventricular zone) from the telencephalon of wild-type (Wt) and Nr2e1-null embryos at the critical development ages E13.5, E15.5, and E17.5. We then used a novel approach, implementing multiple computational methods followed by biological validation to further our understanding of Nr2e1 in neocortex development.In this work, we have generated a list of 1279 genes that are differentially expressed in response to altered Nr2e1 expression during in vivo neocortex development. We have refined this list to 64 candidate direct-targets of NR2E1. Our data suggested distinct roles for Nr2e1 during different neocortex developmental stages. Most importantly, our results suggest a possible novel pathway by which Nr2e1 regulates neurogenesis, which includes Lhx2 as one of the candidate direct-target genes, and SOX9 as a co-interactor.In conclusion, we have provided new candidate interacting partners and numerous well-developed testable hypotheses for understanding the pathways by which Nr2e1 functions to regulate neocortex development.

    View details for DOI 10.1186/s12864-015-1770-3

    View details for PubMedID 26204903

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4512088

  • Nr2e1 regulates retinal lamination and the development of Müller glia, S-cones, and glycineric amacrine cells during retinogenesis. Molecular brain Corso-Díaz, X., Simpson, E. M. 2015; 8: 37


    Nr2e1 is a nuclear receptor crucial for neural stem cell proliferation and maintenance. In the retina, lack of Nr2e1 results in premature neurogenesis, aberrant blood vessel formation and dystrophy. However, the specific role of Nr2e1 in the development of different retinal cell types and its cell-autonomous and non-cell autonomous function(s) during eye development are poorly understood.Here, we studied the retinas of P7 and P21 Nr2e1 (frc/frc) mice and Nr2e1 (+/+) ↔ Nr2e1 (frc/frc) chimeras. We hypothesized that Nr2e1 differentially regulates the development of various retinal cell types, and thus the cellular composition of Nr2e1 (frc/frc) retinas does not simply reflect an overrepresentation of cells born early and underrepresentation of cells born later as a consequence of premature neurogenesis. In agreement with our hypothesis, lack of Nr2e1 resulted in increased numbers of glycinergic amacrine cells with no apparent increase in other amacrine sub-types, normal numbers of Müller glia, the last cell-type to be generated, and increased numbers of Nr2e1 (frc/frc) S-cones in chimeras. Furthermore, Nr2e1 (frc/frc) Müller glia were mispositioned in the retina and misexpressed the ganglion cell-specific transcription factor Brn3a. Nr2e1 (frc/frc) retinas also displayed lamination defects including an ectopic neuropil forming an additional inner plexiform layer. In chimeric mice, retinal thickness was rescued by 34 % of wild-type cells and Nr2e1 (frc/frc) dystrophy-related phenotypes were no longer evident. However, the formation of an ectopic neuropil, misexpression of Brn3a in Müller glia, and abnormal cell numbers in the inner and outer nuclear layers at P7 were not rescued by wild-type cells.Together, these results show that Nr2e1, in addition to having a role in preventing premature cell cycle exit, participates in several other developmental processes during retinogenesis including neurite organization in the inner retina and development of glycinergic amacrine cells, S-cones, and Müller glia. Nr2e1 also regulates various aspects of Müller glia differentiation cell-autonomously. However, Nr2e1 does not have a cell-autonomous role in preventing retinal dystrophy. Thus, Nr2e1 regulates processes involved in neurite development and terminal retinal cell differentiation.

    View details for DOI 10.1186/s13041-015-0126-x

    View details for PubMedID 26092486

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4475312

  • Absence of NR2E1 mutations in patients with aniridia. Molecular vision Corso-Díaz, X., Borrie, A. E., Bonaguro, R., Schuetz, J. M., Rosenberg, T., Jensen, H., Brooks, B. P., Macdonald, I. M., Pasutto, F., Walter, M. A., Grønskov, K., Brooks-Wilson, A., Simpson, E. M. 2012; 18: 2770-82


    Nuclear receptor 2E1 (NR2E1) is a transcription factor with many roles during eye development and thus may be responsible for the occurrence of certain congenital eye disorders in humans. To test this hypothesis, we screened NR2E1 for candidate mutations in patients with aniridia and other congenital ocular malformations (anterior segment dysgenesis, congenital optic nerve malformation, and microphthalmia).The NR2E1 coding region, 5' and 3' untranslated regions (UTRs), exon flanking regions including consensus splice sites, and six evolutionarily conserved non-coding candidate regulatory regions were analyzed by sequencing 58 probands with aniridia of whom 42 were negative for PAX6 mutations. Nineteen probands with anterior segment dysgenesis, one proband with optic nerve malformation, and two probands with microphthalmia were also sequenced. The control population comprised 376 healthy individuals. All sequences were analyzed against the GenBank sequence AL078596.8 for NR2E1. In addition, the coding region and flanking intronic sequences of FOXE3, FOXC1, PITX2, CYP1B1, PAX6, and B3GALTL were sequenced in one patient and his relatives.Sequencing analysis showed 17 NR2E1 variants including two novel rare non-coding variants (g.-1507G>A, g.14258C>T), and one novel rare coding variant (p.Arg274Gly). The latter was present in a male diagnosed with Peters' anomaly who subsequently was found to have a known causative mutation for Peters' plus syndrome in B3GALTL (c.660+1G>A). In addition, the NR2E1 novel rare variant Arg274Gly was present in the unaffected mother of the patient but absent in 746 control chromosomes.We eliminated a major role for NR2E1 regulatory and coding mutations in aniridia and found a novel rare coding variant in NR2E1. In addition, we found no coding region variation in the control population for NR2E1, which further supports its previously reported high level of conservation and low genetic diversity. Future NR2E1 studies in ocular disease groups such as those involving retinal and optic nerve abnormalities should be undertaken to determine whether NR2E1 plays a role in these conditions.

    View details for PubMedID 23213277

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC3513187

  • Modelling human regulatory variation in mouse: finding the function in genome-wide association studies and whole-genome sequencing. PLoS genetics Schmouth, J. F., Bonaguro, R. J., Corso-Diaz, X., Simpson, E. M. 2012; 8 (3): e1002544


    An increasing body of literature from genome-wide association studies and human whole-genome sequencing highlights the identification of large numbers of candidate regulatory variants of potential therapeutic interest in numerous diseases. Our relatively poor understanding of the functions of non-coding genomic sequence, and the slow and laborious process of experimental validation of the functional significance of human regulatory variants, limits our ability to fully benefit from this information in our efforts to comprehend human disease. Humanized mouse models (HuMMs), in which human genes are introduced into the mouse, suggest an approach to this problem. In the past, HuMMs have been used successfully to study human disease variants; e.g., the complex genetic condition arising from Down syndrome, common monogenic disorders such as Huntington disease and β-thalassemia, and cancer susceptibility genes such as BRCA1. In this commentary, we highlight a novel method for high-throughput single-copy site-specific generation of HuMMs entitled High-throughput Human Genes on the X Chromosome (HuGX). This method can be applied to most human genes for which a bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) construct can be derived and a mouse-null allele exists. This strategy comprises (1) the use of recombineering technology to create a human variant-harbouring BAC, (2) knock-in of this BAC into the mouse genome using Hprt docking technology, and (3) allele comparison by interspecies complementation. We demonstrate the throughput of the HuGX method by generating a series of seven different alleles for the human NR2E1 gene at Hprt. In future challenges, we consider the current limitations of experimental approaches and call for a concerted effort by the genetics community, for both human and mouse, to solve the challenge of the functional analysis of human regulatory variation.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pgen.1002544

    View details for PubMedID 22396661

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC3291530

  • nNOS alpha and nNOS beta localization to aggresome-like inclusions is dependent on HSP90 activity. Journal of neurochemistry Corso-Díaz, X., Krukoff, T. L. 2010; 114 (3): 864-72


    Nitric oxide (NO) is a highly reactive gas that participates in many physiological processes including neuroplasticity and neuronal survival. In brain neurons, NO is produced by two variants of neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS), nNOSalpha and nNOSbeta. The activity of nNOSalpha is tightly regulated at the transcriptional and post-transcriptional levels. Heat shock protein 90 (HSP90) regulates nNOSalpha activity by facilitating heme insertion into the nNOSalpha monomer, resulting in increased NO production. HSP90 also regulates nNOSalpha degradation through the proteasome pathway. Here, we show in vitro that inhibition of HSP90 with geldanamycin increases nNOS mobility and induces formation of aggresome-like inclusions containing both nNOSalpha and nNOSbeta in primary cortical neurons. We also report the formation of endogenous nNOS-containing aggresome-like inclusions in healthy, untreated, mature primary cortical neurons. We propose that nNOS aggregation may be an additional mechanism for regulating nNOS activity, as has been proposed for inducible nitric oxide synthase. These findings reveal a new role for HSP90 in regulating nNOS sub-cellular localization and underscore the complexity of nNOS regulatory mechanisms.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/j.1471-4159.2010.06813.x

    View details for PubMedID 20492351