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Direct induction of human neurons from fibroblasts carrying the neuropsychiatric 22q11.2 microdeletion reveals transcriptome- and epigenome-wide alterations

By Carolin Purmann, Cheen Euong Ang, Koji Tanabe, Yue Zhang, Soumya Kundu, Tamas Danko, Shining Ma, Alexis Mitelpunkt, Wing Hung Wong, Jonathan Bernstein, Joachim Hallmayer, Bruce Aronow, Thomas C Sudhof, Anshul Kundaje, Marius Wernig, Alexander Eckehart Urban

Posted 14 Oct 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.10.14.464344

Standard methods for the creation of neuronal cells via direct induction from primary tissue use perinatal fibroblasts, which hinders the important study of patient specific genetic lesions such as those underlying neuropsychiatric disorders. To address this we developed a novel method for the direct induction of neuronal cells (induced neuronal cells, iN cells) from adult human fibroblast cells. Reprogramming fibroblasts into iN cells via recombinant virus resulted in cells that stain for markers such as MAP2 and PSA-NCAM and exhibit electrophysiological properties such as action potentials and voltage dependent sodium- and potassium currents that reveal a neuronal phenotype. Transcriptome and chromatin analysis using RNA-Seq, microRNA-Seq and ATAC-Seq, respectively, further confirm neuronal character. 22q11.2 Deletion-Syndrome (22q11DS) is caused by a large 3 million base-pair heterozygous deletion on human chromosome 22 and is strongly associated with neurodevelopmental, neuropsychiatric phenotypes such as schizophrenia and autism. We leverage the direct-iN cell model for the study of genetic neurodevelopmental conditions by presenting gene-by-gene as well as network-wide effects of the 22q11DS deletion on gene expression in human neuronal cells, on several levels of functional genomics analysis. Some of the genes within the 22q11DS deletion boundary exhibit unexpected cell-type-specific changes in transcript levels, and genome-wide we can detect dysregulation of calcium channel subunit genes and other genes known to be involved in autism or schizophrenia, such as NRXN1, as well synaptic pathways. This genome-wide effect on gene expression can also be observed at the microRNA and chromatin levels, showing that the iN cells have indeed converted to a neuronal phenotype at several regulatory levels: chromatin, protein-coding RNAs and microRNAs, revealing relevant disease pathways and genes. We present this model of inducing neurons from fibroblasts as a useful general resource to study the genetic and molecular basis of normal and abnormal brain development and brain function.

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