The mission of the University of Massachusetts Senator Paul D. Wellstone Muscular Dystrophy Cooperative Research Center for FSHD is to further our understanding of the underlying molecular, genetic and epigenetic pathologies of facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) and to translate this basic understanding into the clinic through development of FSHD therapeutics. This collection showcases journal articles and other publications produced by researchers in the UMass Wellstone Center for FSHD.

Recently Published

  • Flavones provide resistance to DUX4-induced toxicity via an mTor-independent mechanism

    Cohen, Justin; Huang, Shushu; Koczwara, Katherine E; Woods, Kristen T; Ho, Vincent; Woodman, Keryn G; Arbiser, Jack L; Daman, Katelyn; Lek, Monkol; Emerson, Charles P. Jr.; et al. (2023-11-16)
    Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) is among the most common of the muscular dystrophies, affecting nearly 1 in 8000 individuals, and is a cause of profound disability. Genetically, FSHD is linked to the contraction and/or epigenetic de-repression of the D4Z4 repeat array on chromosome 4, thereby allowing expression of the DUX4 gene in skeletal muscle. If the DUX4 transcript incorporates a stabilizing polyadenylation site the myotoxic DUX4 protein will be synthesized, resulting in muscle wasting. The mechanism of toxicity remains unclear, as many DUX4-induced cytopathologies have been described, however cell death does primarily occur through caspase 3/7-dependent apoptosis. To date, most FSHD therapeutic development has focused on molecular methods targeting DUX4 expression or the DUX4 transcript, while therapies targeting processes downstream of DUX4 activity have received less attention. Several studies have demonstrated that inhibition of multiple signal transduction pathways can ameliorate DUX4-induced toxicity, and thus compounds targeting these pathways have the potential to be developed into FSHD therapeutics. To this end, we have screened a group of small molecules curated based on their reported activity in relevant pathways and/or structural relationships with known toxicity-modulating molecules. We have identified a panel of five compounds that function downstream of DUX4 activity to inhibit DUX4-induced toxicity. Unexpectedly, this effect was mediated through an mTor-independent mechanism that preserved expression of ULK1 and correlated with an increase in a marker of active cellular autophagy. This identifies these flavones as compounds of interest for therapeutic development, and potentially identifies the autophagy pathway as a target for therapeutics.
  • A Targeted Approach for Evaluating DUX4-Regulated Proteins as Potential Serum Biomarkers for Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy Using Immunoassay Proteomics

    Campbell, Amy E; Arjomand, Jamshid; King, Oliver D; Tawil, Rabi; Jagannathan, Sujatha (2023-11-07)
    Background: Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) is a progressive myopathy caused by misexpression of the double homeobox 4 (DUX4) embryonic transcription factor in skeletal muscle. Identifying quantitative and minimally invasive FSHD biomarkers to report on DUX4 activity will significantly accelerate therapeutic development. Objective: The goal of this study was to analyze secreted proteins known to be induced by DUX4 using the commercially available Olink Proteomics platform in order to identify potential blood-based molecular FSHD biomarkers. Methods: We used high-throughput, multiplex immunoassays from Olink Proteomics to measure the levels of several known DUX4-induced genes in a cellular myoblast model of FSHD, in FSHD patient-derived myotube cell cultures, and in serum from individuals with FSHD. Levels of other proteins on the Olink Proteomics panels containing these DUX4 targets were also examined in secondary exploratory analysis. Results: Placental alkaline phosphatase (ALPP) levels correlated with DUX4 expression in both cell-based FSHD systems but did not distinguish FSHD patient serum from unaffected controls. Conclusions: ALPP, as measured with the Olink Proteomics platform, is not a promising FSHD serum biomarker candidate but could be utilized to evaluate DUX4 activity in discovery research efforts.
  • Addressing the dNTP bottleneck restricting prime editing activity [preprint]

    Ponnienselvan, Karthikeyan; Liu, Pengpeng; Nyalile, Thomas; Oikemus, Sarah; Joynt, Anya T; Kelly, Karen; Guo, Dongsheng; Chen, Zexiang; Lee, Jeong Min; Schiffer, Celia A; et al. (2023-10-29)
    Prime editing efficiency is modest in cells that are quiescent or slowly proliferating where intracellular dNTP levels are tightly regulated. MMLV-reverse transcriptase - the prime editor polymerase subunit - requires high intracellular dNTPs levels for efficient polymerization. We report that prime editing efficiency in primary cells and in vivo is increased by mutations that enhance the enzymatic properties of MMLV-reverse transcriptase and can be further complemented by targeting SAMHD1 for degradation.
  • Renewal of oligodendrocyte lineage reverses dysmyelination and CNS neurodegeneration through corrected N-acetylaspartate metabolism

    Lotun, Anoushka; Li, Danning; Xu, Hongxia; Su, Qin; Tuncer, Serafettin; Sanmiguel, Julio; Mooney, Morgan; Baer, Christina E; Ulbrich, Russell; Eyles, Stephen J; et al. (2023-05-04)
    Myelinating oligodendrocytes are essential for neuronal communication and homeostasis of the central nervous system (CNS). One of the most abundant molecules in the mammalian CNS is N-acetylaspartate (NAA), which is catabolized into L-aspartate and acetate by the enzyme aspartoacylase (ASPA) in oligodendrocytes. The resulting acetate moiety is thought to contribute to myelin lipid synthesis. In addition, affected NAA metabolism has been implicated in several neurological disorders, including leukodystrophies and demyelinating diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Genetic disruption of ASPA function causes Canavan disease, which is hallmarked by increased NAA levels, myelin and neuronal loss, large vacuole formation in the CNS, and early death in childhood. Although NAA's direct role in the CNS is inconclusive, in peripheral adipose tissue, NAA-derived acetate has been found to modify histones, a mechanism known to be involved in epigenetic regulation of cell differentiation. We hypothesize that a lack of cellular differentiation in the brain contributes to the disruption of myelination and neurodegeneration in diseases with altered NAA metabolism, such as Canavan disease. Our study demonstrates that loss of functional Aspa in mice disrupts myelination and shifts the transcriptional expression of neuronal and oligodendrocyte markers towards less differentiated stages in a spatiotemporal manner. Upon re-expression of ASPA, these oligodendrocyte and neuronal lineage markers are either improved or normalized, suggesting that NAA breakdown by Aspa plays an essential role in the maturation of neurons and oligodendrocytes. Also, this effect of ASPA re-expression is blunted in old mice, potentially due to limited ability of neuronal, rather than oligodendrocyte, recovery.
  • Post-Translational Modifications of the DUX4 Protein Impact Toxic Function in FSHD Cell Models

    Knox, Renatta N; Eidahl, Jocelyn O; Wallace, Lindsay M; Choudury, Sarah G; Rashnonejad, Afrooz; Daman, Katelyn; Guggenbiller, Matthew J; Saad, Nizar Y; Hoover, Michael E; Zhang, Liwen; et al. (2023-04-26)
    Objective: Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) is caused by abnormal de-repression of the myotoxic transcription factor DUX4. Although the transcriptional targets of DUX4 are known, the regulation of DUX4 protein and the molecular consequences of this regulation are unclear. Here, we used in vitro models of FSHD to identify and characterize DUX4 post-translational modifications (PTMs) and their impact on the toxic function of DUX4. Methods: We immunoprecipitated DUX4 protein and performed mass spectrometry to identify PTMs. We then characterized DUX4 PTMs and potential enzyme modifiers using mutagenesis, proteomics, and biochemical assays in HEK293 and human myoblast cell lines. Results: We identified 17 DUX4 amino acids with PTMs, and generated 55 DUX4 mutants designed to prevent or mimic PTMs. Five mutants protected cells against DUX4-mediated toxicity and reduced the ability of DUX4 to transactivate FSHD biomarkers. These mutagenesis results suggested that DUX4 toxicity could be counteracted by serine/threonine phosphorylation and/or inhibition of arginine methylation. We therefore sought to identify modifying enzymes that could play a role in regulating DUX4 PTMs. We found several enzymes capable of modifying DUX4 protein in vitro, and confirmed that protein kinase A (PKA) and protein arginine methyltransferase (PRMT1) interact with DUX4. Interpretation: These results support that DUX4 is regulated by PTMs and set a foundation for developing FSHD drug screens based mechanistically on DUX4 PTMs and modifying enzymes. ANN NEUROL 2023.
  • Large-scale organoid study suggests effects of trisomy 21 on early fetal neurodevelopment are more subtle than variability between isogenic lines and experiments

    Czerminski, Jan T; King, Oliver D; Lawrence, Jeanne B (2023-02-03)
    This study examines cortical organoids generated from a panel of isogenic trisomic and disomic iPSC lines (subclones) as a model of early fetal brain development in Down syndrome (DS). An initial experiment comparing organoids from one trisomic and one disomic line showed many genome-wide transcriptomic differences and modest differences in cell-type proportions, suggesting there may be a neurodevelopmental phenotype that is due to trisomy of chr21. To better control for multiple sources of variation, we undertook a highly robust study of ∼1,200 organoids using an expanded panel of six all-isogenic lines, three disomic, and three trisomic. The power of this experimental design was indicated by strong detection of the ∼1.5-fold difference in chr21 genes. However, the numerous expression differences in non-chr21 genes seen in the smaller experiment fell away, and the differences in cell-type representation between lines did not correlate with trisomy 21. Results suggest that the initial smaller experiment picked up differences between small organoid samples and individual isogenic lines, which "averaged out" in the larger panel of isogenic lines. Our results indicate that even when organoid and batch variability are better controlled for, variation between isogenic cell lines (even subclones) may obscure, or be conflated with, subtle neurodevelopmental phenotypes that may be present in ∼2nd trimester DS brain development. Interestingly, despite this variability between organoid batches and lines, and the "fetal stage" of these organoids, an increase in secreted Aβ40 peptide levels-an Alzheimer-related cellular phenotype-was more strongly associated with trisomy 21 status than were neurodevelopmental shifts in cell-type composition.
  • Impaired mitochondrial oxidative metabolism in skeletal progenitor cells leads to musculoskeletal disintegration

    Lin, Chujiao; Yang, Qiyuan; Guo, Dongsheng; Xie, Jun; Yang, Yeon-Suk; Chaugule, Sachin; DeSouza, Ngoc; Oh, Won-Taek; Li, Rui; Chen, Zhihao; et al. (2022-11-11)
    Although skeletal progenitors provide a reservoir for bone-forming osteoblasts, the major energy source for their osteogenesis remains unclear. Here, we demonstrate a requirement for mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation in the osteogenic commitment and differentiation of skeletal progenitors. Deletion of Evolutionarily Conserved Signaling Intermediate in Toll pathways (ECSIT) in skeletal progenitors hinders bone formation and regeneration, resulting in skeletal deformity, defects in the bone marrow niche and spontaneous fractures followed by persistent nonunion. Upon skeletal fracture, Ecsit-deficient skeletal progenitors migrate to adjacent skeletal muscle causing muscle atrophy. These phenotypes are intrinsic to ECSIT function in skeletal progenitors, as little skeletal abnormalities were observed in mice lacking Ecsit in committed osteoprogenitors or mature osteoblasts. Mechanistically, Ecsit deletion in skeletal progenitors impairs mitochondrial complex assembly and mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation and elevates glycolysis. ECSIT-associated skeletal phenotypes were reversed by in vivo reconstitution with wild-type ECSIT expression, but not a mutant displaying defective mitochondrial localization. Collectively, these findings identify mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation as the prominent energy-driving force for osteogenesis of skeletal progenitors, governing musculoskeletal integrity.
  • DUX4 expression activates JNK and p38 MAP kinases in myoblasts

    Brennan, Christopher M; Hill, Abby S; St Andre, Michael; Li, Xianfeng; Madeti, Vijaya; Breitkopf, Susanne; Garren, Seth; Xue, Liang; Gilbert, Tamara; Hadjipanayis, Angela; et al. (2022-10-31)
    Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) is caused by misexpression of the DUX4 transcription factor in skeletal muscle that results in transcriptional alterations, abnormal phenotypes and cell death. To gain insight into the kinetics of DUX4-induced stresses, we activated DUX4 expression in myoblasts and performed longitudinal RNA sequencing paired with proteomics and phosphoproteomics. This analysis revealed changes in cellular physiology upon DUX4 activation, including DNA damage and altered mRNA splicing. Phosphoproteomic analysis uncovered rapid widespread changes in protein phosphorylation following DUX4 induction, indicating that alterations in kinase signaling might play a role in DUX4-mediated stress and cell death. Indeed, we demonstrate that two stress-responsive MAP kinase pathways, JNK and p38, are activated in response to DUX4 expression. Inhibition of each of these pathways ameliorated DUX4-mediated cell death in myoblasts. These findings uncover that the JNK pathway is involved in DUX4-mediated cell death and provide additional insights into the role of the p38 pathway, a clinical target for the treatment of FSHD.
  • Efficient Homology-Directed Repair with Circular Single-Stranded DNA Donors

    Iyer, Sukanya; Mir, Aamir; Vega-Badillo, Joel; Roscoe, Benjamin P; Ibraheim, Raed; Zhu, Lihua Julie; Lee, Jooyoung; Liu, Pengpeng; Luk, Kevin; Mintzer, Esther; et al. (2022-09-07)
    While genome editing has been revolutionized by the advent of CRISPR-based nucleases, difficulties in achieving efficient, nuclease-mediated, homology-directed repair (HDR) still limit many applications. Commonly used DNA donors such as plasmids suffer from low HDR efficiencies in many cell types, as well as integration at unintended sites. In contrast, single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) donors can produce efficient HDR with minimal off-target integration. In this study, we describe the use of ssDNA phage to efficiently and inexpensively produce long circular ssDNA (cssDNA) donors. These cssDNA donors serve as efficient HDR templates when used with Cas9 or Cas12a, with integration frequencies superior to linear ssDNA (lssDNA) donors. To evaluate the relative efficiencies of imprecise and precise repair for a suite of different Cas9 or Cas12a nucleases, we have developed a modified traffic light reporter (TLR) system (TLR-multi-Cas variant 1 [MCV1]) that permits side-by-side comparisons of different nuclease systems. We used this system to assess editing and HDR efficiencies of different nuclease platforms with distinct DNA donor types. We then extended the analysis of DNA donor types to evaluate efficiencies of fluorescent tag knockins at endogenous sites in HEK293T and K562 cells. Our results show that cssDNA templates produce efficient and robust insertion of reporter tags. Targeting efficiency is high, allowing production of biallelic integrants using cssDNA donors. cssDNA donors also outcompete lssDNA donors in template-driven repair at the target site. These data demonstrate that circular donors provide an efficient, cost-effective method to achieve knockins in mammalian cell lines.
  • Generation of iMyoblasts from Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells

    Guo, Dongsheng; Daman, Katelyn; Durso, Danielle Fernandes; Yan, Jing; Emerson, Charles P. Jr. (2022-09-05)
    Skeletal muscle stem cells differentiated from human-induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) serve as a uniquely promising model system for investigating human myogenesis and disease pathogenesis, and for the development of gene editing and regenerative stem cell therapies. Here, we present an effective and reproducible transgene-free protocol for derivation of human skeletal muscle stem cells, iMyoblasts, from hiPSCs. Our two-step protocol consists of 1) small molecule-based differentiation of hiPSCs into myocytes, and 2) stimulation of differentiated myocytes with growth factor-rich medium to activate the proliferation of undifferentiated reserve cells, for expansion and cell line establishment. iMyoblasts are PAX3 + /MyoD1 + myogenic stem cells with dual potential to undergo muscle differentiation and to self-renew as a regenerative cell population for muscle regeneration both ex vivo and in vivo . The simplicity and robustness of iMyoblast generation and expansion have enabled their application to model the molecular pathogenesis of Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy and Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophies, to both ex vivo and in vivo muscle xenografts, and to respond efficiently to gene editing, enabling the co-development of gene correction and stem cell regenerative therapeutic technologies for the treatment of muscular dystrophies and muscle injury. Graphical abstract.
  • Modeling Down syndrome neurodevelopment with isogenic cerebral organoids [preprint]

    Czerminski, Jan T.; King, Oliver D.; Lawrence, Jeanne B. (2022-05-26)
    As a model of early fetal brain development in Down syndrome, this study examines cortical organoids generated from isogenic trisomic and disomic iPSC lines. Initially pools of organoids from a trisomic versus disomic line found broad transcriptomic differences and modest differences in cell-type representation, suggesting a potential neurodevelopmental phenotype due to Trisomy 21. To better control for multiple sources of variation, we undertook a very robust study of ~1,200 organoids, using an expanded panel of six isogenic subclones (three disomic and three trisomic). The power of the experimental design was indicated by exceptionally strong detection of the ~1.5-fold difference in most chr21 genes. Despite some variability in secreted Aβ-40 levels between “identical” cell lines, this Alzheimer-related phenotype was detected as clearly correlated with Trisomy 21. However, the many statistically significant non-chr21 DEGs found in the small experiment fell away in the expanded study design, such that just three non-chr21 DEGs correlated to T21 status. Similarly, differences in cell-type representation of organoids varied somewhat between the six isogenic lines, but did not correlate with T21 status. Overall, our results indicate that even when organoid and batch variability are better controlled, common, subtle differences between isogenic cell lines (even subclones) may obscure, or be confused with, differences due to Trisomy 21. Interestingly, the neurodegenerative increase in Aβ due to T21 was strong enough to be evident in “fetal” organoids. In contrast, any neurodevelopmental phenotype that may be present in the ~2nd trimester of DS brain development may be more subtle, and within the range of variability in neurodifferentiation potential (unrelated to Trisomy 21) of our isogenic iPSC lines. The potential significance of two non-Chr21 DEGs that results suggest correlate with T21 is discussed.
  • Poly(GR) and poly(GA) in cerebrospinal fluid as potential biomarkers for C9ORF72-ALS/FTD

    Krishnan, Gopinath; Raitcheva, Denitza; Bartlett, Daniel; Prudencio, Mercedes; McKenna-Yasek, Diane M; Douthwright, Catherine; Oskarsson, Björn E; Ladha, Shafeeq; King, Oliver D; Barmada, Sami J; et al. (2022-05-19)
    GGGGCC repeat expansion in C9ORF72, which can be translated in both sense and antisense directions into five dipeptide repeat (DPR) proteins, including poly(GP), poly(GR), and poly(GA), is the most common genetic cause of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Here we developed sensitive assays that can detect poly(GA) and poly(GR) in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of patients with C9ORF72 mutations. CSF poly(GA) and poly(GR) levels did not correlate with age at disease onset, disease duration, or rate of decline of ALS Functional Rating Scale, and the average levels of these DPR proteins were similar in symptomatic and pre-symptomatic patients with C9ORF72 mutations. However, in a patient with C9ORF72-ALS who was treated with antisense oligonucleotide (ASO) targeting the aberrant C9ORF72 transcript, CSF poly(GA) and poly(GR) levels decreased approximately 50% within 6 weeks, indicating they may serve as sensitive fluid-based biomarkers in studies directed against the production of GGGGCC repeat RNAs or DPR proteins.
  • Outcome Measures in Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy Clinical Trials

    Ghasemi, Mehdi; Emerson, Charles P. Jr.; Hayward, Lawrence J. (2022-02-16)
    Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) is a debilitating muscular dystrophy with a variable age of onset, severity, and progression. While there is still no cure for this disease, progress towards FSHD therapies has accelerated since the underlying mechanism of epigenetic derepression of the double homeobox 4 (DUX4) gene leading to skeletal muscle toxicity was identified. This has facilitated the rapid development of novel therapies to target DUX4 expression and downstream dysregulation that cause muscle degeneration. These discoveries and pre-clinical translational studies have opened new avenues for therapies that await evaluation in clinical trials. As the field anticipates more FSHD trials, the need has grown for more reliable and quantifiable outcome measures of muscle function, both for early phase and phase II and III trials. Advanced tools that facilitate longitudinal clinical assessment will greatly improve the potential of trials to identify therapeutics that successfully ameliorate disease progression or permit muscle functional recovery. Here, we discuss current and emerging FSHD outcome measures and the challenges that investigators may experience in applying such measures to FSHD clinical trial design and implementation.
  • iMyoblasts for ex vivo and in vivo investigations of human myogenesis and disease modeling

    Guo, Dongsheng; Daman, Katelyn; Chen, Jennifer Jc; Shi, Meng-Jiao; Yan, Jing; Matijasevic, Zdenka; Maehr, Rene; King, Oliver D.; Hayward, Lawrence J.; Emerson, Charles P. Jr. (2022-01-25)
    Skeletal muscle myoblasts (iMyoblasts) were generated from human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) using an efficient and reliable transgene-free induction and stem cell selection protocol. Immunofluorescence, flow cytometry, qPCR, digital RNA expression profiling, and scRNA-Seq studies identify iMyoblasts as a PAX3+/MYOD1+ skeletal myogenic lineage with a fetal-like transcriptome signature, distinct from adult muscle biopsy myoblasts (bMyoblasts) and iPSC-induced muscle progenitors. iMyoblasts can be stably propagated for > 12 passages or 30 population doublings while retaining their dual commitment for myotube differentiation and regeneration of reserve cells. iMyoblasts also efficiently xenoengrafted into irradiated and injured mouse muscle where they undergo differentiation and fetal-adult MYH isoform switching, demonstrating their regulatory plasticity for adult muscle maturation in response to signals in the host muscle. Xenograft muscle retains PAX3+ muscle progenitors and can regenerate human muscle in response to secondary injury. As models of disease, iMyoblasts from individuals with Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy revealed a previously unknown epigenetic regulatory mechanism controlling developmental expression of the pathological DUX4 gene. iMyoblasts from Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy R7 and R9 and Walker Warburg Syndrome patients modeled their molecular disease pathologies and were responsive to small molecule and gene editing therapeutics. These findings establish the utility of iMyoblasts for ex vivo and in vivo investigations of human myogenesis and disease pathogenesis and for the development of muscle stem cell therapeutics.
  • Meeting report: the 2021 FSHD International Research Congress

    Jagannathan, Sujatha; de Greef, Jessica C.; Hayward, Lawrence J.; Yokomori, Kyoko; Gabellini, Davide; Mul, Karlien; Sacconi, Sabrina; Arjomand, Jamshid; Kinoshita, June; Harper, Scott Q. (2022-01-17)
    Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) is the second most common genetic myopathy, characterized by slowly progressing and highly heterogeneous muscle wasting with a typical onset in the late teens/early adulthood [1]. Although the etiology of the disease for both FSHD type 1 and type 2 has been attributed to gain-of-toxic function stemming from aberrant DUX4 expression, the exact pathogenic mechanisms involved in muscle wasting have yet to be elucidated [2-4]. The 2021 FSHD International Research Congress, held virtually on June 24-25, convened over 350 researchers and clinicians to share the most recent advances in the understanding of the disease mechanism, discuss the proliferation of interventional strategies and refinement of clinical outcome measures, including results from the ReDUX4 trial, a phase 2b clinical trial of losmapimod in FSHD [NCT04003974].
  • p38 MAPKs - roles in skeletal muscle physiology, disease mechanisms, and as potential therapeutic targets

    Brennan, Christopher M.; Emerson, Charles P. Jr.; Owens, Jane; Christoforou, Nicolas (2021-06-22)
    p38 MAPKs play a central role in orchestrating the cellular response to stress and inflammation and in the regulation of myogenesis. Potent inhibitors of p38 MAPKs have been pursued as potential therapies for several disease indications due to their antiinflammatory properties, although none have been approved to date. Here, we provide a brief overview of p38 MAPKs, including their role in regulating myogenesis and their association with disease progression. Finally, we discuss targeting p38 MAPKs as a therapeutic approach for treating facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy and other muscular dystrophies by addressing multiple pathological mechanisms in skeletal muscle.
  • A meta-analysis of brain DNA methylation across sex, age and Alzheimer’s disease points for accelerated epigenetic aging in neurodegeneration [preprint]

    Pellegrini, C.; Fernandes Durso, Danielle; Bacalini, Maria Giulia (2020-12-02)
    Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is characterized by specific alterations of brain DNA methylation (DNAm) patterns. Age and sex, two major risk factors for AD, are also known to largely affect the epigenetic profiles in the brain, but their contribution to AD-associated DNAm changes has been poorly investigated. In this study we considered publicly available DNAm datasets of 4 brain regions (temporal, frontal, entorhinal cortex and cerebellum) from healthy adult subjects and AD patients, and performed a meta-analysis to identify sex-, age- and AD-associated epigenetic profiles. We showed that DNAm differences between males and females tend to be shared between the 4 brain regions, while aging differently affects cortical regions compared to cerebellum. We found that the proportion of sex-dependent probes whose methylation changes also during aging is higher than expected, but that differences between males and females tend to be maintained, with only few probes showing sex-by-age interaction. We did not find significant overlaps between AD- and sex-associated probes, nor disease-by-sex interaction effects. On the contrary, we found that AD-related epigenetic modifications are significantly enriched in probes whose DNAm changes with age and that there is a high concordance between the direction of changes (hyper or hypo-methylation) in aging and AD, supporting accelerated epigenetic aging in the disease. In conclusion, we demonstrated that age-associated, but not sex-associated DNAm concurs to the epigenetic deregulation observed in AD, providing new insight on how advanced age enables neurodegeneration.
  • Salivary metabolite levels in perinatally HIV-infected youth with periodontal disease

    Schulte, Fabian; King, Oliver D.; Paster, Bruce J.; Moscicki, Anna-Barbara; Yao, Tzy-Jyun; Van Dyke, Russell B.; Shiboski, Caroline; Ryder, Mark; Seage, George; Hardt, Markus (2020-09-11)
    INTRODUCTION: Salivary metabolite profiles are altered in adults with HIV compared to their uninfected counterparts. Less is known about youth with HIV and how oral disorders that commonly accompany HIV infection impact salivary metabolite levels. OBJECTIVE: As part of the Adolescent Master Protocol multi-site cohort study of the Pediatric HIV/AIDS Cohort Study (PHACS) network we compared the salivary metabolome of youth with perinatally-acquired HIV (PHIV) and youth HIV-exposed, but uninfected (PHEU) and determined whether metabolites differ in PHIV versus PHEU. METHODS: We used three complementary targeted and discovery-based liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) workflows to characterize salivary metabolite levels in 20 PHIV and 20 PHEU youth with and without moderate periodontitis. We examined main effects associated with PHIV and periodontal disease, and the interaction between them. RESULTS: We did not identify differences in salivary metabolite profiles that remained significant under stringent control for both multiple between-group comparisons and multiple metabolites. Levels of cadaverine, a known periodontitis-associated metabolite, were more abundant in individuals with periodontal disease with the difference being more pronounced in PHEU than PHIV. In the discovery-based dataset, we identified a total of 564 endogenous peptides in the metabolite extracts, showing that proteolytic processing and amino acid metabolism are important to consider in the context of HIV infection. CONCLUSION: The salivary metabolite profiles of PHIV and PHEU youth were overall very similar. Individuals with periodontitis particularly among the PHEU youth had higher levels of cadaverine, suggesting that HIV infection, or its treatment, may influence the metabolism of oral bacteria.
  • Applying genome-wide CRISPR-Cas9 screens for therapeutic discovery in facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy

    Lek, Angela; DeSimone, Alec; King, Oliver D.; Kunkel, Louis M. (2020-03-25)
    The emergence of CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technologies and genome-wide CRISPR-Cas9 libraries enables efficient unbiased genetic screening that can accelerate the process of therapeutic discovery for genetic disorders. Here, we demonstrate the utility of a genome-wide CRISPR-Cas9 loss-of-function library to identify therapeutic targets for facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD), a genetically complex type of muscular dystrophy for which there is currently no treatment. In FSHD, both genetic and epigenetic changes lead to misexpression of DUX4, the FSHD causal gene that encodes the highly cytotoxic DUX4 protein. We performed a genome-wide CRISPR-Cas9 screen to identify genes whose loss-of-function conferred survival when DUX4 was expressed in muscle cells. Genes emerging from our screen illuminated a pathogenic link to the cellular hypoxia response, which was revealed to be the main driver of DUX4-induced cell death. Application of hypoxia signaling inhibitors resulted in increased DUX4 protein turnover and subsequent reduction of the cellular hypoxia response and cell death. In addition, these compounds proved successful in reducing FSHD disease biomarkers in patient myogenic lines, as well as improving structural and functional properties in two zebrafish models of FSHD. Our genome-wide perturbation of pathways affecting DUX4 expression has provided insight into key drivers of DUX4-induced pathogenesis and has identified existing compounds with potential therapeutic benefit for FSHD. Our experimental approach presents an accelerated paradigm toward mechanistic understanding and therapeutic discovery of a complex genetic disease, which may be translatable to other diseases with well-established phenotypic selection assays.
  • Identification of the hyaluronic acid pathway as a therapeutic target for facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy

    DeSimone, Alec M.; Leszyk, John D.; Wagner, Kathryn; Emerson, Charles P. Jr. (2019-12-18)
    Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) is linked to epigenetic derepression of the germline/embryonic transcription factor DUX4 in skeletal muscle. However, the etiology of muscle pathology is not fully understood, as DUX4 misexpression is not tightly correlated with disease severity. Using a DUX4-inducible cell model, we show that multiple DUX4-induced molecular pathologies that have been observed in patient-derived disease models are mediated by the signaling molecule hyaluronic acid (HA), which accumulates following DUX4 induction. These pathologies include formation of RNA granules, FUS aggregation, DNA damage, caspase activation, and cell death. We also observe previously unidentified pathologies including mislocalization of mitochondria and the DUX4- and HA-binding protein C1QBP. These pathologies are prevented by 4-methylumbelliferone, an inhibitor of HA biosynthesis. Critically, 4-methylumbelliferone does not disrupt DUX4-C1QBP binding and has only a limited effect on DUX4 transcriptional activity, establishing that HA signaling has a central function in pathology and is a target for FSHD therapeutics.

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