Development of Neuroregenerative Gene Therapy to Reverse Glial Scar Tissue Back to Neuron-Enriched Tissue.
ABSTRACT: Injuries in the central nervous system (CNS) often causes neuronal loss and glial scar formation. We have recently demonstrated NeuroD1-mediated direct conversion of reactive glial cells into functional neurons in adult mouse brains. Here, we further investigate whether such direct glia-to-neuron conversion technology can reverse glial scar back to neural tissue in a severe stab injury model of the mouse cortex. Using an adeno-associated virus (AAV)-based gene therapy approach, we ectopically expressed a single neural transcription factor NeuroD1 in reactive astrocytes in the injured areas. We discovered that the reactive astrocytes were efficiently converted into neurons both before and after glial scar formation, and the remaining astrocytes proliferated to repopulate themselves. The astrocyte-converted neurons were highly functional, capable of firing action potentials and establishing synaptic connections with other neurons. Unexpectedly, the expression of NeuroD1 in reactive astrocytes resulted in a significant reduction of toxic A1 astrocytes, together with a significant decrease of reactive microglia and neuroinflammation. Furthermore, accompanying the regeneration of new neurons and repopulation of new astrocytes, new blood vessels emerged and blood-brain-barrier (BBB) was restored. These results demonstrate an innovative neuroregenerative gene therapy that can directly reverse glial scar back to neural tissue, opening a new avenue for brain repair after injury.
Project description:Loss of neurons after brain injury and in neurodegenerative disease is often accompanied by reactive gliosis and scarring, which are difficult to reverse with existing treatment approaches. Here, we show that reactive glial cells in the cortex of stab-injured or Alzheimer's disease (AD) model mice can be directly reprogrammed into functional neurons in vivo using retroviral expression of a single neural transcription factor, NeuroD1. Following expression of NeuroD1, astrocytes were reprogrammed into glutamatergic neurons, while NG2 cells were reprogrammed into glutamatergic and GABAergic neurons. Cortical slice recordings revealed both spontaneous and evoked synaptic responses in NeuroD1-converted neurons, suggesting that they integrated into local neural circuits. NeuroD1 expression was also able to reprogram cultured human cortical astrocytes into functional neurons. Our studies therefore suggest that direct reprogramming of reactive glial cells into functional neurons in vivo could provide an alternative approach for repair of injured or diseased brain.
Project description:We have recently demonstrated that reactive glial cells can be directly reprogrammed into functional neurons by a single neural transcription factor, NeuroD1. Here we report that a combination of small molecules can also reprogram human astrocytes in culture into fully functional neurons. We demonstrate that sequential exposure of human astrocytes to a cocktail of nine small molecules that inhibit glial but activate neuronal signaling pathways can successfully reprogram astrocytes into neurons in 8-10 days. This chemical reprogramming is mediated through epigenetic regulation and involves transcriptional activation of NEUROD1 and NEUROGENIN2. The human astrocyte-converted neurons can survive for >5 months in culture and form functional synaptic networks with synchronous burst activities. The chemically reprogrammed human neurons can also survive for >1 month in the mouse brain in vivo and integrate into local circuits. Our study opens a new avenue using chemical compounds to reprogram reactive glial cells into functional neurons.
Project description:Spinal cord injury (SCI) often leads to impaired motor and sensory functions, partially because the injury-induced neuronal loss cannot be easily replenished through endogenous mechanisms. In vivo neuronal reprogramming has emerged as a novel technology to regenerate neurons from endogenous glial cells by forced expression of neurogenic transcription factors. We have previously demonstrated successful astrocyte-to-neuron conversion in mouse brains with injury or Alzheimer's disease by overexpressing a single neural transcription factor NeuroD1. Here we demonstrate regeneration of spinal cord neurons from reactive astrocytes after SCI through AAV NeuroD1-based gene therapy. We find that NeuroD1 converts reactive astrocytes into neurons in the dorsal horn of stab-injured spinal cord with high efficiency (~95%). Interestingly, NeuroD1-converted neurons in the dorsal horn mostly acquire glutamatergic neuronal subtype, expressing spinal cord-specific markers such as Tlx3 but not brain-specific markers such as Tbr1, suggesting that the astrocytic lineage and local microenvironment affect the cell fate after conversion. Electrophysiological recordings show that the NeuroD1-converted neurons can functionally mature and integrate into local spinal cord circuitry by displaying repetitive action potentials and spontaneous synaptic responses. We further show that NeuroD1-mediated neuronal conversion can occur in the contusive SCI model with a long delay after injury, allowing future studies to further evaluate this in vivo reprogramming technology for functional recovery after SCI. In conclusion, this study may suggest a paradigm shift from classical axonal regeneration to neuronal regeneration for spinal cord repair, using in vivo astrocyte-to-neuron conversion technology to regenerate functional new neurons in the gray matter.
Project description:A new technology called in vivo glia-to-neuron conversion has emerged in recent years as a promising next generation therapy for neural regeneration and repair. This is achieved through reprogramming endogenous glial cells into neurons in the central nervous system through ectopically expressing neural transcriptional factors in glial cells. Previous studies have been focusing on glial cells in the grey matter such as the cortex and striatum, but whether glial cells in the white matter can be reprogrammed or not is unknown. To address this fundamental question, we express NeuroD1 in the astrocytes of both grey matter (cortex and striatum) and white matter (corpus callosum) to investigate the conversion efficiency, neuronal subtypes, and electrophysiological features of the converted neurons. We discover that NeuroD1 can efficiently reprogram the astrocytes in the grey matter into functional neurons, but the astrocytes in the white matter are much resistant to neuronal reprogramming. The converted neurons from cortical and striatal astrocytes are composed of both glutamatergic and GABAergic neurons, capable of firing action potentials and having spontaneous synaptic activities. In contrast, the few astrocyte-converted neurons in the white matter are rather immature with rare synaptic events. These results provide novel insights into the differential reprogramming capability between the astrocytes in the grey matter versus the white matter, and highlight the impact of regional astrocytes as well as microenvironment on the outcome of glia-to-neuron conversion. Since human brain has large volume of white matter, this study will provide important guidance for future development of in vivo glia-to-neuron conversion technology into potential clinical therapies. Experimental protocols in this study were approved by the Laboratory Animal Ethics Committee of Jinan University (approval No. IACUC-20180321-03) on March 21, 2018.
Project description:Currently, all methods for converting non-neuronal cells into neurons involve injury to the brain; however, whether neuronal transdifferentiation can occur long after the period of insult remains largely unknown. Here, we use the transcription factor NEUROD1, previously shown to convert reactive glial cells to neurons in the cortex, to determine whether astrocyte-to-neuron transdifferentiation can occur under physiological conditions. We utilized adeno-associated virus 9 (AAV9), which crosses the blood-brain barrier without injury, to deliver NEUROD1 to astrocytes through an intravascular route. Interestingly, we found that a small, but significant number of non-reactive astrocytes converted to neurons in the striatum, but not the cortex. Moreover, astrocytes cultured to minimize their proliferative potential also exhibited limited neuronal transdifferentiation with NEUROD1 expression. Our results show that a single transcription factor can induce astrocyte-to-neuron conversion under physiological conditions, potentially facilitating future clinical approaches long after the acute injury phase.
Project description:In response to stroke, astrocytes become reactive astrogliosis and are a major component of a glial scar. This results in the formation of both a physical and chemical (production of chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans) barrier, which prevent neurite regeneration that, in turn, interferes with functional recovery. However, the mechanisms of reactive astrogliosis and glial scar formation are poorly understood. In this work, we hypothesized that repulsive guidance molecule a (RGMa) regulate reactive astrogliosis and glial scar formation. We first found that RGMa was strongly expressed by reactive astrocytes in the glial scar in a rat model of middle cerebral artery occlusion/reperfusion. Genetic or pharmacologic inhibition of RGMa in vivo resulted in a strong reduction of reactive astrogliosis and glial scarring as well as in a pronounced improvement in functional recovery. Furthermore, we showed that transforming growth factor ?1 (TGF?1) stimulated RGMa expression through TGF?1 receptor activin-like kinase 5 (ALK5) in primary cultured astrocytes. Knockdown of RGMa abrogated key steps of reactive astrogliosis and glial scar formation induced by TGF?1, including cellular hypertrophy, glial fibrillary acidic protein upregulation, cell migration, and CSPGs secretion. Finally, we demonstrated that RGMa co-immunoprecipitated with ALK5 and Smad2/3. TGF?1-induced ALK5-Smad2/3 interaction and subsequent phosphorylation of Smad2/3 were impaired by RGMa knockdown. Taken together, we identified that after stroke, RGMa promotes reactive astrogliosis and glial scar formation by forming a complex with ALK5 and Smad2/3 to promote ALK5-Smad2/3 interaction to facilitate TGF?1/Smad2/3 signaling, thereby inhibiting neurological functional recovery. RGMa may be a new therapeutic target for stroke.
Project description:<h4>Background and purpose</h4>In the spinal cord injury (SCI) axon regeneration is inhibited by the glial scar, which contains reactive astrocytes that secrete inhibitory chondroitin sulphate proteoglycan (CSPG). We previously reported that a novel compound, denosomin, promotes axonal growth under degenerative conditions in cultured cortical neurons. In this study, we investigated the effects of denosomin on functional recovery in SCI mice and elucidated the mechanism though which denosomin induces axonal growth in the injured spinal cord.<h4>Experimental approach</h4>Denosomin was administered p.o. for 7 or 14 days to contusion mice. Behavioural evaluations and immunohistochemistry were done. Primary cultured cortical neurons and astrocytes were treated with denosomin to investigate the mechanism of axonal growth facilitation.<h4>Key results</h4>Denosomin improved hind limb motor dysfunction and axonal growth, especially in the 5-HT-positive tracts across the scar and increased the density of astrocytes. Denosomin increased astrocyte proliferation, inhibited astrocytic death and increased the expression and secretion of vimentin in cultured astrocytes. Furthermore, vimentin increased axonal outgrowth in cultured neurons, even in the presence of inhibitory CSPG. Denosomin increased the number of vimentin-expressing astrocytes inside glial scars of SCI mice, and 5-HT-positive axonal growth occurred in a vimentin-associated manner.<h4>Conclusion and implications</h4>Denosomin increased the ratio of astrocytes that secrete vimentin as an axonal growth facilitator, which, we propose enhances axonal growth beyond the glial scar and promotes functional recovery in SCI mice. This study is the first to demonstrate this novel role of vimentin in SCI and drug-mediated modification of the inhibitory property of reactive astrocytes.
Project description:Spinal cord injury (SCI) leads to irreversible neuronal loss and glial scar formation, which ultimately result in persistent neurological dysfunction. Cellular regeneration could be an ideal approach to replenish the lost cells and repair the damage. However, the adult spinal cord has limited ability to produce new neurons. Here we show that resident astrocytes can be converted to doublecortin (DCX)-positive neuroblasts by a single transcription factor, SOX2, in the injured adult spinal cord. Importantly, these induced neuroblasts can mature into synapse-forming neurons in vivo. Neuronal maturation is further promoted by treatment with a histone deacetylase inhibitor, valproic acid (VPA). The results of this study indicate that in situ reprogramming of endogenous astrocytes to neurons might be a potential strategy for cellular regeneration after SCI.
Project description:Although recovery following a stroke is limited, undamaged neurons under the right conditions can establish new connections and take on-board lost functions. Sonic hedgehog (Shh) signaling is integral for developmental axon growth, but its role after injury has not been fully examined. To investigate the effects of Shh on neuronal sprouting after injury, we used an in vitro model of glial scar, whereby cortical astrocytes were mechanically traumatized to mimic reactive astrogliosis observed after stroke. This mechanical trauma impaired neurite outgrowth from post-natal cortical neurons plated on top of reactive astrocytes. Addition of Shh to the media, however, resulted in a concentration-dependent increase in neurite outgrowth. This response was inhibited by cyclopamine and activated by oxysterol 20(S)-hydroxycholesterol, both of which modulate the activity of the Shh co-receptor Smoothened (Smo), demonstrating that Shh-mediated neurite outgrowth is Smo-dependent. In addition, neurite outgrowth was not associated with an increase in Gli-1 transcription, but could be inhibited by PP2, a selective inhibitor of Src family kinases. These results demonstrate that neurons exposed to the neurite growth inhibitory environment associated with a glial scar can be stimulated by Shh, with signaling occurring through a non-canonical pathway, to overcome this suppression and stimulate neurite outgrowth.
Project description:Astrocytes are abundant cell types in the vertebrate central nervous system and can act as neural stem cells in specialized niches where they constitutively generate new neurons. Outside the stem cell niches, however, these glial cells are not neurogenic. Although injuries in the mammalian central nervous system lead to profound proliferation of astrocytes, which cluster at the lesion site to form a gliotic scar, neurogenesis does not take place. Therefore, a plausible regenerative therapeutic option is to coax the endogenous reactive astrocytes to a pre-neurogenic progenitor state and use them as an endogenous reservoir for repair. However, little is known on the mechanisms that promote the neural progenitor state after injuries in humans. Gata3 was previously found to be a mechanism that zebrafish brain uses to injury-dependent induction of neural progenitors. However, the effects of GATA3 in human astrocytes after injury are not known. Therefore, in this report, we investigated how overexpression of GATA3 in primary human astrocytes would affect the neurogenic potential before and after injury in 2D and 3D cultures. We found that primary human astrocytes are unable to induce GATA3 after injury. Lentivirus-mediated overexpression of GATA3 significantly increased the number of GFAP/SOX2 double positive astrocytes and expression of pro-neural factor ASCL1, but failed to induce neurogenesis, suggesting that GATA3 is required for enhancing the neurogenic potential of primary human astrocytes and is not sufficient to induce neurogenesis alone.