Advances in cellular reprogramming and stem cell differentiation now enable ex vivo studies of human neuronal differentiation. However, it remains challenging to elucidate the underlying regulatory programs because differentiation protocols are laborious and often result in low neuron yields. Here, we overexpressed two Neurogenin transcription factors in human-induced pluripotent stem cells and obtained neurons with bipolar morphology in 4 days, at greater than 90% purity. The high purity enabled mRNA and microRNA expression profiling during neurogenesis, thus revealing the genetic programs involved in the rapid transition from stem cell to neuron. The resulting cells exhibited transcriptional, morphological and functional signatures of differentiated neurons, with greatest transcriptional similarity to prenatal human brain samples. Our analysis revealed a network of key transcription factors and microRNAs that promoted loss of pluripotency and rapid neurogenesis via progenitor states. Perturbations of key transcription factors affected homogeneity and phenotypic properties of the resulting neurons, suggesting that a systems-level view of the molecular biology of differentiation may guide subsequent manipulation of human stem cells to rapidly obtain diverse neuronal types.
N6-methyladenosine (m6A) is a common modification of mRNA with potential roles in fine-tuning the RNA life cycle. Here, we identify a dense network of proteins interacting with METTL3, a component of the methyltransferase complex, and show that three of them (WTAP, METTL14, and KIAA1429) are required for methylation. Monitoring m6A levels upon WTAP depletion allowed the definition of accurate and near single-nucleotide resolution methylation maps and their classification into WTAP-dependent and -independent sites. WTAP-dependent sites are located at internal positions in transcripts, topologically static across a variety of systems we surveyed, and inversely correlated with mRNA stability, consistent with a role in establishing "basal" degradation rates. WTAP-independent sites form at the first transcribed base as part of the cap structure and are present at thousands of sites, forming a previously unappreciated layer of transcriptome complexity. Our data shed light on the proteomic and transcriptional underpinnings of this RNA modification.
The simplicity of programming the CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)-associated nuclease Cas9 to modify specific genomic loci suggests a new way to interrogate gene function on a genome-wide scale. We show that lentiviral delivery of a genome-scale CRISPR-Cas9 knockout (GeCKO) library targeting 18,080 genes with 64,751 unique guide sequences enables both negative and positive selection screening in human cells. First, we used the GeCKO library to identify genes essential for cell viability in cancer and pluripotent stem cells. Next, in a melanoma model, we screened for genes whose loss is involved in resistance to vemurafenib, a therapeutic RAF inhibitor. Our highest-ranking candidates include previously validated genes NF1 and MED12, as well as novel hits NF2, CUL3, TADA2B, and TADA1. We observe a high level of consistency between independent guide RNAs targeting the same gene and a high rate of hit confirmation, demonstrating the promise of genome-scale screening with Cas9.
Changes in neural activity influence synaptic plasticity/scaling, gene expression, and epigenetic modifications. We present the first evidence that short-term and persistent changes in neural activity can alter adenosine-to-inosine (A-to-I) RNA editing, a post-transcriptional site-specific modification found in several neuron-specific transcripts. In rat cortical neuron cultures, activity-dependent changes in A-to-I RNA editing in coding exons are present after 6 hr of high potassium depolarization but not after 1 hr and require calcium entry into neurons. When treatments are extended from hours to days, we observe a negative feedback phenomenon: Chronic depolarization increases editing at many sites and chronic silencing decreases editing. We present several different modulations of neural activity that change the expression of different mRNA isoforms through editing.
Transcription activator-like effectors (TALEs) are a class of naturally occurring DNA-binding proteins found in the plant pathogen Xanthomonas sp. The DNA-binding domain of each TALE consists of tandem 34-amino acid repeat modules that can be rearranged according to a simple cipher to target new DNA sequences. Customized TALEs can be used for a wide variety of genome engineering applications, including transcriptional modulation and genome editing. Here we describe a toolbox for rapid construction of custom TALE transcription factors (TALE-TFs) and nucleases (TALENs) using a hierarchical ligation procedure. This toolbox facilitates affordable and rapid construction of custom TALE-TFs and TALENs within 1 week and can be easily scaled up to construct TALEs for multiple targets in parallel. We also provide details for testing the activity in mammalian cells of custom TALE-TFs and TALENs using quantitative reverse-transcription PCR and Surveyor nuclease, respectively. The TALE toolbox described here will enable a broad range of biological applications.
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