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1.  Higher Vulnerability and Stress Sensitivity of Neuronal Precursor Cells Carrying an Alpha-Synuclein Gene Triplication 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(11):e112413.
Parkinson disease (PD) is a multi-factorial neurodegenerative disorder with loss of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra and characteristic intracellular inclusions, called Lewy bodies. Genetic predisposition, such as point mutations and copy number variants of the SNCA gene locus can cause very similar PD-like neurodegeneration. The impact of altered α-synuclein protein expression on integrity and developmental potential of neuronal stem cells is largely unexplored, but may have wide ranging implications for PD manifestation and disease progression. Here, we investigated if induced pluripotent stem cell-derived neuronal precursor cells (NPCs) from a patient with Parkinson’s disease carrying a genomic triplication of the SNCA gene (SNCA-Tri). Our goal was to determine if these cells these neuronal precursor cells already display pathological changes and impaired cellular function that would likely predispose them when differentiated to neurodegeneration. To achieve this aim, we assessed viability and cellular physiology in human SNCA-Tri NPCs both under normal and environmentally stressed conditions to model in vitro gene-environment interactions which may play a role in the initiation and progression of PD. Human SNCA-Tri NPCs displayed overall normal cellular and mitochondrial morphology, but showed substantial changes in growth, viability, cellular energy metabolism and stress resistance especially when challenged by starvation or toxicant challenge. Knockdown of α-synuclein in the SNCA-Tri NPCs by stably expressed short hairpin RNA (shRNA) resulted in reversal of the observed phenotypic changes. These data show for the first time that genetic alterations such as the SNCA gene triplication set the stage for decreased developmental fitness, accelerated aging, and increased neuronal cell loss. The observation of this “stem cell pathology” could have a great impact on both quality and quantity of neuronal networks and could provide a powerful new tool for development of neuroprotective strategies for PD.
PMCID: PMC4229205  PMID: 25390032
2.  Small Molecules Greatly Improve Conversion of Human-Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells to the Neuronal Lineage 
Stem Cells International  2012;2012:140427.
Efficient in vitro differentiation into specific cell types is more important than ever after the breakthrough in nuclear reprogramming of somatic cells and its potential for disease modeling and drug screening. Key success factors for neuronal differentiation are the yield of desired neuronal marker expression, reproducibility, length, and cost. Three main neuronal differentiation approaches are stromal-induced neuronal differentiation, embryoid body (EB) differentiation, and direct neuronal differentiation. Here, we describe our neurodifferentiation protocol using small molecules that very efficiently promote neural induction in a 5-stage EB protocol from six induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) lines from patients with Parkinson's disease and controls. This protocol generates neural precursors using Dorsomorphin and SB431542 and further maturation into dopaminergic neurons by replacing sonic hedgehog with purmorphamine or smoothened agonist. The advantage of this approach is that all patient-specific iPSC lines tested in this study were successfully and consistently coaxed into the neural lineage.
PMCID: PMC3339118  PMID: 22567022
3.  Effects of cadmium chloride on mouse inner medullary collecting duct cells 
Interdisciplinary Toxicology  2013;6(3):157-158.
Cadmium is a known renal toxin. The cytotoxic effect of cadmium chloride (CdCl2) was evaluated on renal inner medullary collecting duct cells (mIMCD3). The 24 hr LC50 value for CdCl2 in mIMCD3 cells was 40 µM. The present study showed that mIMCD3 cells were sensitive to CdCl2 exposure.
PMCID: PMC3967443  PMID: 24678254
cadmium chloride; cytotoxicity; kidney; mIMCD3 cells
4.  α-Synuclein Suppression by Targeted Small Interfering RNA in the Primate Substantia Nigra 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(8):e12122.
The protein α-synuclein is involved in the pathogenesis of Parkinson's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders. Its toxic potential appears to be enhanced by increased protein expression, providing a compelling rationale for therapeutic strategies aimed at reducing neuronal α-synuclein burden. Here, feasibility and safety of α-synuclein suppression were evaluated by treating monkeys with small interfering RNA (siRNA) directed against α-synuclein. The siRNA molecule was chemically modified to prevent degradation by exo- and endonucleases and directly infused into the left substantia nigra. Results compared levels of α-synuclein mRNA and protein in the infused (left) vs. untreated (right) hemisphere and revealed a significant 40–50% suppression of α-synuclein expression. These findings could not be attributable to non-specific effects of siRNA infusion since treatment of a separate set of animals with luciferase-targeting siRNA produced no changes in α-synuclein. Infusion with α-synuclein siRNA, while lowering α-synuclein expression, had no overt adverse consequences. In particular, it did not cause tissue inflammation and did not change (i) the number and phenotype of nigral dopaminergic neurons, and (ii) the concentrations of striatal dopamine and its metabolites. The data represent the first evidence of successful anti-α-synuclein intervention in the primate substantia nigra and support further development of RNA interference-based therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC2920329  PMID: 20711464
5.  Pathological Modifications of α-Synuclein in 1-Methyl-4-Phenyl-1,2,3,6-Tetrahydropyridine (MPTP)-Treated Squirrel Monkeys 
α-Synuclein expression is increased in dopaminergic neurons challenged by toxic insults. Here, we assessed whether this upregulation is accompanied by pathological accumulation of α-synuclein and protein modifications (i.e. nitration, phosphorylation and aggregation) that are typically observed in Parkinson disease and in other synucleinopathies. A single injection of the neurotoxicant 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) to squirrel monkeys caused a buildup of α-synuclein but not of β-synuclein or synaptophysin within nigral dopaminergic cell bodies. Immunohistochemistry and immunoelectron microscopy (IEM) also revealed large numbers of dystrophic axons labeled with α-synuclein. Antibodies that recognize nitrated and phosphorylated (at serine 129) α-synuclein stained neuronal cell bodies and dystrophic axons in the midbrain of MPTP-treated animals. Following toxicant exposure, α-synuclein deposition occurred at the level of neuronal axons in which amorphous protein aggregates were demonstrated by IEM. In a subset of these axons, immunoreactivity for α-synuclein was evident after tissue digestion with proteinase K, further indicating the accumulation of insoluble protein. These data indicate that toxic injury can induce the α-synuclein modifications that have been implicated in the pathogenesis of human synucleinopathies. The findings are also consistent with a pattern of evolution of α-synuclein pathology that may begin with the accumulation and aggregation of the protein within damaged axons.
PMCID: PMC2745435  PMID: 18648323
Monkey; MPTP; Nitration; Parkinson; Phosphorylation; Substantia nigra; Synuclein

Results 1-5 (5)