Adeno-associated viruses (AAV) are non-pathogenic members of the Parvoviridae family that are being harnessed as delivery vehicles for both basic research and increasingly successful clinical gene therapy. To address a number of delivery shortcomings with natural AAV variants, we have developed and implemented directed evolution—a high-throughput molecular engineering approach to generate novel biomolecules with enhanced function—to create novel AAV vectors that are designed to preferentially transduce specific cell types in the central nervous system (CNS), including astrocytes, neural stem cells, and cells within the retina. These novel AAV vectors—which have enhanced infectivity in vitro and enhanced infectivity and selectivity in vivo—can enable more efficient studies to further our understanding of neurogenesis, development, aging, and disease. Furthermore, such engineered vectors may aid gene or cell replacement therapies to treat neurodegenerative disease or injury.
adeno-associated virus; astrocytes; directed evolution; gene delivery; neural stem cells; retina; viral engineering
Pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) have major potential as an unlimited source of functional cells for many biomedical applications; however, the development of cell manufacturing systems to enable this promise faces many challenges. For example, there have been major recent advances in the generation of midbrain dopaminergic (mDA) neurons from stem cells for Parkinson’s Disease (PD) therapy; however, production of these cells typically involves undefined components and difficult to scale 2D culture formats. Here, we used a fully defined, 3D, thermoresponsive biomaterial platform to rapidly generate large numbers of action-potential firing mDA neurons after 25 days of differentiation (~40% tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) positive, maturing into 25% cells exhibiting mDA neuron-like spiking behavior). Importantly, mDA neurons generated in 3D exhibited a 30-fold increase in viability upon implantation into rat striatum compared to neurons generated on 2D, consistent with the elevated expression of survival markers FOXA2 and EN1 in 3D. A defined, scalable, and resource-efficient cell culture platform can thus rapidly generate high quality differentiated cells, both neurons and potentially other cell types, with strong potential to accelerate both basic and translational research.
Regenerative therapies have the potential to cure chronic degenerative diseases but are limited by a shortage of donor organs and tissues and the need for immune suppression. This article proposes a 21st Century Grand Challenge that would address this significant medical need by coordinating the multidisciplinary expertise needed to manufacture functional and engraftable cells, tissues, or organs that could be made available to any patient without significant risk of rejection.
The aging population in the U.S. and other developed countries has led to a large increase in the number of patients suffering from degenerative diseases. Transplantation surgery has been a successful therapeutic option for certain patients; however, the availability of suitable donor organs and tissues significantly limits the number of patients who can benefit from this approach. Regenerative medicine has witnessed numerous recent and spectacular advances, making the repair or replacement of dysfunctional organs and tissues an achievable goal. Public-private partnerships and government policies and incentives would further catalyze the development of universally available donor tissues, resulting in broad medical and economic benefits. This article describes a Regenerative Medicine Grand Challenge that the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine recently shared with the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy in response to a White House call to action in scientific disciplines suggesting that the development of “universal donor tissues” should be designated as a Regenerative Medicine Grand Challenge. Such a designation would raise national awareness of the potential of regenerative medicine to address the unmet needs of many diseases and would stimulate the scientific partnerships and investments in technology needed to expedite this goal. Here we outline key policy changes and technological challenges that must be addressed to achieve the promise of a major breakthrough in the treatment of degenerative disease. A nationalized effort and commitment to develop universal donor tissues could realize this goal within 10 years and along the way result in significant innovation in manufacturing technologies.
Regenerative therapies, in which dysfunctional or degenerating cells, tissues, or organs are repaired or replaced, have the potential to cure chronic degenerative diseases. Such treatments are limited by a shortage of donor organs and tissues and the need for immune suppression to prevent rejection. This article proposes a 21st Century Grand Challenge that would address this significant medical need by coordinating a national effort to convene the multidisciplinary expertise needed to manufacture functional and engraftable cells, tissues, or organs that could be made available to any patient without significant risk of rejection—so-called universal donor tissues.
The physiological components that contribute to cystic fibrosis (CF) lung disease are steadily being elucidated. Gene therapy could potentially correct these defects. CFTR-null pigs provide a relevant model to test gene therapy vectors. Using an in vivo selection strategy that amplifies successful capsids by replicating their genomes with helper adenovirus coinfection, we selected an adeno-associated virus (AAV) with tropism for pig airway epithelia. The evolved capsid, termed AAV2H22, is based on AAV2 with 5 point mutations that result in a 240-fold increased infection efficiency. In contrast to AAV2, AAV2H22 binds specifically to pig airway epithelia and is less reliant on heparan sulfate for transduction. We administer AAV2H22-CFTR expressing the CF transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) cDNA to the airways of CF pigs. The transduced airways expressed CFTR on ciliated and nonciliated cells, induced anion transport, and improved the airway surface liquid pH and bacterial killing. Most gene therapy studies to date focus solely on Cl− transport as the primary metric of phenotypic correction. Here, we describe a gene therapy experiment where we not only correct defective anion transport, but also restore bacterial killing in CFTR-null pig airways.
The physiological components that contribute to cystic fibrosis (CF) lung disease are steadily being elucidated. Gene therapy could potentially correct these defects. CFTR-null pigs provide a relevant model to test gene therapy vectors. Using an in vivo selection strategy that amplifies successful capsids by replicating their genomes with helper adenovirus coinfection, we selected an adeno-associated virus (AAV) with tropism for pig airway epithelia. The evolved capsid, termed AAV2H22, is based on AAV2 with 5 point mutations that result in a 240-fold increased infection efficiency. In contrast to AAV2, AAV2H22 binds specifically to pig airway epithelia and is less reliant on heparan sulfate for transduction. We administer AAV2H22-CFTR expressing the CF transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) cDNA to the airways of CF pigs. The transduced airways expressed CFTR on ciliated and nonciliated cells, induced anion transport, and improved the airway surface liquid pH and bacterial killing. Most gene therapy studies to date focus solely on Cl– transport as the primary metric of phenotypic correction. Here, we describe a gene therapy experiment where we not only correct defective anion transport, but also restore bacterial killing in CFTR-null pig airways.
An AAV capsid serotype with enhanced transduction properties is used to correct defective anion transport and restore bacterial killing in CFTR-null pig airways.
A 3D cell culture chip was used for high-throughput screening of a human neural progenitor cell line. The differential toxicity of 24 compounds was determined on undifferentiated and differentiating NPCs. Five compounds led to significant differences in IC50 values between undifferentiated and differentiating cultures. This platform has potential use in phenotypic screening to elucidate molecular toxicology on human stem cells.
•Demonstrated chip platform for HTS of protein expression and toxicity of 3D cultures•Dose-response viability and proliferation of a 24-compound library on human NPC lines•Assessed differential toxicity between progenitors and differentiating progeny•Identified five compounds more toxic to undifferentiated progenitors
Dordick and colleagues demonstrate a 3D cell culture chip for high-throughput screening of immortalized human neural progenitor cells. The dose-response toxicity of 24 compounds was determined on undifferentiated and differentiating hNPCs. Five compounds led to significant differences in IC50 values between undifferentiated and differentiating cultures. This platform has potential use in phenotypic screening to elucidate molecular toxicology on human stem cells.
high-content screening; human neural stem cells; high-throughput microarray; screening; neurotoxicity; three-dimensional cell culture
In cold-blooded vertebrates such as zebrafish, Müller glial cells (MGs) readily proliferate to replenish lost retinal neurons. In mammals, however, MGs lack regenerative capability as they do not spontaneously re-enter the cell cycle unless the retina is injured. Here, we show that gene transfer of β-catenin in adult mouse retina activates Wnt signaling and MG proliferation without retinal injury. Upstream of Wnt, deletion of GSK3β stabilizes β-catenin and activates MG proliferation. Downstream of Wnt, β-catenin binds to the Lin28 promoter and activates transcription. Deletion of Lin28 abolishes β-catenin-mediated effects on MG proliferation, and Lin28 gene transfer stimulates MG proliferation. We further demonstrate that let-7 miRNAs are critically involved in Wnt/Lin28-regulated MG proliferation. Intriguingly, a subset of cell cycle reactivated MGs express markers for amacrine cells. Together, these results reveal a key role of Wnt-Lin28-let7 miRNA signaling in regulating proliferation and neurogenic potential of MGs in adult mammalian retina.
Müller glial cells (MGs) are a source of retinal stem cells. To overcome proliferation quiescence of MGs in adult mammalian retina, Yao et al. report that modulation of Wnt/Lin28/let-7 miRNA signaling stimulates MG proliferation without retinal injury. A subset of cell cycle reactivated MGs express markers for retinal interneurons.
Despite their preclinical promise, few recombinant growth factors have been fully developed into effective therapies, in part, due to the short interval of therapeutic activity after administration. To address this problem, we developed nanoscale polymer conjugates for multivalent presentation of therapeutic proteins that enhance the activation of targeted cellular responses. As an example of this technology, we conjugated multiple Sonic hedgehog (Shh) proteins onto individual hyaluronic acid biopolymers to generate multivalent protein clusters at defined ratios (i.e., valencies) that yield enhanced Shh pathway activation at equivalent concentrations relative to unconjugated Shh. In this study, we investigated whether these multivalent conjugates (mvShh) could be used to improve the therapeutic function of Shh. We found that a single treatment with mvShh significantly accelerated the closure of full-thickness wounds in diabetic (db/db) mice compared to either an equivalent dose of unconjugated Shh or the vehicle control. Furthermore, we identified specific indicators of wound healing in fibroblasts and endothelial cells (i.e., transcriptional activation and cell migration) that were activated by mvShh in vitro and at concentrations approximately an order of magnitude lower than the unconjugated Shh. Taken together, our findings suggest that mvShh conjugates exhibit greater potency to activate the Shh pathway, and this multivalency advantage improves its therapeutic effect to accelerate wound closure in a diabetic animal model. Our strategy of multivalent protein presentation using nanoscale polymer conjugates has the potential to make a significant impact on the development of protein-based therapies by improving their in vivo performance.
The lineage commitment of many cultured stem cells, including adult neural stem cells (NSCs), is strongly sensitive to the stiffness of the underlying extracellular matrix. However, it remains unclear how well the stiffness ranges explored in culture align with the microscale stiffness values stem cells actually encounter within their endogenous tissue niches. To address this question in the context of hippocampal NSCs, we used atomic force microscopy to spatially map the microscale elastic modulus (E) of specific anatomical substructures within living slices of rat dentate gyrus in which NSCs reside during lineage commitment in vivo. We measured depth-dependent apparent E-values at locations across the hilus (H), subgranular zone (SGZ) and granule cell layer (GCL) and found a two- to threefold increase in stiffness at 500 nm indentation from the H (49 ± 7 Pa) and SGZ (58 ± 8 Pa) to the GCL (115 ± 18 Pa), a fold change in stiffness we have previously found functionally relevant in culture. Additionally, E exhibits nonlinearity with depth, increasing significantly for indentations larger than 1 µm and most pronounced in the GCL. The methodological advances implemented for these measurements allow the quantification of the elastic properties of hippocampal NSC niche at unprecedented spatial resolution.
neural stem cells; atomic force microscopy; hippocampus; elastic modulus
Adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors have achieved clinical efficacy in treating several diseases. Enhanced vectors are required to extend these landmark successes to other indications, however, and protein engineering approaches may provide the necessary vector improvements to address such unmet medical needs. To generate new capsid variants with potentially enhanced infectious properties, and to gain insights into AAV’s evolutionary history, we computationally designed and experimentally constructed a putative ancestral AAV library. Combinatorial variations at 32 amino acid sites were introduced to account for uncertainty in their identities. We then analyzed the evolutionary flexibility of these residues, the majority of which have not been previously studied, by subjecting the library to iterative selection on a representative cell line panel. The resulting variants exhibited transduction efficiencies comparable to the most efficient extant serotypes, and in general ancestral libraries were broadly infectious across the cell line panel, indicating that they favored promiscuity over specificity. Interestingly, putative ancestral AAVs were more thermostable than modern serotypes and did not utilize sialic acids, galactose, or heparan sulfate proteoglycans for cellular entry. Finally, variants mediated 19–31 fold higher gene expression in muscle compared to AAV1, a clinically utilized serotype for muscle delivery, highlighting their promise for gene therapy.
We have generated a bioinspired tunable system of hyaluronic acid (HyA)-based hydrogels for Matrix-Assisted Cell Transplantation (MACT). With this material, we have independently evaluated matrix parameters such as adhesion peptide density, mechanical properties, and growth factor sequestering capacity, to engineer an environment that imbues donor cells with a milieu that promotes survival and engraftment with host tissues after transplantation. Using a versatile population of Sca-1+/CD45− cardiac progenitor cells (CPCs), we demonstrated that the addition of heparin in the HyA hydrogels was necessary to coordinate the presentation of TGFβ1 and to support the trophic functions of the CPCs via endothelial cell differentiation and vascular like tubular network formation. Presentation of exogenous TGFβ1 by binding with heparin improved differentiated CPC function by sequestering additional endogenously-produced angiogenic factors. Finally, we demonstrated that TGFβ1 and heparin-containing HyA hydrogels can promote CPC survival when implanted subcutaneously into murine hind-limbs and encouraged their participation in the ensuing neovascular response, including blood vessels that had anastomosed with the host’s blood vessels.
Hippocampal neurogenesis, the product of resident neural stem cell proliferation and differentiation, persists into adulthood but decreases with organismal aging, which may contribute to the age-related decline in cognitive function. The mechanisms that underlie this decrease in neurogenesis are not well understood, though evidence in general indicates that extrinsic changes in an aged stem cell niche can contribute to functional decline in old stem cells. Bone Morphogenetic Protein (BMP) family members are intercellular signaling proteins that regulate stem and progenitor cell quiescence, proliferation, and differentiation in various tissues and are likewise critical regulators of neurogenesis in young adults. Here, we establish that BMP signaling increases significantly in old murine hippocampi and inhibits neural progenitor cell proliferation. Furthermore, direct in vivo attenuation of BMP signaling via genetic and transgenic perturbations in aged mice led to elevated neural stem cell proliferation, and subsequent neurogenesis, in old hippocampi. Such advances in our understanding of mechanisms underlying decreased hippocampal neurogenesis with age may offer targets for the treatment of age-related cognitive decline.
Recreating heterotypic cell–cell interactions in vitro is key to dissecting the role of cellular communication during a variety of biological processes. This is especially relevant for stem cell niches, where neighbouring cells provide instructive inputs that govern cell fate decisions. To investigate the logic and dynamics of cell–cell signalling networks, we prepared heterotypic cell–cell interaction arrays using DNA-programmed adhesion. Our platform specifies the number and initial position of up to four distinct cell types within each array and offers tunable control over cell-contact time during long-term culture. Here, we use the platform to study the dynamics of single adult neural stem cell fate decisions in response to competing juxtacrine signals. Our results suggest a potential signalling hierarchy between Delta-like 1 and ephrin-B2 ligands, as neural stem cells adopt the Delta-like 1 phenotype of stem cell maintenance on simultaneous presentation of both signals.
In vitro assays involving multiple cell types cannot control the stoichiometry or contact times of cell-cell interactions. Here, the authors present a patterned co-culture platform based on printed oligonucleotides capable of controlling cell-cell interactions of up to four different cell types at the single-cell level.
Stem cell therapies have enormous potential for treating many debilitating diseases, including heart failure, stroke and traumatic brain injury. For maximal efficacy, these therapies require targeted cell delivery to specific tissues followed by successful cell engraftment. However, targeted delivery remains an open challenge. As one example, it is common for intravenous deliveries of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to become entrapped in lung microvasculature instead of the target tissue. Hence, a robust, quantitative imaging method would be essential for developing efficacious cell therapies. Here we show that Magnetic Particle Imaging (MPI), a novel technique that directly images iron-oxide nanoparticle-tagged cells, can longitudinally monitor and quantify MSC administration in vivo. MPI offers near-ideal image contrast, depth penetration, and robustness; these properties make MPI both ultra-sensitive and linearly quantitative. Here, we imaged, for the first time, the dynamic trafficking of intravenous MSC administrations using MPI. Our results indicate that labeled MSC injections are immediately entrapped in lung tissue and then clear to the liver within one day, whereas standard iron oxide particle (Resovist) injections are immediately taken up by liver and spleen. Longitudinal MPI-CT imaging also indicated a clearance half-life of MSC iron oxide labels in the liver at 4.6 days. Finally, our ex vivo MPI biodistribution measurements of iron in liver, spleen, heart, and lungs after injection showed excellent agreement (R2 = 0.943) with measurements from induction coupled plasma spectrometry. These results demonstrate that MPI offers strong utility for noninvasively imaging and quantifying the systemic distribution of cell therapies and other therapeutic agents.
Magnetic particle imaging; mesenchymal stem cells; cell therapy tracking; quantitative imaging
Clinical gene therapy has been increasingly successful, due both to an enhanced molecular understanding of human disease and to progressively improving gene delivery technologies. Among the latter, delivery vectors based on adeno-associated virus (AAV) have emerged as safe and effective – in one recent case leading to regulatory approval. Although shortcomings in viral vector properties will render extension of such successes to many other human diseases challenging, new approaches to engineer and improve AAV vectors and their genetic cargo are increasingly helping to overcome these barriers.
Gene delivery vectors based on adeno-associated viruses (AAV) have exhibited promise in both preclinical disease models and human clinical trials for numerous disease targets, including the retinal degenerative disorders Leber's congenital amaurosis and choroideremia. One general challenge for AAV is that pre-existing immunity, as well as subsequent development of immunity following vector administration, can severely inhibit systemic AAV vector gene delivery. However, the role of neutralizing antibodies (NABs) in AAV transduction of tissues considered to be immune privileged, such as the eye, is unclear in large animals. Intravitreal AAV administration allows for broad retinal delivery, but is more susceptible to interactions with the immune system than subretinal administration. To assess the effects of systemic anti-AAV antibody levels on intravitreal gene delivery, we quantified the anti-AAV antibodies present in sera from non-human primates before and after intravitreal injections with various AAV capsids. Analysis showed that intravitreal administration resulted in an increase in anti-AAV antibodies regardless of the capsid serotype, transgene, or dosage of virus injected. For monkeys injected with wild-type AAV2 and/or an AAV2 mutant, the variable that most significantly affected the production of anti-AAV2 antibodies was the amount of virus delivered. In addition, post-injection antibody titers were highest against the serotype administered, but the antibodies were also cross-reactive against other AAV serotypes. Furthermore, neutralizing antibody levels in serum correlated with those in vitreal fluid, demonstrating both that this route of administration exposes AAV capsid epitopes to the adaptive immune system and that serum measurements are predictive of vitreous fluid NAB titers. Moreover, the presence of pre-existing neutralizing antibody titers in the serum of monkeys correlated strongly (R=0.76) with weak, decaying, or no transgene expression following intravitreal administration of AAV. Investigating anti-AAV antibody development will aid in understanding the interactions between gene therapy vectors and the immune system during ocular administration and can form a basis for future clinical studies applying intravitreal gene delivery.
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is among the most prevalent forms of dementia affecting the aging population, and pharmacological therapies to date have not been successful in preventing disease progression. Future therapeutic efforts may benefit from the development of models that enable basic investigation of early disease pathology. In particular, disease-relevant models based on human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) may be promising approaches to assess the impact of neurotoxic agents in AD on specific neuronal populations and thereby facilitate the development of novel interventions to avert early disease mechanisms. We implemented an efficient paradigm to convert hPSCs into enriched populations of cortical glutamatergic neurons emerging from dorsal forebrain neural progenitors, aided by modulating Sonic hedgehog (Shh) signaling. Since AD is generally known to be toxic to glutamatergic circuits, we exposed glutamatergic neurons derived from hESCs to an oligomeric pre-fibrillar forms of Aβ known as “globulomers”, which have shown strong correlation with the level of cognitive deficits in AD. Administration of such Aβ oligomers yielded signs of the disease, including cell culture age-dependent binding of Aβ and cell death in the glutamatergic populations. Furthermore, consistent with previous findings in postmortem human AD brain Aβ-induced toxicity was selective for glutamatergic rather than GABAeric neurons present in our cultures. This in vitro model of cortical glutamatergic neurons thus offers a system for future mechanistic investigation and therapeutic development for AD pathology using human cell types specifically affected by this disease.
Over the last 2 years a global assessment of stem cell engineering (SCE) was conducted with the sponsorship of the National Science Foundation, the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The purpose was to gather information on the worldwide status and trends in SCE, that is, the involvement of engineers and engineering approaches in the stem cell field, both in basic research and in the translation of research into clinical applications and commercial products. The study was facilitated and managed by the World Technology Evaluation Center. The process involved site visits in both Asia and Europe, and it also included several different workshops. From this assessment, the panel concluded that there needs to be an increased role for engineers and the engineering approach. This will provide a foundation for the generation of new markets and future economic growth. To do this will require an increased investment in engineering, applied research, and commercialization as it relates to stem cell research and technology. It also will require programs that support interdisciplinary teams, new innovative mechanisms for academic–industry partnerships, and unique translational models. In addition, the global community would benefit from forming strategic partnerships between countries that can leverage existing and emerging strengths in different institutions. To implement such partnerships will require multinational grant programs with appropriate review mechanisms.
Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) – including embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) – are very promising candidates for cell therapies, tissue engineering, high throughput pharmacology screens, and toxicity testing. These applications require large numbers of high quality cells; however, scalable production of human pluripotent stem cells and their derivatives at a high density and under well-defined conditions has been a challenge. We recently reported a simple, efficient, fully defined, scalable, and good manufacturing practice (GMP) compatible 3D culture system based on a thermoreversible hydrogel for hPSC expansion and differentiation. Here, we describe additional design rationale and characterization of this system. For instance, we have determined that culturing hPSCs as a suspension in a liquid medium can exhibit lower volumetric yields due to cell agglomeration and possible shear force-induced cell loss. By contrast, using hydrogels as 3D scaffolds for culturing hPSCs reduces aggregation and may insulate from shear forces. Additionally, hydrogel-based 3D culture systems can support efficient hPSC expansion and differentiation at a high density if compatible with hPSC biology. Finally, there are considerable opportunities for future development to further enhance hydrogel-based 3D culture systems for producing hPSCs and their progeny.
human embryonic stem cells; induced pluripotent stem cells; 3D culture system; thermoreversible hydrogel
While gene expression noise has been shown to drive dramatic phenotypic variations, the molecular basis for this variability in mammalian systems is not well understood. Gene expression has been shown to be regulated by promoter architecture and the associated chromatin environment. However, the exact contribution of these two factors in regulating expression noise has not been explored. Using a dual-reporter lentiviral model system, we deconvolved the influence of the promoter sequence to systematically study the contribution of the chromatin environment at different genomic locations in regulating expression noise. By integrating a large-scale analysis to quantify mRNA levels by smFISH and protein levels by flow cytometry in single cells, we found that mean expression and noise are uncorrelated across genomic locations. Furthermore, we showed that this independence could be explained by the orthogonal control of mean expression by the transcript burst size and noise by the burst frequency. Finally, we showed that genomic locations displaying higher expression noise are associated with more repressed chromatin, thereby indicating the contribution of the chromatin environment in regulating expression noise.
chromatin environment; gene expression noise; single-cell biology; single-molecule RNA FISH
Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) are of great interest in biology and medicine due to their ability to self-renew and differentiate into any adult or fetal cell type. Important efforts have identified biochemical factors, signaling pathways, and transcriptional networks that regulate hPSC biology. However, recent work investigating the effect of biophysical cues on mammalian cells and adult stem cells suggests that the mechanical properties of the microenvironment, such as stiffness, may also regulate hPSC behavior. While several studies have explored this mechanoregulation in mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs), it has been challenging to extrapolate these findings and thereby explore their biomedical implications in hPSCs. For example, it remains unclear whether hPSCs can be driven down a given tissue lineage by providing tissue-mimetic stiffness cues. Here we address this open question by investigating the regulation of hPSC neurogenesis by microenvironmental stiffness. We find that increasing extracellular matrix (ECM) stiffness in vitro increases hPSC cell and colony spread area but does not alter self-renewal, in contrast to past studies with mESCs. However, softer ECMs with stiffnesses similar to that of neural tissue promote the generation of early neural ectoderm. This mechanosensitive increase in neural ectoderm requires only a short 5-day soft stiffness “pulse,” which translates into downstream increases in both total neurons as well as therapeutically relevant dopaminergic neurons. These findings further highlight important differences between mESCs and hPSCs and have implications for both the design of future biomaterials as well as our understanding of early embryonic development.
To measure cell-to-cell variation in protein-mediated functions — a hallmark of biological processes — we developed an approach to conduct ~103 concurrent single-cell western blots (scWesterns) in ~4 hours. A microscope slide supporting a 30 µm-thick photoactive polyacrylamide gel enables western blotting comprised of: settling of single cells into microwells, lysis in situ, gel electrophoresis, photoinitiated blotting to immobilize proteins, and antibody probing. We apply this scWestern to monitor single rat neural stem cell differentiation and responses to mitogen stimulation. The scWestern quantifies target proteins even with off-target antibody binding, multiplexes to 11 protein targets per single cell with detection thresholds of <30,000 molecules, and supports analyses of low starting cell numbers (~200) when integrated with fluorescence activated cell sorting. The scWestern thus overcomes limitations in single-cell protein analysis (i.e., antibody fidelity, sensitivity, and starting cell number) and constitutes a versatile tool for the study of complex cell populations at single-cell resolution.
Adeno-associated virus (AAV) is a small, non-pathogenic dependovirus that has shown great potential for safe and long-term expression of a genetic pay-load in the retina. AAV has been used to treat a growing number of animal models of inherited retinal degeneration, though drawbacks—including a limited carrying capacity, slow onset of expression, and a limited ability to transduce some retinal cell types from the vitreous—restrict the utility of AAV for treating some forms of inherited eye disease. Next generation AAV vectors are being created to address these needs, through rational design efforts such as the creation of self-complementary AAV vectors for faster onset of expression and specific mutations of surface-exposed residues to increase transduction of viral particles. Furthermore, directed evolution has been used to create, through an iterative process of selection, novel variants of AAV with newly acquired, advantageous characteristics. These novel AAV variants have been shown to improve the therapeutic potential of AAV vectors, and further improvements may be achieved through rational design, directed evolution, or a combination of these approaches, leading to broader applicability of AAV and improved treatments for inherited retinal degeneration.
Adeno-associated virus; Gene therapy; Mutagenesis; Directed evolution; Retinal degeneration
X-linked retinoschisis, a disease characterized by splitting of the retina, is caused by mutations in the retinoschisin gene, which encodes a secreted cell adhesion protein. Currently, there is no effective treatment for retinoschisis, though viral vector-mediated gene replacement therapies offer promise. We used intravitreal delivery of three different AAV vectors to target delivery of the RS1 gene to Müller glia, photoreceptors, or multiple cell types throughout the retina. Müller glia radially span the entire retina, are accessible from the vitreous, and remain intact throughout progression of the disease. However, photoreceptors, not glia, normally secrete retinoschisin. We compared the efficacy of rescue mediated by retinoschisin secretion from these specific subtypes of retinal cells in the Rs1h−/− mouse model of retinoschisis. Our results indicate that all three vectors deliver the RS1 gene, and that several cell types can secrete retinoschisin, leading to transport of the protein across the retina. The greatest long-term rescue was observed when photoreceptors produce retinoschisin. Similar rescue was observed with photoreceptor-specific or generalized expression, though photoreceptor secretion may contribute to rescue in the latter case. These results collectively point to the importance of cell targeting and appropriate vector choice in the success of retinal gene therapies.
Gene therapy; X-linked retinoschisis; AAV vectors; photoreceptors; Müller glia; cell targeting