Pathogenic tau accelerates aging-associated activation of transposable elements in the mouse central nervous system.
Paulino Ramirez, Gabrielle Zuniga, Wenyan Sun, Adrian Beckmann, Elizabeth Ochoa, Sarah L. DeVos, Bradley Hyman, Gabriel Chiu, Ethan R. Roy, Wei Cao, Miranda Orr, Virginie Buggia-Prevot, William J. Ray, and Bess Frost.
Progress in Neurobiology. Available online 17 October 2021.


Transposable elements comprise almost half of the mammalian genome. A growing body of evidence suggests that transposable element dysregulation accompanies brain aging and neurodegenerative disorders, and that transposable element activation is neurotoxic. Recent studies have identified links between pathogenic forms of tau, a protein that accumulates in Alzheimer’s disease and related “tauopathies,” and transposable element-induced neurotoxicity. Starting with transcriptomic analyses, we find that age- and tau-induced transposable element activation occurs in the mouse brain. Among transposable elements that are activated at the RNA level in the context of brain aging and tauopathy, we find that the endogenous retrovirus (ERV) class of retrotransposons is particularly enriched. We show that protein encoded by Intracisternal A-particle, a highly active mouse ERV, is elevated in brains of tau transgenic mice. Using two complementary approaches, we find that brains of tau transgenic mice contain increased DNA copy number of transposable elements, raising the possibility that these elements actively retrotranspose in the context of tauopathy. Taken together, our study lays the groundwork for future mechanistic studies focused on transposable element regulation in the aging mouse brain and in mouse models of tauopathy and provides support for ongoing therapeutic efforts targeting transposable element activation in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

Adult-onset CNS myelin sulfatide deficiency is sufficient to cause Alzheimer’s disease-like neuroinflammation and cognitive impairment.
Shulan Qiu, Juan Pablo Palavicini, Jianing Wang, Nancy S. Gonzalez, Sijia He, Elizabeth Dustin, Cheng Zou, Lin Ding, Anindita Bhattacharjee, Candice E. Van Skike, Veronica Galvan, Jeffrey L. Dupree & Xianlin Han.
Molecular Neurodegeneration, 2021 Sep 15;16(1):64. doi: 10.1186/s13024-021-00488-7.
PMID: 34526055 PMCID: PMC8442347


Background: Human genetic association studies point to immune response and lipid metabolism, in addition to amyloid-beta (Aβ) and tau, as major pathways in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) etiology. Accumulating evidence suggests that chronic neuroinflammation, mainly mediated by microglia and astrocytes, plays a causative role in neurodegeneration in AD. Our group and others have reported early and dramatic losses of brain sulfatide in AD cases and animal models that are mediated by ApoE in an isoform-dependent manner and accelerated by Aβ accumulation. To date, it remains unclear if changes in specific brain lipids are sufficient to drive AD-related pathology.

Methods: To study the consequences of CNS sulfatide deficiency and gain insights into the underlying mechanisms, we developed a novel mouse model of adult-onset myelin sulfatide deficiency, i.e., tamoxifen-inducible myelinating glia-specific cerebroside sulfotransferase (CST) conditional knockout mice (CSTfl/fl/Plp1-CreERT), took advantage of constitutive CST knockout mice (CST-/-), and generated CST/ApoE double knockout mice (CST-/-/ApoE-/-), and assessed these mice using a broad range of methodologies including lipidomics, RNA profiling, behavioral testing, PLX3397-mediated microglia depletion, mass spectrometry (MS) imaging, immunofluorescence, electron microscopy, and Western blot.

Results: We found that mild central nervous system (CNS) sulfatide losses within myelinating cells are sufficient to activate disease-associated microglia and astrocytes, and to increase the expression of AD risk genes (e.g., Apoe, Trem2, Cd33, and Mmp12), as well as previously established causal regulators of the immune/microglia network in late-onset AD (e.g., Tyrobp, Dock, and Fcerg1), leading to chronic AD-like neuroinflammation and mild cognitive impairment. Notably, neuroinflammation and mild cognitive impairment showed gender differences, being more pronounced in females than males. Subsequent mechanistic studies demonstrated that although CNS sulfatide losses led to ApoE upregulation, genetically-induced myelin sulfatide deficiency led to neuroinflammation independently of ApoE. These results, together with our previous studies (sulfatide deficiency in the context of AD is mediated by ApoE and accelerated by Aβ accumulation) placed both Aβ and ApoE upstream of sulfatide deficiency-induced neuroinflammation, and suggested a positive feedback loop where sulfatide losses may be amplified by increased ApoE expression. We also demonstrated that CNS sulfatide deficiency-induced astrogliosis and ApoE upregulation are not secondary to microgliosis, and that astrogliosis and microgliosis seem to be driven by activation of STAT3 and PU.1/Spi1 transcription factors, respectively.

Conclusion: Our results strongly suggest that sulfatide deficiency is an important contributor and driver of neuroinflammation and mild cognitive impairment in AD pathology.

The treatment of neurogenic lower urinary tract dysfunction in persons with spinal cord injury: An open label, pilot study of anticholinergic agent vs. mirabegron to evaluate cognitive impact and efficacy.
Michelle Trbovich, Terry Romo, Marsha Polk, Wouter Koek, Che Kelly, Sharon Stowe, Stephen Kraus, Dean Kellogg.
Spinal Cord Series and Cases. 2021 Jun 10;7(1):50. doi: 10.1038/s41394-021-00413-6.
PMID: 34112758 PMCID: PMC8192499 (available on 2022-06-10)


Study design: Pre-post intervention

Objectives: 1. To test whether replacement of oral anticholinergic (AC) agents with mirabegron for neurogenic lower urinary tract dysfunction (NLUTD) yields improved cognitive function in older persons with spinal cord injury (SCI). 2. To test whether mirabegron is safe and as efficacious as AC.

Settings: USA.

Methods: Pilot study: Twenty older (>60 y/o) persons with SCI taking chronic (>6 months) AC medication for NLUTD were enrolled. All participants were first studied on AC at baseline then switched to mirabegron for 6 months. Primary outcomes were cognitive tests of (1) executive function (TEXAS, SDMT); (2) attention (SCWT); and (3) memory (SLUMS and WMS-IV Story A/B). Secondary outcomes assessed efficacy and safety including Neurogenic Bladder Symptom Score (NBSS), bladder diary, neurogenic bowel dysfunction (NBD) survey, heart rate (HR), electrocardiogram (EKG), and mean arterial pressure (MAP).

Results: When switching from AC to mirabegron for NLUTD, older persons with SCI exhibited statistically significant improvements in immediate Story A recall (p = 0.01), delayed story A and B recall (p = 0.01, 0.004), and in TEXAS (p = 0.04). Three subscores within NBSS significantly improved (p = 0.001) and the frequency of incontinence decreased (p = 0.03) on mirabegron. NBD, HR, MAP, and EKGs were unchanged.

Conclusion: Older persons with SCI on AC for NLUTD demonstrated improved short-term and delayed memory (WMS-IV Story A/B) as well as executive function (TEXAS) when switched to mirabegron. Efficacy of mirabegron for NLUTD symptoms was superior to AC with no adverse effects on bowel or cardiovascular function.

Sponsorship: Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center.

In Vivo Generation of Lung and Thyroid Tissues from Embryonic Stem Cells Using Blastocyst Complementation.
Bingqiang Wen, Enhong Li, Vladimir Ustiyan, Guolun Wang, Minzhe Guo, Cheng-Lun Na, Gregory T Kalin, Veronica Galvan, Yan Xu, Timothy E Weaver, Tanya V Kalin, Jeffrey A Whitsett, Vladimir V Kalinichenko .
Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2021 Feb 15;203(4):471-483. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201909-1836OC.


Rationale: The regeneration and replacement of lung cells or tissues from induced pluripotent stem cell- or embryonic stem cell-derived cells represent future therapies for life-threatening pulmonary disorders but are limited by technical challenges to produce highly differentiated cells able to maintain lung function. Functional lung tissue-containing airways, alveoli, vasculature, and stroma have never been produced via directed differentiation of embryonic stem cells (ESCs) or induced pluripotent stem cells. We sought to produce all tissue components of the lung from bronchi to alveoli by embryo complementation.

Objectives: To determine whether ESCs are capable of generating lung tissue in Nkx2-1-/- mouse embryos with lung agenesis.

Methods: Blastocyst complementation was used to produce chimeras from normal mouse ESCs and Nkx2-1-/- embryos, which lack pulmonary tissues. Nkx2-1-/- chimeras were examined using immunostaining, transmission electronic microscopy, fluorescence-activated cell sorter analysis, and single-cell RNA sequencing.

Measurements and Main Results: Although peripheral pulmonary and thyroid tissues are entirely lacking in Nkx2-1 gene-deleted embryos, pulmonary and thyroid structures in Nkx2-1-/- chimeras were restored after ESC complementation. Respiratory epithelial cell lineages in restored lungs of Nkx2-1-/- chimeras were derived almost entirely from ESCs, whereas endothelial, immune, and stromal cells were mosaic. ESC-derived cells from multiple respiratory cell lineages were highly differentiated and indistinguishable from endogenous cells based on morphology, ultrastructure, gene expression signatures, and cell surface proteins used to identify cell types by fluorescence-activated cell sorter.

Conclusions: Lung and thyroid tissues were generated in vivo from ESCs by blastocyst complementation. Nkx2-1-/- chimeras can be used as “bioreactors” for in vivo differentiation and functional studies of ESC-derived progenitor cells.

TREX2 Exonuclease Causes Spontaneous Mutations and Stress-Induced Replication Fork Defects in Cells Expressing RAD51K133A
Jun Ho Ko, Mi Young Son, Qing Zhou, Lucia Molnarova, Lambert Song, Jarmila Mlcouskova, Atis Jekabsons, Cristina Montagna, Lumir Krejci, Paul Hasty
Cell Reports. Volume 33, Issue 12, 22 December 2020, 108543. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2020.108543.


DNA damage tolerance (DDT) and homologous recombination (HR) stabilize replication forks (RFs). RAD18/UBC13/three prime repair exonuclease 2 (TREX2)-mediated proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) ubiquitination is central to DDT, an error-prone lesion bypass pathway. RAD51 is the recombinase for HR. The RAD51 K133A mutation increased spontaneous mutations and stress-induced RF stalls and nascent strand degradation. Here, we report in RAD51K133A cells that this phenotype is reduced by expressing a TREX2 H188A mutation that deletes its exonuclease activity. In RAD51K133A cells, knocking out RAD18 or overexpressing PCNA reduces spontaneous mutations, while expressing ubiquitination-incompetent PCNAK164R increases mutations, indicating DDT as causal. Deleting TREX2 in cells deficient for the RF maintenance proteins poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase 1 (PARP1) or FANCB increased nascent strand degradation that was rescued by TREX2H188A, implying that TREX2 prohibits degradation independent of catalytic activity. A possible explanation for this occurrence is that TREX2H188A associates with UBC13 and ubiquitinates PCNA, suggesting a dual role for TREX2 in RF maintenance.

Early disruption of nerve mitochondrial and myelin lipid homeostasis in obesity-induced diabetes.
Juan P Palavicini, Juan Chen, Chunyan Wang, Jianing Wang, Chao Qin, Eric Baeuerle, Xinming Wang, Jung A Woo, David E Kang, Nicolas Musi, Jeffrey L Dupree, Xianlin Han.
JCI Insight. 2020 Nov 5;5(21):137286. doi: 10.1172/jci.insight.137286.


Diabetic neuropathy is a major complication of diabetes. Current treatment options alleviate pain but do not stop the progression of the disease. At present, there are no approved disease-modifying therapies. Thus, developing more effective therapies remains a major unmet medical need. Seeking to better understand the molecular mechanisms driving peripheral neuropathy, as well as other neurological complications associated with diabetes, we performed spatiotemporal lipidomics, biochemical, ultrastructural, and physiological studies on PNS and CNS tissue from multiple diabetic preclinical models. We unraveled potentially novel molecular fingerprints underlying nerve damage in obesity-induced diabetes, including an early loss of nerve mitochondrial (cardiolipin) and myelin signature (galactosylceramide, sulfatide, and plasmalogen phosphatidylethanolamine) lipids that preceded mitochondrial, myelin, and axonal structural/functional defects; started in the PNS; and progressed to the CNS at advanced diabetic stages. Mechanistically, we provided substantial evidence indicating that these nerve mitochondrial/myelin lipid abnormalities are (surprisingly) not driven by hyperglycemia, dysinsulinemia, or insulin resistance, but rather associate with obesity/hyperlipidemia. Importantly, our findings have major clinical implications as they open the door to novel lipid-based biomarkers to diagnose and distinguish different subtypes of diabetic neuropathy (obese vs. nonobese diabetics), as well as to lipid-lowering therapeutic strategies for treatment of obesity/diabetes-associated neurological complications and for glycemic control.

Pathogenic Tau Causes a Toxic Depletion of Nuclear Calcium.
Rebekah Mahoney, Elizabeth Ochoa Thomas, Paulino Ramirez, Henry E Miller, Adrian Beckmann, Gabrielle Zuniga, Radek Dobrowolski, Bess Frost.
Cell Reports. 2020 Jul 14;32(2):107900. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2020.107900.


Synaptic activity-induced calcium (Ca2+) influx and subsequent propagation into the nucleus is a major way in which synapses communicate with the nucleus to regulate transcriptional programs important for activity-dependent survival and memory formation. Nuclear Ca2+ shapes the transcriptome by regulating cyclic AMP (cAMP) response element-binding protein (CREB). Here, we utilize a Drosophila model of tauopathy and induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-derived neurons from humans with Alzheimer’s disease to study the effects of pathogenic tau, a pathological hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease and related tauopathies, on nuclear Ca2+. We find that pathogenic tau depletes nuclear Ca2+ and CREB to drive neuronal death, that CREB-regulated genes are over-represented among differentially expressed genes in tau transgenic Drosophila, and that activation of big potassium (BK) channels elevates nuclear Ca2+ and suppresses tau-induced neurotoxicity. Our studies identify nuclear Ca2+ depletion as a mechanism contributing to tau-induced neurotoxicity, adding an important dimension to the calcium hypothesis of Alzheimer’s disease.

Awakening the dark side: retrotransposon activation in neurodegenerative disorders.
Elizabeth Ochoa Thomas, Gabbe Zuniga, Wenyan Sun, Bess Frost.
Current Opinion in Neurobiology. 2020 Apr;61:65-72. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2020.01.012. Epub 2020 Feb 21.


Nearly half (45%) of the human genome is composed of transposable elements, or ‘jumping genes’. Since Barbara McClintock’s original discovery of transposable elements in 1950, we have come to appreciate that transposable element mobilization is a major driver of evolution that transposons are active in the germline and the soma, and that transposable element dysregulation is causally associated with many human disorders. In the present review, we highlight recent studies investigating transposable element activation in the adult brain and in the context of neurodegeneration. Collectively, these studies contribute to a greater understanding of the frequency of complete retrotransposition in the adult brain as well as the presence of transposable element-derived RNA and protein in brain and fluids of patients with neurodegenerative disorders. We discuss therapeutic opportunities and speculate on the larger implications of transposable element activation in regard to current hot topics in the field of neurodegeneration.

mTOR drives cerebrovascular, synaptic, and cognitive dysfunction in normative aging.
Van Skike CE, Lin AL, Roberts Burbank R, Halloran JJ, Hernandez SF, Cuvillier J, Soto VY, Hussong SA, Jahrling JB, Javors MA, Hart MJ, Fischer KE, Austad SN, Galvan V.
Aging Cell. 2020 Jan;19(1):e13057. doi: 10.1111/acel.13057. Epub 2019 Nov 6.


Cerebrovascular dysfunction and cognitive decline are highly prevalent in aging, but the mechanisms underlying these impairments are unclear. Cerebral blood flow decreases with aging and is one of the earliest events in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). We have previously shown that the mechanistic/mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) drives disease progression in mouse models of AD and in models of cognitive impairment associated with atherosclerosis, closely recapitulating vascular cognitive impairment. In the present studies, we sought to determine whether mTOR plays a role in cerebrovascular dysfunction and cognitive decline during normative aging in rats. Using behavioral tools and MRI-based functional imaging, together with biochemical and immunohistochemical approaches, we demonstrate that chronic mTOR attenuation with rapamycin ameliorates deficits in learning and memory, prevents neurovascular uncoupling, and restores cerebral perfusion in aged rats. Additionally, morphometric and biochemical analyses of hippocampus and cortex revealed that mTOR drives age-related declines in synaptic and vascular density during aging. These data indicate that in addition to mediating AD-like cognitive and cerebrovascular deficits in models of AD and atherosclerosis, mTOR drives cerebrovascular, neuronal, and cognitive deficits associated with normative aging. Thus, inhibitors of mTOR may have potential to treat age-related cerebrovascular dysfunction and cognitive decline. Since treatment of age-related cerebrovascular dysfunction in older adults is expected to prevent further deterioration of cerebral perfusion, recently identified as a biomarker for the very early (preclinical) stages of AD, mTOR attenuation may potentially block the initiation and progression of AD.

Age-dependent autophagy induction after injury promotes axon regeneration by limiting NOTCH.
Ko SH, Apple EC, Liu Z, Chen L
Autophagy. 2020 Jan 13:1-17. doi: 10.1080/15548627.2020.1713645. [Epub ahead of print]


Macroautophagy/autophagy is essential for maintaining cellular homeostasis through the degradation of organelles and proteins. It also has a prominent role in modulating aging. However, the role of autophagy in the neuronal response to axon injury and axon regeneration, particularly in the context of aging, remains largely unknown. Our candidate genetic screen for axon regeneration regulators has identified genes in the autophagy pathway. Using a reporter that monitors autophagosomes and autolysosomes, we were able to monitor the dynamics of autophagy during axon regeneration. In response to axon injury, there was a significant increase in the number of autophagic vesicles. Injury-triggered autophagy activation and axon regeneration capacity undergo an age-dependent decline, and autophagy-activating agents partially rescued these declines. We found that DLK-1 was both required and sufficient for injury-induced autophagy activation. Autophagic vesicles co-localized with the NOTCH4 ortholog, LIN-12 receptor, a previously identified inhibitor of axon regeneration. Epistasis analyses indicate that LIN-12 might be a target of autophagy in axon regeneration. Together, our data suggest that DLK-mediated injury signaling can activate autophagy, which might limit the level of LIN-12 and NOTCH proteins to promote axon regeneration. Our findings reveal that autophagy activation can promote axon regeneration in neurons that lack maximal regrowth capacity, providing a promising therapeutic strategy for axon injury.

Abbreviations: 3-MA: 3-methyladenine; ALs: autolysosomes; APs: autophagosomes; ARF-6: ADP-Ribosylation Factor related 6; ATG-9: AuTophaGy (yeast Atg homolog) 9; ATG9A: autophagy related 9A; BA1: bafilomycin A1; BEC-1: BEClin (human autophagy) homolog; BECN1: beclin 1; C. elegans: Caenorhabditis elegans; CEBP-1: C/EBP (CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein) homolog; CNS: central nervous system; DLK-1: Dual-Leucine zipper Kinase; DMSO: dimethyl sulfoxide; DRG: dorsal root ganglion; FOS: Fos proto-oncogene, AP-1 transcription factor subunit; GABA: gamma-aminobutyric acid; GFP: green fluorescent protein; HDA-3: Histone DeAcetylase; IP3: inositol trisphosphate; ITR-1: Inositol Triphosphate Receptor; KLF-2: Kruppel-Like Factor (zinc finger protein) 2; LGG-1: LC3, GABARAP and GATE-16 family; MAK-2: MAP kinase Activated protein Kinase; MAP kinase: mitogen-activated protein kinase; MAP1LC3/LC3: microtubule associated protein 1 light chain 3; MKK-4: mitogen activated protein kinase kinase 4; MTOR: mechanistic target of rapamycin kinase; NGM: nematode growth medium; NICD: Notch intracellular domain; NOTCH: notch receptor; PLM: posterior lateral microtubule; PMK-3: P38 Map kinase family; PNS: peripheral nervous system; SCG10: superior cervical ganglion protein 10; SCI: spinal cord injury; UNC-51: UNCoordinated 51; ULK1: unc-51 like autophagy activating kinase 1; wnd: wallenda.

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