Transcriptional consequences of mutations in genes associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Restricted 220923_Thesis_CDotter_Final.pdf 20.46 MB

Thesis | PhD | Published | English
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ISTA Thesis
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by behavioral symptoms such as problems in social communication and interaction, as well as repetitive, restricted behaviors and interests. These disorders show a high degree of heritability and hundreds of risk genes have been identifed using high throughput sequencing technologies. This genetic heterogeneity has hampered eforts in understanding the pathogenesis of ASD but at the same time given rise to the concept of convergent mechanisms. Previous studies have identifed that risk genes for ASD broadly converge onto specifc functional categories with transcriptional regulation being one of the biggest groups. In this thesis, I focus on this subgroup of genes and investigate the gene regulatory consequences of some of them in the context of neurodevelopment. First, we showed that mutations in the ASD and intellectual disability risk gene Setd5 lead to perturbations of gene regulatory programs in early cell fate specifcation. In addition, adult animals display abnormal learning behavior which is mirrored at the transcriptional level by altered activity dependent regulation of postsynaptic gene expression. Lastly, we link the regulatory function of Setd5 to its interaction with the Paf1 and the NCoR complex. Second, by modeling the heterozygous loss of the top ASD gene CHD8 in human cerebral organoids we demonstrate profound changes in the developmental trajectories of both inhibitory and excitatory neurons using single cell RNA-sequencing. While the former were generated earlier in CHD8+/- organoids, the generation of the latter was shifted to later times in favor of a prolonged progenitor expansion phase and ultimately increased organoid size. Finally, by modeling heterozygous mutations for four ASD associated chromatin modifers, ASH1L, KDM6B, KMT5B, and SETD5 in human cortical spheroids we show evidence of regulatory convergence across three of those genes. We observe a shift from dorsal cortical excitatory neuron fates towards partially ventralized cell types resembling cells from the lateral ganglionic eminence. As this project is still ongoing at the time of writing, future experiments will aim at elucidating the regulatory mechanisms underlying this shift with the aim of linking these three ASD risk genes through biological convergence.
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