GFAP Mutations in Astrocytes Impair Oligodendrocyte Progenitor Proliferation and Myelination in an hiPSC Model of Alexander Disease

Cell Stem Cell. 2018 Aug 2;23(2):239-251.e6. doi: 10.1016/j.stem.2018.07.009.


Alexander disease (AxD) is a leukodystrophy that primarily affects astrocytes and is caused by mutations in the astrocytic filament gene GFAP. While astrocytes are thought to have important roles in controlling myelination, AxD animal models do not recapitulate critical myelination phenotypes and it is therefore not clear how AxD astrocytes contribute to leukodystrophy. Here, we show that AxD patient iPSC-derived astrocytes recapitulate key features of AxD pathology such as GFAP aggregation. Moreover, AxD astrocytes inhibit proliferation of human iPSC-derived oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs) in co-culture and reduce their myelination potential. CRISPR/Cas9-based correction of GFAP mutations reversed these phenotypes. Transcriptomic analyses of AxD astrocytes and postmortem brains identified CHI3L1 as a key mediator of AxD astrocyte-induced inhibition of OPC activity. Thus, this iPSC-based model of AxD not only recapitulates patient phenotypes not observed in animal models, but also reveals mechanisms underlying disease pathology and provides a platform for assessing therapeutic interventions.

Keywords: Alexander disease; CHI3L1; astrocytes; disease modeling; iPSCs; leukodystrophy; myelination; neurological disease; oligodendrocyte progenitor cells; oligodendrocytes.

MeSH terms

  • Alexander Disease / genetics*
  • Alexander Disease / metabolism
  • Alexander Disease / pathology*
  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / metabolism*
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein / genetics*
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein / metabolism
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / pathology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Models, Biological*
  • Mutation*
  • Oligodendrocyte Precursor Cells / metabolism
  • Oligodendrocyte Precursor Cells / pathology*


  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein
  • glial fibrillary astrocytic protein, mouse