Master Regulators and Cofactors of Human Neuronal Cell Fate Specification Identified by CRISPR Gene Activation Screens

Cell Rep. 2020 Dec 1;33(9):108460. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2020.108460.


Technologies to reprogram cell-type specification have revolutionized the fields of regenerative medicine and disease modeling. Currently, the selection of fate-determining factors for cell reprogramming applications is typically a laborious and low-throughput process. Therefore, we use high-throughput pooled CRISPR activation (CRISPRa) screens to systematically map human neuronal cell fate regulators. We utilize deactivated Cas9 (dCas9)-based gene activation to target 1,496 putative transcription factors (TFs) in the human genome. Using a reporter of neuronal commitment, we profile the neurogenic activity of these factors in human pluripotent stem cells (PSCs), leading to a curated set of pro-neuronal factors. Activation of pairs of TFs reveals neuronal cofactors, including E2F7, RUNX3, and LHX8, that improve conversion efficiency, subtype specificity, and maturation of neuronal cell types. Finally, using multiplexed gene regulation with orthogonal CRISPR systems, we demonstrate improved neuronal differentiation with concurrent activation and repression of target genes, underscoring the power of CRISPR-based gene regulation for programming complex cellular phenotypes.

Keywords: CRISPR; CRISPR activation; CRISPR screening; cell fate; gene regulation; neuronal differentiation; transcription factor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural