Genome-wide CRISPRi/a screens in human neurons link lysosomal failure to ferroptosis

Nat Neurosci. 2021 Jul;24(7):1020-1034. doi: 10.1038/s41593-021-00862-0. Epub 2021 May 24.


Single-cell transcriptomics provide a systematic map of gene expression in different human cell types. The next challenge is to systematically understand cell-type-specific gene function. The integration of CRISPR-based functional genomics and stem cell technology enables the scalable interrogation of gene function in differentiated human cells. Here we present the first genome-wide CRISPR interference and CRISPR activation screens in human neurons. We uncover pathways controlling neuronal response to chronic oxidative stress, which is implicated in neurodegenerative diseases. Unexpectedly, knockdown of the lysosomal protein prosaposin strongly sensitizes neurons, but not other cell types, to oxidative stress by triggering the formation of lipofuscin, a hallmark of aging, which traps iron, generating reactive oxygen species and triggering ferroptosis. We also determine transcriptomic changes in neurons after perturbation of genes linked to neurodegenerative diseases. To enable the systematic comparison of gene function across different human cell types, we establish a data commons named CRISPRbrain.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats
  • Ferroptosis / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods*
  • Humans
  • Lysosomes / metabolism*
  • Lysosomes / pathology
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Neurons / pathology
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology
  • Saposins / metabolism*


  • PSAP protein, human
  • Saposins