Divergent transcriptional regulation of astrocyte reactivity across disorders

Nature. 2022 Jun;606(7914):557-564. doi: 10.1038/s41586-022-04739-5. Epub 2022 May 25.


Astrocytes respond to injury and disease in the central nervous system with reactive changes that influence the outcome of the disorder1-4. These changes include differentially expressed genes (DEGs) whose contextual diversity and regulation are poorly understood. Here we combined biological and informatic analyses, including RNA sequencing, protein detection, assay for transposase-accessible chromatin with high-throughput sequencing (ATAC-seq) and conditional gene deletion, to predict transcriptional regulators that differentially control more than 12,000 DEGs that are potentially associated with astrocyte reactivity across diverse central nervous system disorders in mice and humans. DEGs associated with astrocyte reactivity exhibited pronounced heterogeneity across disorders. Transcriptional regulators also exhibited disorder-specific differences, but a core group of 61 transcriptional regulators was identified as common across multiple disorders in both species. We show experimentally that DEG diversity is determined by combinatorial, context-specific interactions between transcriptional regulators. Notably, the same reactivity transcriptional regulators can regulate markedly different DEG cohorts in different disorders; changes in the access of transcriptional regulators to DNA-binding motifs differ markedly across disorders; and DEG changes can crucially require multiple reactivity transcriptional regulators. We show that, by modulating reactivity, transcriptional regulators can substantially alter disorder outcome, implicating them as therapeutic targets. We provide searchable resources of disorder-related reactive astrocyte DEGs and their predicted transcriptional regulators. Our findings show that transcriptional changes associated with astrocyte reactivity are highly heterogeneous and are customized from vast numbers of potential DEGs through context-specific combinatorial transcriptional-regulator interactions.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes* / metabolism
  • Central Nervous System Diseases* / genetics
  • Central Nervous System Diseases* / pathology
  • Chromatin / genetics
  • Chromatin / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Transcription Factors* / genetics
  • Transcription Factors* / metabolism
  • Transcription, Genetic*


  • Chromatin
  • Transcription Factors