Aging-Dependent Altered Transcriptional Programs Underlie Activity Impairments in Human C9orf72-Mutant Motor Neurons

Front Mol Neurosci. 2022 Jun 14;15:894230. doi: 10.3389/fnmol.2022.894230. eCollection 2022.


Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is an incurable neurodegenerative disease characterized by dysfunction and loss of upper and lower motor neurons (MN). Despite several studies identifying drastic alterations affecting synaptic composition and functionality in different experimental models, the specific contribution of impaired activity to the neurodegenerative processes observed in ALS-related MN remains controversial. In particular, contrasting lines of evidence have shown both hyper- as well as hypoexcitability as driving pathomechanisms characterizing this specific neuronal population. In this study, we combined high definition multielectrode array (HD-MEA) techniques with transcriptomic analysis to longitudinally monitor and untangle the activity-dependent alterations arising in human C9orf72-mutant MN. We found a time-dependent reduction of neuronal activity in ALSC9orf72 cultures occurring as synaptic contacts undergo maturation and matched by a significant loss of mutant MN upon aging. Notably, ALS-related neurons displayed reduced network synchronicity most pronounced at later stages of culture, suggesting synaptic imbalance. In concordance with the HD-MEA data, transcriptomic analysis revealed an early up-regulation of synaptic terms in ALSC9orf72 MN, whose expression was decreased in aged cultures. In addition, treatment of older mutant cells with Apamin, a K+ channel blocker previously shown to be neuroprotective in ALS, rescued the time-dependent loss of firing properties observed in ALSC9orf72 MN as well as the expression of maturity-related synaptic genes. All in all, this study broadens the understanding of how impaired synaptic activity contributes to MN degeneration in ALS by correlating electrophysiological alterations to aging-dependent transcriptional programs.

Keywords: ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis); hiPSC; motor neuron (MN); neuronal excitability; synapse; transcriptomic (RNA-Seq).