Deep learning modeling of rare noncoding genetic variants in human motor neurons defines CCDC146 as a therapeutic target for ALS

medRxiv [Preprint]. 2024 Apr 1:2024.03.30.24305115. doi: 10.1101/2024.03.30.24305115.


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal and incurable neurodegenerative disease caused by the selective and progressive death of motor neurons (MNs). Understanding the genetic and molecular factors influencing ALS survival is crucial for disease management and therapeutics. In this study, we introduce a deep learning-powered genetic analysis framework to link rare noncoding genetic variants to ALS survival. Using data from human induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-derived MNs, this method prioritizes functional noncoding variants using deep learning, links cis-regulatory elements (CREs) to target genes using epigenomics data, and integrates these data through gene-level burden tests to identify survival-modifying variants, CREs, and genes. We apply this approach to analyze 6,715 ALS genomes, and pinpoint four novel rare noncoding variants associated with survival, including chr7:76,009,472:C>T linked to CCDC146. CRISPR-Cas9 editing of this variant increases CCDC146 expression in iPSC-derived MNs and exacerbates ALS-specific phenotypes, including TDP-43 mislocalization. Suppressing CCDC146 with an antisense oligonucleotide (ASO), showing no toxicity, completely rescues ALS-associated survival defects in neurons derived from sporadic ALS patients and from carriers of the ALS-associated G4C2-repeat expansion within C9ORF72. ASO targeting of CCDC146 may be a broadly effective therapeutic approach for ALS. Our framework provides a generic and powerful approach for studying noncoding genetics of complex human diseases.

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  • Preprint