To systematically study somatic variants arising during development in the human brain across a spectrum of neurodegenerative disorders. In this study we developed a pipeline to identify somatic variants from exome sequencing data in 1461 diseased and control human brains. Eighty-eight percent of the DNA samples were extracted from the cerebellum. Identified somatic variants were validated by targeted amplicon sequencing and/or PyroMark® Q24. We observed somatic coding variants present in >10% of sampled cells in at least 1% of brains. The mutational signature of the detected variants showed a predominance of C>T variants most consistent with arising from DNA mismatch repair, occurred frequently in genes that are highly expressed within the central nervous system, and with a minimum somatic mutation rate of 4.25 × 10 per base pair per individual. These findings provide proof-of-principle that deleterious somatic variants can affect sizeable brain regions in at least 1% of the population, and thus have the potential to contribute to the pathogenesis of common neurodegenerative diseases.
While DNA methylation is usually thought to be symmetrical across both alleles, there are some notable exceptions. Genomic imprinting and X chromosome inactivation are two well-studied sources of allele-specific methylation (ASM), but recent research has indicated a more complex pattern in which genotypic variation can be associated with allelically-skewed DNA methylation in cis. Given the known heterogeneity of DNA methylation across tissues and cell types we explored inter- and intra-individual variation in ASM across several regions of the human brain and whole blood from multiple individuals. Consistent with previous studies, we find widespread ASM with > 4% of the ∼220,000 loci interrogated showing evidence of allelically-skewed DNA methylation. We identify ASM flanking known imprinted regions, and show that ASM sites are enriched in DNase I hypersensitivity sites and often located in an extended genomic context of intermediate DNA methylation. We also detect examples of genotype-driven ASM, some of which are tissue-specific. These findings contribute to our understanding of the nature of differential DNA methylation across tissues and have important implications for genetic studies of complex disease. As a resource to the community, ASM patterns across each of the tissues studied are available in a searchable online database: http://epigenetics.essex.ac.uk/ASMBrainBlood.
The most widely utilized approaches for quantifying DNA methylation involve the treatment of genomic DNA with sodium bisulfite; however, this method cannot distinguish between 5-methylcytosine (5mC) and 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC). Previous studies have shown that 5hmC is enriched in the brain, although little is known about its genomic distribution and how it differs between anatomical regions and individuals. In this study, we combine oxidative bisulfite (oxBS) treatment with the Illumina Infinium 450K BeadArray to quantify genome-wide patterns of 5hmC in two distinct anatomical regions of the brain from multiple individuals. We identify 37,145 and 65,563 sites passing our threshold for detectable 5hmC in the prefrontal cortex and cerebellum respectively, with 23,445 loci common across both brain regions. Distinct patterns of 5hmC are identified in each brain region, with notable differences in the genomic location of the most hydroxymethylated loci between these brain regions. Tissue-specific patterns of 5hmC are subsequently confirmed in an independent set of prefrontal cortex and cerebellum samples. This study represents the first systematic analysis of 5hmC in the human brain, identifying tissue-specific hydroxymethylated positions and genomic regions characterized by inter-individual variation in DNA hydroxymethylation. This study demonstrates the utility of combining oxBS-treatment with the Illumina 450k methylation array to systematically quantify 5hmC across the genome and the potential utility of this approach for epigenomic studies of brain disorders.
Cytoplasmic TDP-43 inclusions are the pathological hallmark of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and tau-negative frontotemporal lobar dementia (FTLD). The G4C2 repeat mutation in C9ORF72 is the most common cause of ALS and FTLD in which, in addition to TDP-43 inclusions, five different di-peptide repeat (DPR) proteins have been identified. Di-peptide repeat proteins are translated in a non-canonical fashion from sense and antisense transcripts of the G4C2 repeat (GP, GA, GR, PA, PR). DPR inclusions are abundant in the cerebellum, as well as in the frontal and temporal lobes of ALS and FTLD patients and some are neurotoxic in a range of cellular and animal models, implying that DPR aggregation directly contributes to disease pathogenesis. Here we sought to quantify inclusions for each DPR and TDP-43 in ALS cases with and without the C9ORF72 mutation. We characterised the abundance of DPRs and their cellular location and compared this to cytoplasmic TDP-43 inclusions in order to explore the role of each inclusion in lower motor neuron degeneration. Spinal cord sections from ten cases positive for the C9ORF72 repeat expansion (ALS-C9+ve) and five cases that were not were probed by double immunofluorescence staining for individual DPRs and TDP-43. Inclusions immunoreactive for each of the DPRs were present in the spinal cord but they were rare or very rare in abundance (in descending order of frequency: GA, GP, GR, PA and PR). TDP-43 cytoplasmic inclusions were 45- to 750-fold more frequent than any DPR, and fewer than 4 % of DPR inclusions colocalized with TDP-43 inclusions. In motor neurons, a single cytoplasmic DPR inclusion was detected (0.1 %) in contrast to the 34 % of motor neurons that contained cytoplasmic TDP-43 inclusions. Furthermore, the number of TDP-43 inclusions in ALS cases with and without the C9ORF72 mutation was nearly identical. For all other neurodegenerative diseases, the neurotoxic protein aggregates are detected in the affected population of neurons. TDP-43 cytoplasmic aggregation is the dominant feature of ALS spinal cord pathology irrespective of C9ORF72 mutation status. The near absence of DPR inclusions in spinal cord motor neurons challenges their contribution to lower motor neuron degeneration in ALS-C9+ve cases.
We characterized DNA methylation quantitative trait loci (mQTLs) in a large collection (n = 166) of human fetal brain samples spanning 56-166 d post-conception, identifying >16,000 fetal brain mQTLs. Fetal brain mQTLs were primarily cis-acting, enriched in regulatory chromatin domains and transcription factor binding sites, and showed substantial overlap with genetic variants that were also associated with gene expression in the brain. Using tissue from three distinct regions of the adult brain (prefrontal cortex, striatum and cerebellum), we found that most fetal brain mQTLs were developmentally stable, although a subset was characterized by fetal-specific effects. Fetal brain mQTLs were enriched amongst risk loci identified in a recent large-scale genome-wide association study (GWAS) of schizophrenia, a severe psychiatric disorder with a hypothesized neurodevelopmental component. Finally, we found that mQTLs can be used to refine GWAS loci through the identification of discrete sites of variable fetal brain methylation associated with schizophrenia risk variants.
In Alzheimer's disease synapse loss precedes neuronal loss and correlates best with impaired memory formation. However, the mechanisms underlying synaptic degeneration in Alzheimer's disease are not well known. Further, it is unclear why synapses in AD cerebellum are protected from degeneration. Our recent work on the cyclin-dependent kinase 5 activator p25 suggested that expression of the multifunctional presynaptic molecule cysteine string protein alpha (CSPalpha) may be affected in Alzheimer's disease. Using western blots and immunohistochemistry, we found that CSPalpha expression is reduced in hippocampus and superior temporal gyrus in Alzheimer's disease. Reduced CSPalpha expression occurred before synaptophysin levels drop, suggesting that it contributes to the initial stages of synaptic degeneration. Surprisingly, we also found that CSPalpha expression is upregulated in cerebellum in Alzheimer's disease. This CSPalpha upregulation reached the same level as in young, healthy cerebellum. We tested the idea whether CSPalpha upregulation might be neuroprotective, using htau mice, a model of tauopathy that expresses the entire wild-type human tau gene in the absence of mouse tau. In htau mice CSPalpha expression was found to be elevated at times when neuronal loss did not occur. Our findings provide evidence that the presynaptic vesicle protein CSPalpha is a key player in synaptic degeneration and protection in Alzheimer's disease. In the forebrain CSPalpha expression is reduced early in the disease and this may contribute to the initial stages of synaptic degeneration. In the cerebellum CSPalpha expression is upregulated to young, healthy levels and this may protect cerebellar synapses and neurons to survive. Accordingly, CSPalpha upregulation also occurs in a mouse model of tauopathy only at time when neuronal loss does not take place.
Epigenetic processes play a key role in the central nervous system and altered levels of 5-methylcytosine have been associated with a number of neurologic phenotypes, including Alzheimer's disease (AD). Recently, 3 additional cytosine modifications have been identified (5-hydroxymethylcytosine, 5-formylcytosine, and 5-carboxylcytosine), which are thought to be intermediate steps in the demethylation of 5-methylcytosine to unmodified cytosine. Little is known about the frequency of these modifications in the human brain during health or disease. In this study, we used immunofluorescence to confirm the presence of each modification in human brain and investigate their cross-tissue abundance in AD patients and elderly control samples. We identify a significant AD-associated decrease in global 5-hydroxymethylcytosine in entorhinal cortex and cerebellum, and differences in 5-formylcytosine levels between brain regions. Our study further implicates a role for epigenetic alterations in AD.
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a chronic neurodegenerative disorder that is characterized by progressive neuropathology and cognitive decline. We performed a cross-tissue analysis of methylomic variation in AD using samples from four independent human post-mortem brain cohorts. We identified a differentially methylated region in the ankyrin 1 (ANK1) gene that was associated with neuropathology in the entorhinal cortex, a primary site of AD manifestation. This region was confirmed as being substantially hypermethylated in two other cortical regions (superior temporal gyrus and prefrontal cortex), but not in the cerebellum, a region largely protected from neurodegeneration in AD, or whole blood obtained pre-mortem from the same individuals. Neuropathology-associated ANK1 hypermethylation was subsequently confirmed in cortical samples from three independent brain cohorts. This study represents, to the best of our knowledge, the first epigenome-wide association study of AD employing a sequential replication design across multiple tissues and highlights the power of this approach for identifying methylomic variation associated with complex disease.
The hallmarks of sporadic Alzheimer's disease (AD) are extracellular amyloid deposits, intracellular neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs), and neuronal death. Hyperphosphorylation of tau is a key factor in the generation of NFTs. Mitogen activated protein kinase 1 (MAPK1) and protein kinase C beta (PRKCB) are thought to play a role in hyperphosphorylation, and PRCKB is thought to be involved in hypoxic stress and vascular dysfunction, and to trigger MAPK phosphorylation pathways. We performed single-cell analyses of neurons with different vulnerabilities to AD-related changes. Using quantitative PCR (qPCR), we measured the levels of MAPK1 and PRKCB transcript in CA1 (high vulnerability), CA2 pyramidal cells from the hippocampus, granule cells from the cerebellum (low vulnerability), and neurons from the brain stem (nucleus tractus spinalis nervi trigemini, characterized by early neurophysiological deficits) at progressive Braak stages compared to age-matched controls. The highly vulnerable CA1 pyramidal neurons were characterized by age- and disease-unrelated increases in PRCKB levels and by age- and disease-related increases in MAPK1 levels. In contrast, low PRKCB levels were found in CA2 pyramidal neurons, and MAPK1 levels were elevated in controls and intermediate AD stages. Both PRKCB and MAPK1 were increased in the late AD stages. MAPK1 and PRKCB levels were low in the brainstem and cerebellum. We propose that alterations in the expression of these two genes occur early in the pathogenesis of AD in a region-specific manner. In addition, multiple signal transduction pathways need to be affected to result in AD instead of physiological aging.
Schizophrenia is a severe neuropsychiatric disorder that is hypothesized to result from disturbances ine arly brain development. There is mounting evidence to support a role for developmentally regulated epigenetic variation in the molecular etiology of the disorder. Here, we describe a systematic study of schizophrenia-associated methylomic variation in the adult brain and its relationship to changes in DNA methylation across human fetal brain development. We profile methylomic variation in matched prefrontal cortex and cerebellum brain tissue from schizophrenia patients and controls, identifying disease-associated differential DNA methylation at multiple loci,particularly in the prefrontal cortex, and confirming these differences in an independent set of adult brain samples.Our data reveal discrete modules of co-methylated loci associated with schizophrenia that are enriched for genes involved in neurodevelopmental processes and include loci implicated by genetic studies of the disorder. Methylomic data from human fetal cortex samples, spanning 23 to 184 days post-conception, indicates that schizophrenia-associated differentially methylated positions are significantly enriched for loci at which DNA methylation is dynamically altered during human fetal brain development. Our data support the hypothesis that schizophrenia has an important early neurodevelopmental component, and suggest that epigenetic mechanisms may mediate these effects.
Klinefelter syndrome (KS) is the most common sex-chromosome aneuploidy in humans. Most affected individuals carry one extra X-chromosome (47,XXY karyotype) and the condition presents with a heterogeneous mix of reproductive, physical and psychiatric phenotypes. Although the mechanism(s) by which the supernumerary X-chromosome determines these features of KS are poorly understood, skewed X-chromosome inactivation (XCI), gene-dosage dysregulation, and the parental origin of the extra X-chromosome have all been implicated, suggesting an important role for epigenetic processes. We assessed genomic, methylomic and transcriptomic variation in matched prefrontal cortex and cerebellum samples identifying an individual with a 47,XXY karyotype who was comorbid for schizophrenia and had a notably reduced cerebellum mass compared with other individuals in the study (n = 49). We examined methylomic and transcriptomic differences in this individual relative to female and male samples with 46,XX or 46,XY karyotypes, respectively, and identified numerous locus-specific differences in DNA methylation and gene expression, with many differences being autosomal and tissue-specific. Furthermore, global DNA methylation, assessed via the interrogation of LINE-1 and Alu repetitive elements, was significantly altered in the 47,XXY patient in a tissue-specific manner with extreme hypomethylation detected in the prefrontal cortex and extreme hypermethylation in the cerebellum. This study provides the first detailed molecular characterization of the prefrontal cortex and cerebellum from an individual with a 47,XXY karyotype, identifying widespread tissue-specific epigenomic and transcriptomic alterations in the brain.
Oxidative stress is implicated in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases, including sporadic Alzheimer´s disease (AD). Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) deletions are markers of oxidative damage and increase with age. To unravel the impact of mtDNA damage on AD development, we analyzed mtDNA deletion levels in diverse neuronal cell types of four brain regions (hippocampal CA1 and CA2 regions, nucleus tractus spinalis nervi trigemini, and the cerebellum) that exhibit differing levels of vulnerability to AD related changes at progressive Braak stages compared with age-matched controls. Neurons from these four brain regions were collected using laser microdissection, and analyzed using quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR). Although, no correlation between mtDNA deletion levels and AD progression were found, the data revealed regional and cell type specific selective vulnerability towards mtDNA deletion levels. In conclusion, unexpected results were obtained as granule cells from the cerebellum and neurons from the nucleus tractus spinalis nervi trigemini of the brain stem displayed significant higher mtDNA deletion levels than pyramidal cells from hippocampal CA1 and CA2 region in age and AD.
In Alzheimer disease (AD), the microtubule-associated protein tau is highly phosphorylated and aggregates into characteristic neurofibrillary tangles. Prostate-derived sterile 20-like kinases (PSKs/TAOKs) 1 and 2, members of the sterile 20 family of kinases, have been shown to regulate microtubule stability and organization. Here we show that tau is a good substrate for PSK1 and PSK2 phosphorylation with mass spectrometric analysis of phosphorylated tau revealing more than 40 tau residues as targets of these kinases. Notably, phosphorylated residues include motifs located within the microtubule-binding repeat domain on tau (Ser-262, Ser-324, and Ser-356), sites that are known to regulate tau-microtubule interactions. PSK catalytic activity is enhanced in the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus, areas of the brain that are most susceptible to Alzheimer pathology, in comparison with the cerebellum, which is relatively spared. Activated PSK is associated with neurofibrillary tangles, dystrophic neurites surrounding neuritic plaques, neuropil threads, and granulovacuolar degeneration bodies in AD brain. By contrast, activated PSKs and phosphorylated tau are rarely detectible in immunostained control human brain. Our results demonstrate that tau is a substrate for PSK and suggest that this family of kinases could contribute to the development of AD pathology and dementia.
A massive intronic GGGGCC hexanucleotide repeat expansion in C9ORF72 has recently been identified as the most common cause of familial and sporadic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD). We have previously demonstrated that C9ORF72 mutant cases have a specific pathological profile with abundant p62-positive, TDP-43-negative cytoplasmic and intranuclear inclusions within cerebellar granular cells of the cerebellum and pyramidal cells of the hippocampus in addition to classical TDP-43 pathology. Here, we report mixed tau and TDP-43 pathology in a woman with behavioural variant FTLD who had the C9ORF72 mutation, and the p.Ala239Thr variant in MAPT (microtubule associated protein tau) gene not previously associated with tau pathology. Two of her brothers, who carried the C9ORF72 mutation, but not the MAPT variant, developed classical ALS without symptomatic cognitive changes. The dominant neuropathology in this woman with FTLD was a tauopathy with Pick's disease-like features. TDP-43 labelling was mainly confined to Pick bodies, but p62-positive, TDP-43-negative inclusions, characteristic of C9ORF72 mutations, were present in the cerebellum and hippocampus. Mixed pathology to this degree is unusual. One might speculate that the presence of the C9ORF72 mutation might influence tau deposition in what was previously thought to be a "benign" variant in MAPT in addition to the aggregation of TDP-43 and other as yet unidentified proteins decorated with ubiquitin and p62.
IGF2 is a paternally expressed imprinted gene with an important role in development and brain function. Allele-specific expression of IGF2 is regulated by DNA methylation at three differentially methylated regions (DMRs) spanning the IGF2/H19 domain on human 11p15.5. We have comprehensively assessed DNA methylation and genotype across the three DMRs and the H19 promoter using tissue from a unique collection of well-characterized and neuropathologically-dissected post-mortem human cerebellum samples (n = 106) and frontal cortex samples (n = 51). We show that DNA methylation, particularly in the vicinity of a key CTCF-binding site (CTCF3) in the imprinting control region (ICR) upstream of H19, is strongly correlated with cerebellum weight. DNA methylation at CTCF3 uniquely explains ~25% of the variance in cerebellum weight. In addition, we report that genetic variation in this ICR is strongly associated with cerebellum weight in a parental-origin specific manner, with maternally-inherited alleles associated with a 16% increase in cerebellum weight compared with paternally-inherited alleles. Given the link between structural brain abnormalities and neuropsychiatric disease, an understanding of the epigenetic and parent-of-origin specific genetic factors associated with brain morphology provides important clues about the etiology of disorders such as schizophrenia and autism.
Neuronal cytoplasmic inclusions (NCIs) containing phosphorylated TDP-43 (p-TDP-43) are the pathological hallmarks of motor neuron disease/amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (MND/ALS) and FTLD-TDP. The vast majority of NCIs in the brain and spinal cord also label for ubiquitin and p62, however, we have previously reported a subset of TDP-43 proteinopathy patients who have unusual and abundant p62 positive, TDP-43 negative inclusions in the cerebellum and hippocampus. Here we sought to determine whether these cases carry the hexanucleotide repeat expansion in C9orf72. Repeat primer PCR was performed in 36 MND/ALS, FTLD-MND/ALS and FTLD-TDP cases and four controls. Fourteen individuals with the repeat expansion were detected. In all the 14 expansion mutation cases there were abundant globular and star-shaped p62 positive NCIs in the pyramidal cell layer of the hippocampus, the vast majority of which were p-TDP-43 negative. p62 positive NCIs were also abundant in the cerebellar granular and molecular layers in all cases and in Purkinje cells in 12/14 cases but they were only positive for p-TDP-43 in the granular layer of one case. Abundant p62 positive, p-TDP-43 negative neuronal intranuclear inclusions (NIIs) were seen in 12/14 cases in the pyramidal cell layer of the hippocampus and in 6/14 cases in the cerebellar granular layer. This unusual combination of inclusions appears pathognomonic for C9orf72 repeat expansion positive MND/ALS and FTLD-TDP which we believe form a pathologically distinct subset of TDP-43 proteinopathies. Our results suggest that proteins other than TDP-43 are binding p62 and aggregating in response to the mutation which may play a mechanistic role in neurodegeneration.
The transactive response DNA binding protein (TDP-43) proteinopathies describe a clinico-pathological spectrum of multi-system neurodegeneration that spans motor neuron disease/amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (MND/ALS) and frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD). We have identified four male patients who presented with the clinical features of a pure MND/ALS phenotype (without dementia) but who had distinctive cortical and cerebellar pathology that was different from other TDP-43 proteinopathies. All patients initially presented with weakness of limbs and respiratory muscles and had a family history of MND/ALS. None had clinically identified cognitive decline or dementia during life and they died between 11 and 32 months after symptom onset. Neuropathological investigation revealed lower motor neuron involvement with TDP-43-positive inclusions typical of MND/ALS. In contrast, the cerebral pathology was atypical, with abundant star-shaped p62-immunoreactive neuronal cytoplasmic inclusions in the cerebral cortex, basal ganglia and hippocampus, while TDP-43-positive inclusions were sparse. This pattern was also seen in the cerebellum where p62-positive, TDP-43-negative inclusions were frequent in granular cells. Western blots of cortical lysates, in contrast to those of sporadic MND/ALS and FTLD-TDP, showed high p62 levels and low TDP-43 levels with no high molecular weight smearing. MND/ALS-associated SOD1, FUS and TARDBP gene mutations were excluded; however, further investigations revealed that all four of the cases did show a repeat expansion of C9orf72, the recently reported cause of chromosome 9-linked MND/ALS and FTLD. We conclude that these chromosome 9-linked MND/ALS cases represent a pathological sub-group with abundant p62 pathology in the cerebral cortex, hippocampus and cerebellum but with no significant associated cognitive decline.
Frontotemporal lobar degeneration with TDP-43-positive inclusions (FTLD-TDP), frontotemporal lobar degeneration with motor neuron disease/amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (FTLD-MND/ALS) and MND/ALS are thought to represent a clinicopathological spectrum of TDP-43 proteinopathies. The cerebellum has been little studied in these conditions, probably because of the lack of cerebellar signs in most cases. We examined p62 immunohistochemistry on cerebellar sections from 43 TDP-43 proteinopathies (including cases of FTLD-TDP, FTLD-MND/ALS and MND/ALS) together with 72 cases of other neurodegenerative diseases, seven controls and three other disease conditions. In 11 of the TDP-43 proteinopathies (26%) there were numerous p62-positive cerebellar inclusions, predominantly within the granular layer, but also the molecular and Purkinje cell layer. Furthermore, only one of the remaining 82 cases (a familial tauopathy) showed similar p62 positivity. Immunohistochemistry for ubiquitin was positive in the granular layer inclusions. The immunohistochemistry for phosphorylation-independent TDP-43, hyperphosphorylated tau, α-synuclein, fusion sarcoma protein (FUS), and neurofilament was negative. In only one case (a case of FTLD-TDP) were the inclusions positive for phosphorylation-dependent TDP43 (p-TDP-43). Those TDP-43 proteinopathy cases that showed the cerebellar inclusions also tended to display other common features, such as a notable excess of p62 pathology when compared to TDP-43 pathology, especially within the pyramidal neurones of the hippocampus but also in some cases within the neocortex. The results suggest that p62-positive inclusions within the cerebellum are seen in a proportion of cases across the range of the TDP-43 proteinopathy spectrum and they appear to be relatively specific for this group of diseases. The question as to whether these cerebellar-positive cases represent a distinct subgroup remains to be answered. Furthermore, the relationship of the p62 positivity in the cerebellum to the underlying pathological processes awaits to be established.
Genetic association studies provide evidence for a substantial polygenic component to schizophrenia, although the neurobiological mechanisms underlying the disorder remain largely undefined. Building on recent studies supporting a role for developmentally regulated epigenetic variation in the molecular aetiology of schizophrenia, this study aimed to identify epigenetic variation associated with both a diagnosis of schizophrenia and elevated polygenic risk burden for the disease across multiple brain regions. Genome-wide DNA methylation was quantified in 262 post-mortem brain samples, representing tissue from four brain regions (prefrontal cortex, striatum, hippocampus and cerebellum) from 41 schizophrenia patients and 47 controls. We identified multiple disease-associated and polygenic risk score-associated differentially methylated positions and regions, which are not enriched in genomic regions identified in genetic studies of schizophrenia and do not reflect direct genetic effects on DNA methylation. Our study represents the first analysis of epigenetic variation associated with schizophrenia across multiple brain regions and highlights the utility of polygenic risk scores for identifying molecular pathways associated with aetiological variation in complex disease.