Directed differentiation of functional corticospinal-like neurons from endogenous SOX6+/NG2+ cortical progenitors

Kavli Affiliate: Seth Shipman Eiman Azim

| Authors: Abdulkadir Ozkan, Hari K Padmanabhan, Seth Shipman, Eiman Azim, Priyanka Kumar, Cameron Sadegh, Nazli Basak and Jeffrey D Macklis

| Summary:

Corticospinal neurons (CSN) centrally degenerate in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), along with spinal motor neurons, and loss of voluntary motor function in spinal cord injury (SCI) results from damage to CSN axons. For functional regeneration of specifically affected neuronal circuitry in vivo, or for optimally informative disease modeling and/or therapeutic screening in vitro, it is important to reproduce the type or subtype of neurons involved. No such appropriate in vitro models exist with which to investigate CSN selective vulnerability and degeneration in ALS, or to investigate routes to regeneration of CSN circuitry for ALS or SCI, critically limiting the relevance of much research. Here, we identify that the HMG-domain transcription factor Sox6 is expressed by a subset of NG2+ endogenous cortical progenitors in postnatal and adult cortex, and that Sox6 suppresses a latent neurogenic program by repressing inappropriate proneural Neurog2 expression by progenitors. We FACS-purify these genetically accessible progenitors from postnatal mouse cortex and establish a pure culture system to investigate their potential for directed differentiation into CSN. We then employ a multi-component construct with complementary and differentiation-sharpening transcriptional controls (activating Neurog2, Fezf2, while antagonizing Olig2 with VP16:Olig2). We generate corticospinal-like neurons from SOX6+/NG2+ cortical progenitors, and find that these neurons differentiate with remarkable fidelity compared with corticospinal neurons in vivo. They possess appropriate morphological, molecular, transcriptomic, and electrophysiological characteristics, without characteristics of the alternate intracortical or other neuronal subtypes. We identify that these critical specifics of differentiation are not reproduced by commonly employed Neurog2-driven differentiation. Neurons induced by Neurog2 instead exhibit aberrant multi-axon morphology and express molecular hallmarks of alternate cortical projection subtypes, often in mixed form. Together, this developmentally-based directed differentiation from genetically accessible cortical progenitors sets a precedent and foundation for in vitro mechanistic and therapeutic disease modeling, and toward regenerative neuronal repopulation and circuit repair.

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