To determine if Pikfyve inhibition rescues gain-of-function processes in vivo, we measured DPR levels in C9-BAC transgenic mice 58 with or without Apilimod treatment. Although it was not previously reported 58, we observed significantly higher levels of GR+ punctae in hippocampal neurons in C9-BAC mice than controls (Fig. 6j) using a previously-validated poly(GR) antibody 11. These data are consistent with findings in another published C9-BAC mouse model 14, suggesting that poly(GR) may be a common feature of C9-BAC mice. We also detected a low level of poly(GR) in neurons from control mice (Fig. 6j), which may be derived from other repeat regions or proteins with short poly(GR) sequences. Nevertheless, GR+ punctae levels were significantly higher in C9-BAC mouse neurons than in controls (Fig. 6j). Importantly, Apilimod treatment significantly reduced the number of GR+ punctae in hippocampal neurons in C9-BAC mice after 48 hrs (Fig. 6i, j). Therefore, small molecule inhibition of Pikfyve rescues both gain- and loss-of-function disease processes induced by C9ORF72 repeat expansion in vivo.
Reprogramming was performed in 96-well plates (8 × 103 cells/well) or 13mm plastic coverslips (3.2 × 104 cells/coverslip) that were sequentially coated with gelatin (0.1%, 1 hour) and laminin (2–4 hours) at room temperature. To enable efficient expression of the transgenic reprogramming factors, iPSCs were cultured in fibroblast medium (DMEM + 10% FBS) for at least 48 hours and either used directly for retroviral transduction or passaged before transduction for each experiment. 7 iMN factors or 5 iDA factors were added in 100–200 µl fibroblast medium per 96-well well with 5 μg/ml polybrene. For iMNs, cultures were transduced with lentivirus encoding the Hb9::RFP reporter 48 hours after transduction with transcription factor-encoding retroviruses. On day 5, primary mouse cortical glial cells from P1 ICR pups (male and female) were added to the transduced cultures in glia medium containing MEM (Life Technologies), 10% donor equine serum (HyClone), 20% glucose (Sigma-Aldrich), and 1% penicillin/streptomycin. On day 6, cultures were switched to N3 medium containing DMEM/F12 (Life Technologies), 2% FBS, 1% penicillin/streptomycin, N2 and B27 supplements (Life Technologies), 7.5 µM RepSox (Selleck), and 10 ng/ml each of GDNF, BDNF, and CNTF (R&D). The iMN and iDA neuron cultures were maintained in N3 medium, changed every other day, unless otherwise noted.
Consistent with PIKFYVE being the relevant target in the iMN survival assay, Apilimod increased C9ORF72 patient, but not control, iMN survival in either neurotrophic withdrawal conditions (Fig. 6d) or excess glutamate (n=4 patients, Supplementary Fig. 15f (n=3 controls, Supplementary Fig. 15g). Automated neuron tracking software independently verified Apilimod efficacy on C9ORF72 patient iMNs (Supplementary Fig. 15h). As further confirmation that PIKFYVE was the active target, ASO-mediated suppression of PIKFYVE also rescued C9ORF72 patient iMN survival (Fig. 6d and Supplementary Fig. 15i). In addition, we synthesized a structural analog of Apilimod with a reduced ability to inhibit PIKFYVE kinase activity in a biochemical assay using purified PIKFYVE protein (Fig. 6b and Supplementary Fig. 15j, 16). The reduced activity analog was significantly less effective at rescuing C9ORF72 patient iMN survival (Fig. 6e). Thus, small molecule inhibition of PIKFYVE can rescue patient motor neuron survival.
CRISPR/Cas9-mediated genome editing was performed in human iPSCs as previously described, using Cas9 nuclease62. To generate loss-of-function alleles of C9ORF72, control iPSCs were transfected with a sgRNA targeting exon 2 of the C9ORF72 gene. Colonies were picked on day 7 after transfection and genotyped by PCR amplification and sequencing of exon 2. Colonies containing a frameshift mutation were clonally purified on MEF feeders and the resulting clones were re-sequenced to verify the loss-of-function mutation in C9ORF72.
Consistent with previous studies 3,4,6–8, patient iMNs (n=5 patients) had reduced C9ORF72 expression compared to controls (n=3; Fig. 2a and Supplementary Fig. 4a, 5b). While previous studies have linked low C9ORF72 levels to changes in vesicle trafficking or autophagy 18,20,30–33, it remains unknown if loss of C9ORF72 protein directly contributes to degeneration. Thus, we re-expressed C9ORF72 (isoform A or B) in iMNs using a retroviral cassette (Supplementary Fig. 4b) and found that both isoforms rescued C9ORF72 patient iMN survival in response to glutamate treatment (n=3 patients Fig. 2b and Supplementary Fig. 4c). This effect was specific for C9ORF72 iMNs, as forced expression of C9ORF72 did not rescue SOD1A4V iMN survival (Fig. 2c), nor did it improve the survival of control iMNs (n=2 controls Fig. 2d and Supplementary Fig. 4d).
Immunostaining revealed that C9ORF72+/− and C9ORF72−/− iMNs contained elevated levels of NMDA (NR1) and AMPA (GLUR1) receptors on neurites and dendritic spines compared to control iMNs under basal conditions (Fig. 4a, c, d and Supplementary Fig. 5b and 10a, c-e, g, h, j, k). In addition, control iMNs treated with C9ORF72-specific ASOs displayed increased numbers of NMDA and AMPA receptors in their neurites (Supplementary Fig. 10l, m). C9ORF72 patient iMNs (n=3 patients) also showed elevated NR1 and GLUR1 levels compared to controls (n=3 controls), and forced expression of C9ORF72 isoform B reduced glutamate receptor levels in patient iMNs (n=3 patients) to that of controls (n=3 controls) (Fig. 4a-c and Supplementary Fig. 10a-h). mRNA levels of NR1 (GRIN1) and GLUR1 (GRIA1) were not elevated in flow-purified C9ORF72+/− iMNs, indicating that increased transcription could not explain the increased glutamate receptor levels (Supplementary Fig. 10n).