Genetic and genome wide association studies (GWAS) have identified numerous genes and risk alleles that indicate both cell autonomous and non-cell autonomous mechanisms contributing to Alzheimer's Disease (AD). In addition to genes expressed by neurons, the observation that several risk alleles, such as TREM2, are exclusively or mainly expressed in microglia, has led to increased efforts to understand the roles of microglia in AD pathology. Importantly, the majority of risk variants identified by GWAS reside in non-coding regions of the genome, implying that some act to alter gene expression. Our recent comparisons of neurons derived by trans-differentiation of fibroblasts from AD subjects and age matched controls demonstrate marked changes in gene expression in AD neurons. In parallel, our recent ability to globally analyze the transcriptomes and enhancer atlases of human microglia demonstrated marked individual variation in expression of immune genes associated with AD risk alleles. Collectively, these findings suggest widespread alterations in the expression of genes that may contribute to susceptibility of AD independent of the generation of ?amyloid. Enhancers have emerged as major points of integration of intra and extra-cellular signals associated with development, homeostasis and disease, resulting in context-specific transcriptional outputs. By defining a cell's enhancer landscape, it is possible to both infer the environmental signals the cell is receiving and explain its consequent program of gene expression. In this application, we propose to define the `Enhancer codes of Alzheimer's Disease' to qualitatively advance our understanding of cell autonomous and non-cell autonomous factors that drive pathogenic programs of gene expression.
In Specific Aim 1, we will define transcriptomes and enhancer landscapes of nuclei isolated from neurons and microglia derived from sporadic and genetic AD brains and brains from age and sex-matched controls. These studies will enable an unprecedented analysis of the regulatory landscapes of neurons and microglia in the intact aging and AD brain.
In Specific Aim 2, we will validate and explain AD-specific enhancer codes of neurons by direct reprogramming of fibroblasts from sporadic and genetic AD patients and age/sex-matched control subjects.
In Specific aim 3, we will define cell autonomous AD-specific enhancer codes of microglia obtained by reprograming of iPSCs and monocytes from control and AD subjects. These studies will build upon our recent characterization of human microglia transcriptomes and enhancer landscapes that demonstrate striking levels of individual variation in the expression of genes linked to risk of AD.
In Specific Aim 4, we will define consequences of neuron-microglia interactions on the transcriptomes and epigenomes of each cell type. By leveraging existing resources and data sets, these studies will define transcriptional networks that are dysregulated in neurons and microglia in AD, provide proof of concept for defining the mechanistic basis of inherited forms of AD, and nominate additional pathways for further investigation.
Despite intensive efforts to understand amyloid and other pathological processes in AD, current interventions have only modest effects in modifying clinical symptoms and none have shown effects on disease progression. This application proposes a qualitatively different approach to delineate pathogenic programs of gene expression in AD and their mechanistic basis by systematic analysis of AD-specific enhancer landscapes in neurons and microglia.