This is a proposal to combine our three NINDS funded R01 projects into one larger R35 award, enabling us the time and flexibility to explore important biological questions relevant to human neurodegenerative diseases. Over the past eight years, my laboratory has used a combination of yeast and human genetics to define novel mechanisms of ALS, FTD, and Parkinson's disease. These experiments have led to the discovery of ataxin 2 intermediate-length polyglutamine expansions as a major genetic risk factor for ALS, the discovery of RNA lariat debranching enzyme as a powerful therapeutic target for TDP-43 proteinopathies, a new cellular pathway to explain how C9orf72 mutations could cause neurodegeneration and unexpected connections between seemingly distinct Parkinson's disease genes. In preliminary studies, we have found that genetic reduction of ataxin 2 in mouse profoundly extends survival of TDP-43 transgenic mice (>80% increase in lifespan). We propose studies to explore how ataxin 2 protects against TDP-43 proteinopathy, test ataxin 2 in other mouse models (e.g., C9orf72 and FUS/TLS), and to pursue antisense oligonucleotides targeting ataxin 2 in human cell models. While our previous work has stemmed from yeast models and genetic modifier screens, we now propose an ambitious advance ? performing genomewide modifier screens in human cells using CRISPR/Cas9 gene activation and inactivation libraries. We have already performed three pilot screens with C9orf72 models and have identified several potent modifiers, which we will validate in primary neurons and mouse models. I plan to take my lab into this new direction by performing CRISPR screens in human cells with TDP-43, FUS, alpha-synuclein, ataxin 2, and further C9orf72 models (e.g., RNA vs. DPRs). We are also interested in the process of RAN (repeat-associated non-ATG) translation, which has emerged as a powerful facet of several nucleotide-repeat diseases (including c9ALS/FTD). We propose experiments to discover the molecular mechanisms of RAN translation in order to design specific inhibitors and we have already identified at least two genes that seem to be required for RAN translation. Together, we present an ambitious research program aimed at defining novel mechanisms of human neurodegenerative diseases and then intensely working to translate those mechanisms to novel therapies to help treat these devastating conditions.

Public Health Relevance

ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases are devastating for individuals and families involved; there are no cures and few treatments. Our studies have revealed new insights into ALS contributors TDP-43 and FUS/TLS, defined a new genetic risk factor for ALS ? mutations in the ataxin 2 gene and discovered a cellular process to explain how mutations in the C9orf72 gene, the most common known cause of ALS, might contribute to neurodegeneration. The studies proposed will reveal insight into the role of dipeptide repeat proteins abnormally produced from the C9orf72 mutation and will pursue ataxin 2 as a therapeutic target in ALS, laying the foundation for the development of novel therapeutic approaches.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Unknown (R35)
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Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZNS1)
Program Officer
Gubitz, Amelie
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Stanford University
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Kramer, Nicholas J; Haney, Michael S; Morgens, David W et al. (2018) CRISPR-Cas9 screens in human cells and primary neurons identify modifiers of C9ORF72 dipeptide-repeat-protein toxicity. Nat Genet 50:603-612
Guo, Lin; Kim, Hong Joo; Wang, Hejia et al. (2018) Nuclear-Import Receptors Reverse Aberrant Phase Transitions of RNA-Binding Proteins with Prion-like Domains. Cell 173:677-692.e20
Chai, Noori; Gitler, Aaron D (2018) Yeast screen for modifiers of C9orf72 poly(glycine-arginine) dipeptide repeat toxicity. FEMS Yeast Res 18:
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Becker, Lindsay A; Huang, Brenda; Bieri, Gregor et al. (2017) Therapeutic reduction of ataxin-2 extends lifespan and reduces pathology in TDP-43 mice. Nature 544:367-371
Kramer, Nicholas J; Carlomagno, Yari; Zhang, Yong-Jie et al. (2016) Spt4 selectively regulates the expression of C9orf72 sense and antisense mutant transcripts. Science 353:708-12