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Integrative functional genomic analysis of human brain development and neuropsychiatric risks

Science

The brain is responsible for cognition, behavior, and much of what makes us uniquely human. The development of the brain is a highly complex process, and this process is reliant on precise regulation of molecular and cellular events grounded in the spatiotemporal regulation of the transcriptome. Disruption of this regulation can lead to neuropsychiatric disorders. The regulatory, epigenomic, and transcriptomic features of the human brain have not been comprehensively compiled across time, regions, or cell types. Understanding the etiology of neuropsychiatric disorders requires knowledge not just of endpoint differences between healthy and diseased brains but also of the developmental and cellular contexts in which these differences arise. Moreover, an emerging body of research indicates that many aspects of the development and physiology of the human brain are not well recapitulated in model organisms, and therefore it is necessary that neuropsychiatric disorders be understood in the broader context of the developing and adult human brain. Here we describe the generation and analysis of a variety of genomic data modalities at the tissue and single-cell levels, including transcriptome, DNA methylation, and histone modifications across multiple brain regions ranging in age from embryonic development through adulthood. We observed a widespread transcriptomic transition beginning during late fetal development and consisting of sharply decreased regional differences. This reduction coincided with increases in the transcriptional signatures of mature neurons and the expression of genes associated with dendrite development, synapse development, and neuronal activity, all of which were temporally synchronous across neocortical areas, as well as myelination and oligodendrocytes, which were asynchronous. Moreover, genes including MEF2C, SATB2, and TCF4, with genetic associations to multiple brain-related traits and disorders, converged in a small number of modules exhibiting spatial or spatiotemporal specificity. We generated and applied our dataset to document transcriptomic and epigenetic changes across human development and then related those changes to major neuropsychiatric disorders. These data allowed us to identify genes, cell types, gene coexpression modules, and spatiotemporal loci where disease risk might converge, demonstrating the utility of the dataset and providing new insights into human development and disease.



Spatiotemporal transcriptomic divergence across human and macaque brain development

Science

Improved understanding of how the developing human nervous system differs from that of closely related nonhuman primates is fundamental for teasing out human-specific aspects of behavior, cognition, and disorders. The shared and unique functional properties of the human nervous system are rooted in the complex transcriptional programs governing the development of distinct cell types, neural circuits, and regions. However, the precise molecular mechanisms underlying shared and unique features of the developing human nervous system have been only minimally characterized. We generated complementary tissue-level and single-cell transcriptomic datasets from up to 16 brain regions covering prenatal and postnatal development in humans and rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta), a closely related species and the most commonly studied nonhuman primate. We created and applied TranscriptomeAge and TempShift algorithms to age-match developing specimens between the species and to more rigorously ...


Assembling human brain organoids

Science

Brain development is a remarkable self-organization process in which cells proliferate, differentiate, migrate, and wire to form functional neural circuits. In humans, this process takes place over a long fetal phase and continues into the postnatal period, but it is largely inaccessible for direct, functional investigation at a cellular level. Therefore, the features that make the human central nervous system unique and the sequence of molecular and cellular events underlying brain disorders remain largely uncharted. Human pluripotent stem (hPS) cells, including those obtained by reprogramming somatic cells, have the ability to self-organize and differentiate when grown in three-dimensional (3D) aggregates rather than in direct contact with a flat plastic surface (1). Such 3D neural cultures, also known as organoids and organ spheroids, recapitulate many aspects of human brain development in vitro (1) and have the potential to accelerate progress in human neurobiology.


An environment-dependent transcriptional network specifies human microglia identity

Science

We used RNA sequencing, chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing, and assay for transposase-accessible chromatin sequencing to characterize the transcriptomes and epigenetic landscapes of human microglia isolated from surgically resected brain tissue in excess of that needed for diagnosis. Although some effects of underlying disease cannot be excluded, the overall pattern of gene expression was markedly consistent. Microglia-enriched genes were found to overlap significantly with genes exhibiting altered expression in neurodegenerative diseases and psychiatric disorders and with genes associated with a wide spectrum of disease-specific risk alleles. Human microglia gene expression was well correlated with mouse microglia gene expression, but numerous species-specific differences were also observed that included genes linked to human disease. More than half of the genes associated with noncoding GWAS risk alleles for Alzheimer's disease are preferentially expressed in microglia.