This proposal investigates the development of a potential epigenetic therapy for PWS. Year 1 of this project showed the researchers were able to reactivate several maternal silenced PWS genes. In year 2, they will determine the epigenetic requirements for a uniform and stable reactivation of the maternal PWS region in human cells using transient delivery of our epigenome editing tools.
Dr. Theresa Strong, Director of Research Programs, shares details on this project in this short video clip.
This proposal investigates the development of a potential epigenetic therapy for PWS. Humans have two sets of chromosomes, one from the mother (maternal) and one from the father (paternal). Typically, genes are expressed from both sets of chromosomes. However, due to an epigenetic phenomenon called genetic imprinting, several genes in the PWS region are only expressed on the paternal chromosome while they are silenced on the maternal chromosome. PWS patients have lost the active paternal PWS region but still have the inactive but otherwise healthy genes on the maternal chromosome that would be fully functional, and reconstitute the natural function and regulation of the paternal locus, if reactivated. Our objective is to specifically reactivate maternal gene expression in the PWS region in a stable manner using a recently developed technology called epigenome editing. This technology, which we have used successfully to regulate gene expression and epigenetic states in vitro and in vivo in many other contexts, provides the unprecedented opportunity to selectively turn genes ON or OFF using specially designed proteins. Our strategy presents a therapeutic path that offers unique advantages over conventional pharmaceutical drugs or recent gene editing approaches, as it is a targeted, highly-specific approach with precise control over gene expression that does not result in changes to the DNA sequence, eliminating the risk of permanent off-target mutations. As a proof-of-concept, our data obtained in Year 1 of this project show that we are indeed able to reactivate several silenced PWS genes (including SNRPN, PWAR6, and the snoRNAs SNORD116, SNORD109, and SNORD108) on the maternal chromosome in PWS human cells using our epigenome editing tools. Moreover, we also show that transient delivery of a dCas9-activator can program durable reactivation of the maternal SNRPN gene in ~20% of PWS human cells, and therefore demonstrates the feasibility of our approach. This proposal is a direct follow up of the data obtained in Year 1. We propose two independent but complementary aims that will enable to determine the epigenetic requirements for a uniform and stable reactivation of the maternal PWS region in human cells using transient delivery of our epigenome editing tools. In Aim 1, we will characterize the effects of our dCas9-activators on PWS gene activation in PWS induced neurons, the cell type that has direct pathophysiological relevance to PWS. In Aim 2, we will determine a framework for a uniform stable reactivation of maternal PWS genes with transient expression our dCas9-activator. Our proposed study is strengthened by a host of data sets, tools, and reagents that we recently generated that uniquely position us to achieve the ultimate goals of this proposal. Development of this technology into a therapy for PWS could be truly transformative for patients. If successful, this approach will lay the groundwork towards the therapeutic development of a one-time epigenetic therapy establishing stable reactivation of PWS genes for the lifetime of the patient.
Nahid Iglesias, PhD
Nahid Iglesias, PhD