Cognitive Neuroscience


The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience




Formal publication: January 2023

Authors: Bonham LW, Geier EG, Sirkis DW, Leong JK, Ramos EM, Wang Q, Karydas A, Lee SE, Sturm VE, Sawyer RP, Friedberg A, Ichida JK, Gitler AD, Sugrue L, Cordingley M, Bee W, Weber E, Kramer JH, Rankin KP, Rosen HJ, Boxer AL, Seeley WW, Ravits J, Miller BL, Yokoyama JS.

Abstract: Hexanucleotide repeat expansion (HRE) within C9orf72 is the most common genetic cause of frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Thalamic atrophy occurs in both sporadic and familial FTD but is thought to distinctly affect HRE carriers. Separately, emerging evidence suggests widespread derepression of transposable elements (TEs) in the brain in several neurodegenerative diseases, including C9orf72 HRE-mediated FTD (C9-FTD). Whether TE activation can be measured in peripheral blood and how the reduction in peripheral C9orf72 expression observed in HRE carriers relates to atrophy and clinical impairment remain unknown. We used FreeSurfer software to assess the effects of C9orf72 HRE and clinical diagnosis (n = 78 individuals, male and female) on atrophy of thalamic nuclei. We also generated a novel, human, whole-blood RNA-sequencing dataset to determine the relationships among peripheral C9orf72 expression, TE activation, thalamic atrophy, and clinical severity (n = 114 individuals, male and female). We confirmed global thalamic atrophy and reduced C9orf72 expression in HRE carriers. Moreover, we identified disproportionate atrophy of the right mediodorsal lateral nucleus in HRE carriers and showed that C9orf72 expression associated with clinical severity, independent of thalamic atrophy. Strikingly, we found global peripheral activation of TEs, including the human endogenous LINE-1 element L1HS L1HS levels were associated with atrophy of multiple pulvinar nuclei, a thalamic region implicated in C9-FTD. Integration of peripheral transcriptomic and neuroimaging data from human HRE carriers revealed atrophy of specific thalamic nuclei, demonstrated that C9orf72 levels relate to clinical severity, and identified marked derepression of TEs, including L1HS, which predicted atrophy of FTD-relevant thalamic nuclei. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Pathogenic repeat expansion in C9orf72 is the most frequent genetic cause of FTD and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS; C9-FTD/ALS). The clinical, neuroimaging, and pathologic features of C9-FTD/ALS are well characterized, whereas the intersections of transcriptomic dysregulation and brain structure remain largely unexplored. Herein, we used a novel radiogenomic approach to examine the relationship between peripheral blood transcriptomics and thalamic atrophy, a neuroimaging feature disproportionately impacted in C9-FTD/ALS. We confirmed reduction of C9orf72 in blood and found broad dysregulation of transposable elements-genetic elements typically repressed in the human genome-in symptomatic C9orf72 expansion carriers, which associated with atrophy of thalamic nuclei relevant to FTD. C9orf72 expression was also associated with clinical severity, suggesting that peripheral C9orf72 levels capture disease-relevant information.