Radiogenomics of <em>C9orf72</em> expansion carriers reveals global transposable element de-repression and enables prediction of thalamic atrophy and clinical impairment

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

J Neurosci. 2022 Nov 28:JN-RM-1448-22. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1448-22.2022. Online ahead of print.


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 de-repression 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 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-seq dataset to determine the relationships between 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 de-repression 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 frontotemporal dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (C9-FTD/ALS). The clinical, neuroimaging, and pathological features of C9-FTD/ALS are well-characterized, whereas the intersections of transcriptomic dysregulation and brain structure remain largely unexplored. Herein, we utilized 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.

PMID:36446586 | DOI:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1448-22.2022


Luke W Bonham
Ethan G Geier
Daniel W Sirkis
Josiah K Leong
Eliana Marisa Ramos
Qing Wang
Anna Karydas
Suzee E Lee
Virginia E Sturm
Russell P Sawyer
Adit Friedberg
Justin K Ichida
Aaron D Gitler
Leo Sugrue
Michael Cordingley
Walter Bee
Eckard Weber
Joel Kramer
Katherine P Rankin
Howard J Rosen
Adam L Boxer
William W Seeley
John Ravits
Bruce L Miller
Jennifer S Yokoyama