Theses Doctoral

Epitranscriptomic Alterations in Alzheimer’s Disease: The Role of MicroRNA Methylation in the Regulation of Tau Proteostasis

Kim, Yoon Anna

The imbalance in the levels of certain microRNAs (miRNAs) in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) brains promotes alterations in tau proteostasis and neurodegeneration. However, potential mechanisms governing how specific miRNAs are dysregulated in AD brains are still under investigation. Epitranscriptomics is a mode of post-transcriptional regulation that can control brain functions during development and adulthood. NOP2/Sun RNA methyltransferase 2 (NSun2) is one of the few known brain-enriched methyltransferases that has the ability to modify mammalian non-coding RNAs. Importantly, autosomal-recessive loss of function mutations in NSun2 have been associated with neurological abnormalities in humans. Here, we report that dysregulation of NSun2 can induce alterations in tau phosphorylation by modulating the levels of miR-125b, a main player in tau pathology. We were able to provide supporting evidence by utilizing several model systems such as Drosophila, human induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) derived neurons, rat primary neuronal cultures and mice. Our Western blot analysis not only shows that NSun2 is expressed in adult human neurons in the hippocampal formation and prefrontal cortex, but also NSun2 protein expression levels are downregulated in post-mortem brain tissues from AD patients. Remarkably, we also found decreased NSun2 protein levels in AD mice and human cellular models.

To prove these observed alterations were unique to AD, we further evaluated brain tissues from other tauopathies. Strikingly, NSun2 protein levels were similar between tauopathy cases and controls indicating that dysregulation of NSun2 might be unique to AD cases. Further, we investigated the pathological role of NSun2 by utilizing a well-established Drosophila melanogaster model of tau-induced toxicity. We found that a reduction of NSun2 protein levels exacerbated tau toxicity while overexpression of NSun2 partially abrogated toxicity proving bidirectionality. We used a lentiviral system to knock down NSun2 expression in iPSC derived neuronal cultures. Western blot analysis and immunofluorescence staining showed a significant change in tau phosphorylation levels. To investigate what could be triggering observed alterations in NSun2 levels, we performed experiments in rat primary hippocampal neurons. We found that the treatment with oligomeric amyloid-beta (AβO) caused a decrease in NSun2 protein levels and at the same time, increased tau phosphorylation levels in primary hippocampal neurons. Lastly, we performed RNA immunoprecipitation coupled with qPCR and histological analysis using NSun2 conditional knockout (KO) mice and observed that NSun2 deficiency promoted aberrant levels of m6A methylated miR-125b and tau hyperphosphorylation. Altogether, our study demonstrates that neuronal NSun2 deficiency in AD promotes neurodegeneration by altering tau phosphorylation and tau toxicity through an epitranscriptomic regulatory mechanism and highlights a potential novel therapeutic target.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Pathobiology and Molecular Medicine
Thesis Advisors
Santa-Maria Perez, Ismael
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 15, 2021