Theses Doctoral

Deciphering gene dysregulation in disease through population and functional genomics

Dhindsa, Ryan Singh

Genetic discoveries have highlighted the role of gene expression dysregulation in both rare and common diseases. In particular, a large number of chromatin modifiers, transcription factors, and RNA-binding proteins have been implicated in neurodevelopmental diseases, including epilepsy, autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, and intellectual disability. Elucidating the disease mechanisms for these genes is challenging, as the encoded proteins often regulate thousands of downstream targets.

In Chapter 2 of this thesis, we describe the use of single-cell RNA-sequencing (scRNA-seq) to characterize a mouse model of HNRNPU-mediated epileptic encephalopathy. This gene encodes a ubiquitously expressed RNA-binding protein, yet we demonstrate that reduction in its expression leads to cell type-specific transcriptomic defects. Specifically, excitatory neurons in a region of the hippocampus called the subiculum carried the strongest burden of differential gene expression. In Chapter 3, we use scRNA-seq to identify convergent molecular and transcriptomic features in four different organoid models of a cortical malformation called periventricular nodular heterotopia. In Chapter 4, we build on these successes to propose a high-throughput drug screening program for neurodevelopmental genes that encode regulators of gene expression. This approach—termed transcriptomic reversal—attempts to identify compounds that reverse disease-causing gene expression changes back to a normal state. Finally, in Chapter 5, we focus on the role of synonymous codon usage in human disease. Codon usage can affect mRNA stability, yet its role in human physiology has been historically overlooked. We use population genetics approaches to demonstrate that natural selection shapes codon content in the human genome, and we find that dosage sensitive genes are intolerant to reductions in codon optimality. We propose that synonymous mutations could modify the penetrance of Mendelian diseases through altering the expression of disease-causing mutations.

In summary, the work in this thesis broadly focuses on the role of gene expression dysregulation in disease. We provide novel frameworks for interrogating disease gene expression signatures, prioritizing mutations that may alter expression, and identifying targeted therapeutics.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Studies
Thesis Advisors
Goldstein, David B.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 24, 2020