Theses Doctoral

Modeling the Transcriptional Landscape of in vitro Neuronal Differentiation and ALS Disease

Kandror, Elena

The spinal cord is a complex structure responsible for processing sensory inputs and motor outputs. As such, the developmental and spatial organization of cells is highly organized. Diseases affecting the spinal cord, such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), result in the disruption of normal cellular function and intercellular interactions, culminating in neurodegeneration. Deciphering disease mechanisms requires a fundamental understanding of both the normal development of cells within the spinal cord as well as the homeostatic environment that allows for proper function. Biological processes such as cellular differentiation, maturation, and disease progression proceed in an asynchronous and cell type-specific manner. Until recently, bulk measurements of a mixed population of cells have been key in understanding these events. However, bulk measurements can obscure the molecular mechanisms involved in branched or coinciding processes, such as differential transcriptional responses occurring between subpopulations of cells. Measurements in individual cells have largely been restricted to 4 color immunofluorescence assays, which provide a solid but limited view of molecular-level changes. Recently, developments in single cell RNA-sequencing (scRNA-Seq) have provided an avenue of accurately profiling the RNA expression levels of thousands of genes concomitantly in an individual cell. With this increased experimental precision comes the ability to explore pathways that are differentially activated in subpopulations of cells, and to determine the transcriptional programs that underlie complex biological processes. In this dissertation, I will first review the key features of scRNA-Seq and downstream analysis. I will then discuss two applications of scRNA-seq: 1) the in vitro differentiation of mouse embryonic stem cells into motor neurons, and 2) the effect of the ALS-associated gene SOD1G93A expression on cultured motor neurons in a cellular model of ALS.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Studies
Thesis Advisors
Maniatis, Tom
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 3, 2019