Alcohol-responsive genes identified in human iPSC-derived neural cultures
Alcohol use contributes to numerous diseases and injuries. The nervous system is affected by alcohol in diverse ways, though the molecular mechanisms of these effects are not clearly understood. Using human-induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), we developed a neural cell culture model to identify the mechanisms of alcohol's effects. iPSCs were generated from fibroblasts and differentiated into forebrain neural cells cultures that were treated with 50 mM alcohol or sham conditions (same media lacking alcohol) for 7 days. We analyzed gene expression using total RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) for 34 samples derived from 11 subjects and for 10 samples from 5 subjects in an independent experiment that had intermittent exposure to the same dose of alcohol. We also analyzed genetic effects on gene expression and conducted a weighted correlation network analysis. We found that differentiated neural cell cultures have the capacity to recapitulate gene regulatory effects previously observed in specific primary neural tissues and identified 226 genes that were differentially expressed (FDR < 0.1) after alcohol treatment. The effects on expression included decreases in INSIG1 and LDLR, two genes involved in cholesterol homeostasis. We also identified a module of 58 co-expressed genes that were uniformly decreased following alcohol exposure. The majority of these effects were supported in the independent alcohol exposure experiment. Enrichment analysis linked the alcohol responsive genes to cell cycle, notch signaling, and cholesterol biosynthesis pathways, which are disrupted in several neurological disorders. Our findings suggest that there is convergence between these disorders and the effects of alcohol exposure.
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