Systems Genetic Analyses Highlight a TGFβ-FOXO3 Dependent Striatal Astrocyte Network Conserved across Species and Associated with Stress, Sleep, and Huntington’s Disease

Joseph R. Scarpa, Peng Jiang, Bojan Losic, Ben Readhead, Vance D. Gao, Joel T. Dudley, Martha H. Vitaterna, Fred W. Turek, Andrew Kasarskis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Recent systems-based analyses have demonstrated that sleep and stress traits emerge from shared genetic and transcriptional networks, and clinical work has elucidated the emergence of sleep dysfunction and stress susceptibility as early symptoms of Huntington's disease. Understanding the biological bases of these early non-motor symptoms may reveal therapeutic targets that prevent disease onset or slow disease progression, but the molecular mechanisms underlying this complex clinical presentation remain largely unknown. In the present work, we specifically examine the relationship between these psychiatric traits and Huntington's disease (HD) by identifying striatal transcriptional networks shared by HD, stress, and sleep phenotypes. First, we utilize a systems-based approach to examine a large publicly available human transcriptomic dataset for HD (GSE3790 from GEO) in a novel way. We use weighted gene coexpression network analysis and differential connectivity analyses to identify transcriptional networks dysregulated in HD, and we use an unbiased ranking scheme that leverages both gene- and network-level information to identify a novel astrocyte-specific network as most relevant to HD caudate. We validate this result in an independent HD cohort. Next, we computationally predict FOXO3 as a regulator of this network, and use multiple publicly available in vitro and in vivo experimental datasets to validate that this astrocyte HD network is downstream of a signaling pathway important in adult neurogenesis (TGFβ-FOXO3). We also map this HD-relevant caudate subnetwork to striatal transcriptional networks in a large (n = 100) chronically stressed (B6xA/J)F2 mouse population that has been extensively phenotyped (328 stress- and sleep-related measurements), and we show that this striatal astrocyte network is correlated to sleep and stress traits, many of which are known to be altered in HD cohorts. We identify causal regulators of this network through Bayesian network analysis, and we highlight their relevance to motor, mood, and sleep traits through multiple in silico approaches, including an examination of their protein binding partners. Finally, we show that these causal regulators may be therapeutically viable for HD because their downstream network was partially modulated by deep brain stimulation of the subthalamic nucleus, a medical intervention thought to confer some therapeutic benefit to HD patients. In conclusion, we show that an astrocyte transcriptional network is primarily associated to HD in the caudate and provide evidence for its relationship to molecular mechanisms of neural stem cell homeostasis. Furthermore, we present a unified systems-based framework for identifying gene networks that are associated with complex non-motor traits that manifest in the earliest phases of HD. By analyzing and integrating multiple independent datasets, we identify a point of molecular convergence between sleep, stress, and HD that reflects their phenotypic comorbidity and reveals a molecular pathway involved in HD progression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1006137
JournalPLoS genetics
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Cancer Research


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