Publications by authors named "Nikki M McCormack"

5 Publications

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Survival motor neuron deficiency slows myoblast fusion through reduced myomaker and myomixer expression.

J Cachexia Sarcopenia Muscle 2021 Jun 11. Epub 2021 Jun 11.

Department of Anatomy, Physiology, and Genetics, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine, Bethesda, MD, USA.

Background: Spinal muscular atrophy is an inherited neurodegenerative disease caused by insufficient levels of the survival motor neuron (SMN) protein. Recently approved treatments aimed at increasing SMN protein levels have dramatically improved patient survival and have altered the disease landscape. While restoring SMN levels slows motor neuron loss, many patients continue to have smaller muscles and do not achieve normal motor milestones. While timing of treatment is important, it remains unclear why SMN restoration is insufficient to fully restore muscle size and function. We and others have shown that SMN-deficient muscle precursor cells fail to efficiently fuse into myotubes. However, the role of SMN in myoblast fusion is not known.

Methods: In this study, we show that SMN-deficient myoblasts readily fuse with wild-type myoblasts, demonstrating fusion competency. Conditioned media from wild type differentiating myoblasts do not rescue the fusion deficit of SMN-deficient cells, suggesting that compromised fusion may primarily be a result of altered membrane dynamics at the cell surface. Transcriptome profiling of skeletal muscle from SMN-deficient mice revealed altered expression of cell surface fusion molecules. Finally, using cell and mouse models, we investigate if myoblast fusion can be rescued in SMN-deficient myoblast and improve the muscle pathology in SMA mice.

Results: We found reduced expression of the muscle fusion proteins myomaker (P = 0.0060) and myomixer (P = 0.0051) in the muscle of SMA mice. Suppressing SMN expression in C2C12 myoblast cells reduces expression of myomaker (35% reduction; P < 0.0001) and myomixer, also known as myomerger and minion, (30% reduction; P < 0.0001) and restoring SMN levels only partially restores myomaker and myomixer expression. Ectopic expression of myomixer improves myofibre number (55% increase; P = 0.0006) and motor function (35% decrease in righting time; P = 0.0089) in SMA model mice and enhances motor function (82% decrease in righting time; P < 0.0001) and extends survival (28% increase; P < 0.01) when administered in combination with an antisense oligonucleotide that increases SMN protein levels.

Conclusions: Here, we identified reduced expression of muscle fusion proteins as a key factor in the fusion deficits of SMN-deficient myoblasts. This discovery provides a novel target to improve SMA muscle pathology and motor function, which in combination with SMN increasing therapy could enhance clinical outcomes for SMA patients.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jcsm.12740DOI Listing
June 2021

A high-throughput genome-wide RNAi screen identifies modifiers of survival motor neuron protein.

Cell Rep 2021 May;35(6):109125

Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Genetics, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine, Bethesda, MD 20814, USA. Electronic address:

Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a debilitating neurological disorder marked by degeneration of spinal motor neurons and muscle atrophy. SMA results from mutations in survival motor neuron 1 (SMN1), leading to deficiency of survival motor neuron (SMN) protein. Current therapies increase SMN protein and improve patient survival but have variable improvements in motor function, making it necessary to identify complementary strategies to further improve disease outcomes. Here, we perform a genome-wide RNAi screen using a luciferase-based activity reporter and identify genes involved in regulating SMN gene expression, RNA processing, and protein stability. We show that reduced expression of Transcription Export complex components increases SMN levels through the regulation of nuclear/cytoplasmic RNA transport. We also show that the E3 ligase, Neurl2, works cooperatively with Mib1 to ubiquitinate and promote SMN degradation. Together, our screen uncovers pathways through which SMN expression is regulated, potentially revealing additional strategies to treat SMA.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2021.109125DOI Listing
May 2021

SMN-deficiency disrupts SERCA2 expression and intracellular Ca signaling in cardiomyocytes from SMA mice and patient-derived iPSCs.

Skelet Muscle 2020 05 8;10(1):16. Epub 2020 May 8.

Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Genetics, F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine, Bethesda, MD, USA.

Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by loss of alpha motor neurons and skeletal muscle atrophy. The disease is caused by mutations of the SMN1 gene that result in reduced functional expression of survival motor neuron (SMN) protein. SMN is ubiquitously expressed, and there have been reports of cardiovascular dysfunction in the most severe SMA patients and animal models of the disease. In this study, we directly assessed the function of cardiomyocytes isolated from a severe SMA model mouse and cardiomyocytes generated from patient-derived IPSCs. Consistent with impaired cardiovascular function at the very early disease stages in mice, heart failure markers such as brain natriuretic peptide were significantly elevated. Functionally, cardiomyocyte relaxation kinetics were markedly slowed and the T for Ca sequestration increased to 146 ± 4 ms in SMN-deficient cardiomyocytes from 126 ± 4 ms in wild type cells. Reducing SMN levels in cardiomyocytes from control patient IPSCs slowed calcium reuptake similar to SMA patent-derived cardiac cells. Importantly, restoring SMN increased calcium reuptake rate. Taken together, these results indicate that SMN deficiency impairs cardiomyocyte function at least partially through intracellular Ca cycling dysregulation.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s13395-020-00232-7DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7206821PMC
May 2020

Neonatal mouse cortical but not isogenic human astrocyte feeder layers enhance the functional maturation of induced pluripotent stem cell-derived neurons in culture.

Glia 2018 04 12;66(4):725-748. Epub 2017 Dec 12.

Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland.

Human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell-derived neurons and astrocytes are attractive cellular tools for nervous system disease modeling and drug screening. Optimal utilization of these tools requires differentiation protocols that efficiently generate functional cell phenotypes in vitro. As nervous system function is dependent on networked neuronal activity involving both neuronal and astrocytic synaptic functions, we examined astrocyte effects on the functional maturation of neurons from human iPS cell-derived neural stem cells (NSCs). We first demonstrate human iPS cell-derived NSCs can be rapidly differentiated in culture to either neurons or astrocytes with characteristic cellular, molecular and physiological features. Although differentiated neurons were capable of firing multiple action potentials (APs), few cells developed spontaneous electrical activity in culture. We show spontaneous electrical activity was significantly increased by neuronal differentiation of human NSCs on feeder layers of neonatal mouse cortical astrocytes. In contrast, co-culture on feeder layers of isogenic human iPS cell-derived astrocytes had no positive effect on spontaneous neuronal activity. Spontaneous electrical activity was dependent on glutamate receptor-channel function and occurred without changes in I , I , V , and AP properties of iPS cell-derived neurons. These data demonstrate co-culture with neonatal mouse cortical astrocytes but not human isogenic iPS cell-derived astrocytes stimulates glutamatergic synaptic transmission between iPS cell-derived neurons in culture. We present RNA-sequencing data for an immature, fetal-like status of our human iPS cell-derived astrocytes as one possible explanation for their failure to enhance synaptic activity in our co-culture system.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/glia.23278DOI Listing
April 2018

The role of the immunoproteasome in interferon-γ-mediated microglial activation.

Sci Rep 2017 08 24;7(1):9365. Epub 2017 Aug 24.

Neuroscience Program, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine, Bethesda, MD, USA.

Microglia regulate the brain microenvironment by sensing damage and neutralizing potentially harmful insults. Disruption of central nervous system (CNS) homeostasis results in transition of microglia to a reactive state characterized by morphological changes and production of cytokines to prevent further damage to CNS tissue. Immunoproteasome levels are elevated in activated microglia in models of stroke, infection and traumatic brain injury, though the exact role of the immunoproteasome in neuropathology remains poorly defined. Using gene expression analysis and native gel electrophoresis we characterize the expression and assembly of the immunoproteasome in microglia following interferon-gamma exposure. Transcriptome analysis suggests that the immunoproteasome regulates multiple features of microglial activation including nitric oxide production and phagocytosis. We show that inhibiting the immunoproteasome attenuates expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines and suppresses interferon-gamma-dependent priming of microglia. These results imply that targeting immunoproteasome function following CNS injury may attenuate select microglial activity to improve the pathophysiology of neurodegenerative conditions or the progress of inflammation-mediated secondary injury following neurotrauma.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-09715-yDOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5571106PMC
August 2017