Transcription factor-based gene therapy to treat glioblastoma through direct neuronal conversion

Xin Wang, Zifei Pei, Aasma Hossain, Yuting Bai, Gong Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Objective: Glioblastoma (GBM) is the most prevalent and aggressive adult primary cancer in the central nervous system. Therapeutic approaches for GBM treatment are under intense investigation, including the use of emerging immunotherapies. Here, we propose an alternative approach to treat GBM through reprogramming proliferative GBM cells into non-proliferative neurons. Methods: Retroviruses were used to target highly proliferative human GBM cells through overexpression of neural transcription factors. Immunostaining, electrophysiological recording, and bulk RNA-seq were performed to investigate the mechanisms underlying the neuronal conversion of human GBM cells. An in vivo intracranial xenograft mouse model was used to examine the neuronal conversion of human GBM cells. Results: We report efficient neuronal conversion from human GBM cells by overexpressing single neural transcription factor Neurogenic differentiation 1 (NeuroD1), Neurogenin-2 (Neurog2), or Achaete-scute homolog 1 (Ascl1). Subtype characterization showed that the majority of Neurog2- and NeuroD1-converted neurons were glutamatergic, while Ascl1 favored GABAergic neuron generation. The GBM cell-converted neurons not only showed pan-neuronal markers but also exhibited neuron-specific electrophysiological activities. Transcriptome analyses revealed that neuronal genes were activated in glioma cells after overexpression of neural transcription factors, and different signaling pathways were activated by different neural transcription factors. Importantly, the neuronal conversion of GBM cells was accompanied by significant inhibition of GBM cell proliferation in both in vitro and in vivo models. Conclusions: These results suggest that GBM cells can be reprogrammed into different subtypes of neurons, leading to a potential alternative approach to treat brain tumors using in vivo cell conversion technology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)860-874
Number of pages15
JournalCancer Biology and Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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