Transcriptome analysis of small molecule–mediated astrocyte-to-neuron reprogramming

Ning Xin Ma, Jiu Chao Yin, Gong Chen

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28 Scopus citations


Chemical reprogramming of astrocytes into neurons represents a promising approach to regenerate new neurons for brain repair, but the underlying mechanisms driving this trans-differentiation process are not well understood. We have recently identified four small molecules – CHIR99021, DAPT, LDN193189, and SB431542 – that can efficiently reprogram cultured human fetal astrocytes into functional neurons. Here we employ the next generation of RNA-sequencing technology to investigate the transcriptome changes during the astrocyte-to-neuron (AtN) conversion process. We found that the four small molecules can rapidly activate the hedgehog signaling pathway while downregulating many glial genes such as FN1 and MYL9 within 24 h of treatment. Chemical reprogramming is mediated by several waves of differential gene expression, including upregulation of hedgehog, Wnt/β-catenin, and Notch signaling pathways, together with downregulation of TGF-β and JAK/STAT signaling pathways. Our gene network analyses reveal many well-connected hub genes such as repulsive guidance molecule A (RGMA), neuronatin (NNAT), neurogenin 2 (NEUROG2), NPTX2, MOXD1, JAG1, and GAP43, which may coordinate the chemical reprogramming process. Together, these findings provide critical insights into the molecular cascades triggered by a combination of small molecules that eventually leads to chemical conversion of astrocytes into neurons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number82
JournalFrontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology
Issue numberMay
StatePublished - 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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