From autopsy donor to stem cell to neuron (and back again): cell line cohorts, IPSC proof-of-principle studies, and transcriptome comparisons of in vitro and in vivo neural cells
Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are an intriguing approach for neurological disease modeling, because neural lineage-specific cell types that retain the donors' complex genetics can be established in vitro. The statistical power of these iPSC-based models, however, is dependent on accurate diagnoses of the somatic cell donors; unfortunately, many neurodegenerative diseases are commonly misdiagnosed in live human subjects. Postmortem histopathological examination of a donor's brain, combined with premortem clinical criteria, is often the most robust approach to correctly classify an individual as a disease-specific case or unaffected control. We describe the establishment of primary dermal fibroblasts cells lines from 28 autopsy donors. These fibroblasts were used to examine the proliferative effects of establishment protocol, tissue amount, biopsy site, and donor age. As proof-of-principle, iPSCs were generated from fibroblasts from a 75-year-old male, whole body donor, defined as an unaffected neurological control by both clinical and histopathological criteria. To our knowledge, this is the first study describing autopsy donor-derived somatic cells being used for iPSC generation and subsequent neural differentiation. This unique approach also enables us to compare iPSC-derived cell cultures to endogenous tissues from the same donor. We utilized RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) to evaluate the transcriptional progression of in vitro-differentiated neural cells (over a timecourse of 0, 35, 70, 105 and 140 days), and compared this with donor-identical temporal lobe tissue. We observed in vitro progression towards the reference brain tissue, supported by (i) a significant increasing monotonic correlation between the days of our timecourse and the number of actively transcribed protein-coding genes and long intergenic non-coding RNAs (lincRNAs) (P < 0.05), consistent with the transcriptional complexity of the brain, (ii) an increase in CpG methylation after neural differentiation that resembled the epigenomic signature of the endogenous tissue, and (iii) a significant decreasing monotonic correlation between the days of our timecourse and the percent of in vitro to brain-tissue differences (P < 0.05) for tissue-specific protein-coding genes and all putative lincRNAs. These studies support the utility of autopsy donors' somatic cells for iPSC-based neurological disease models, and provide evidence that in vitro neural differentiation can result in physiologically progression.