Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Cell Biology



First Thesis Advisor

Jeanne Lawrence


Down Syndrome, Gene Therapy, Translational Epigenetics, Trisomy Silencing, XIST


Down Syndrome (DS), the most common aneuploidy seen in live-borns, is caused by trisomy for chromosome 21. DS imposes high risks for multiple health issues involving various systems of the body. The genetic complexity of trisomy 21 and natural variation between all individuals has impeded understanding of the specific cell pathologies and pathways involved. In addition, chromosomal disorders have been considered outside the hopeful progress in gene therapies for single-gene disorders. Here we test the feasibility of correcting imbalanced expression of genes across an extra chromosome by expression of a single gene, XIST, the key player in X chromosome inactivation. We targeted a large XIST transgene into one chromosome 21 in DS iPS cells, and demonstrated XIST RNA spreads and induces heterochromatin and gene silencing across that autosome in cis.

By making XIST inducible, this allows direct comparison of effects of trisomy 21 expression on cell function and phenotypes. Importantly, XIST-induction during in vitro hematopoiesis normalized excess production of differentiated blood cell types (megakaryocytes and erythrocytes), known to confer high risk for myeloproliferative disorder and leukemia. In contrast, trisomy silencing enhances production of iPS and neural stem cells, consistent with DS clinical features. Further analysis revealed that trisomy 21 initially impacts the endothelial hematopoietic transition (EHT) to generate excess CD43+ progenitors, and also increases their colony forming potential. Furthermore, results provide evidence for a key role for enhanced IGF signaling, involving over-expression of non-chromosome 21 genes controlled by trisomy 21. Finally, experiments to examine trisomy effects on angiogenesis showed no effect on production of endothelial cells, but it remains unclear whether trisomic cells may differ in ability to form vessels.

Collectively, this thesis demonstrates proof-of-principle for XIST-mediated “trisomy silencing”. Phenotypic improvement of hematopoietic and neural stem cells demonstrates the value for research into DS pathogenesis, but also provides a foundation of potential for future development of “chromosome therapy” for DS patients.



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