RNA-seq analysis reveals significant transcriptome changes in huntingtin-null human neuroblastoma cells

Johanna Bensalel, Hongyuan Xu, Michael L. Lu, Enrico Capobianco, Jianning Wei

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Huntingtin (Htt) protein is the product of the gene mutated in Huntington’s disease (HD), a fatal, autosomal dominant, neurodegenerative disorder. Normal Htt is essential for early embryogenesis and the development of the central nervous system. However, the role of Htt in adult tissues is less defined. Following the recent promising clinical trial in which both normal and mutant Htt mRNA were knocked down in HD patients, there is an urgent need to fully understand the molecular consequences of knocking out/down Htt in adult tissues. Htt has been identified as an important transcriptional regulator. Unbiased investigations of transcriptome changes with RNA-sequencing (RNA-Seq) have been done in multiple cell types in HD, further confirming that transcriptional dysregulation is a central pathogenic mechanism in HD. However, there is lack of direct understanding of the transcriptional regulation by normal Htt. Methods: To investigate the transcriptional role of normal Htt, we first knocked out Htt in the human neuroblastoma SH-SY5Y cell line using the CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)-Cas9 (CRISPR-associated protein 9) gene editing approach. We then performed RNA-seq analysis on Htt-null and wild type SH-SY5Y cells to probe the global transcriptome changes induced by Htt deletion. Results: In general, Htt has a widespread effect on gene transcription. Functional analysis of the differentially expressed genes (DEGs) using various bioinformatic tools revealed irregularities in pathways related to cell communication and signaling, and more specifically those related to neuron development, neurotransmission and synaptic signaling. We further examined the transcription factors that may regulate these DEGs. Consistent with the disrupted pathways associated with cellular development, we showed that Htt-null cells exhibited slower cell proliferation than wild type cells. We finally validated some of the top DEGS with quantitative RT-PCR. Conclusions: The widespread transcriptome changes in Htt-null cells could be directly caused by the loss of Htt-mediated transcriptional regulation or due to the secondary consequences of disruption in the gene regulatory network. Our study therefore provides valuable information about key genes associated with Htt-mediated transcription and improves our understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying the cellular functions of normal and mutant Htt.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number176
JournalBMC Medical Genomics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • CRISPR-Cas9
  • Huntingtin
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Knock out
  • RNA-seq
  • Transcriptome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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