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The α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (α7nAChR) has been a promising target for diseases affecting cognition and higher cortical functions; however, the effect observed in animal models failed to translate into human clinical trials identifying a translational gap. CHRFAM7A is a human-specific fusion gene with properties that enable incorporation into the α7nAChR and, being human specific, CHRFAM7A effect was not accounted for in preclinical studies. We hypothesized that CHRFAM7A may account for this translational gap and understanding its function may offer novel insights when exploring α7nAChR as a drug target. CHRFAM7A is present in different copy number variations (CNV) in the human genome with high frequency. To study the functional consequences of the presence of the CHRFAM7A, two induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) lines (0 copy and 1 copy direct) were developed. The 0 copy line was rescued with CHRFAM7A transfection to control for genetic heterogeneity. As readouts for genotype–phenotype correlation, α7nAChR synaptic transmission and amyloid beta 1–42 (Aβ 1–42 ) uptake were tested. Synaptic transmission in the presence of CHRFAM7A demonstrated that PNU-modulated desensitization of α7nAChR currents increased as a function of CHRFAM7A dosage. CHRFAM7A mitigated the dose response of Aβ 1–42 uptake suggesting a protective effect beyond physiological concentrations. Furthermore, in the presence of CHRFAM7A Aβ 1–42 uptake activated neuronal interleukin 1β (IL-1β) and tumor necrosis factor α (TNF-α) without activating the canonical inflammasome pathway. Lead optimization may identify more potent molecules when the screen has a model harboring CHRFAM7A. Incorporating pharmacogenetics into clinical trials may enhance signals in efficacy measures.
Ihnatovych, I., Nayak, T. K., Ouf, A., Sule, N., Birkaya, B., Chaves, L., … Szigeti, K. (2019). iPSC model of CHRFAM7A effect on α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor function in the human context. Translational Psychiatry, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-019-0375-z