Rong Li receives NINDS funding to study aneuploidy’s impact on neuronal cell behavior

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has given Investigator Rong Li, PhD, a two-year award to probe the effect of having different numbers of chromosomes (aneuploidy) on brain cell development and function. These cells exhibit an unusual level of diversity in their chromosome numbers, Li says, which could contribute to the likes of learning, cognition, and other complex functions. Even within one neuronal cell type, variations at the individual level can be found. Li hypothesizes that aneuploidy, a form of genetic diversity, could be a source of the functional diversity of brain cells. Specific aneuploidy karyotypes, or chromosome numbers, could even prove advantageous under certain acute stressful conditions.

Using mouse neuronal stem cells, Li’s team will examine questions encompassing aneuploidy’s effect on neuronal development, from growth through differentiation; changes in gene expression as a result of altered chromosome dosage; and whether aneuploidy plays a role in how neurons respond to different kinds of stress.

“Aneuploidy is usually associated with disorders like cancer or congenital birth defects, but normal brain cells can also be aneuploid,” Li says.“It’s intriguing to think that aneuploidy may actually confer important beneficial effects during development and normal organ function, while its dysregulation could drive some diseases. It’s an idea we’ll explore with this project.”