Aicardi-Goutières syndrome-associated mutation at ADAR1 gene locus activates innate immune response in mouse brain

Xinfeng Guo, Clayton A. Wiley, Richard A. Steinman, Yi Sheng, Beihong Ji, Junmei Wang, Liyong Zhang, Tony Wang, Mazen Zenatai, Timothy R. Billiar, Qingde Wang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Background: Aicardi-Goutières syndrome (AGS) is a severe infant or juvenile-onset autoimmune disease characterized by inflammatory encephalopathy with an elevated type 1 interferon-stimulated gene (ISG) expression signature in the brain. Mutations in seven different protein-coding genes, all linked to DNA/RNA metabolism or sensing, have been identified in AGS patients, but none of them has been demonstrated to activate the IFN pathway in the brain of an animal. The molecular mechanism of inflammatory encephalopathy in AGS has not been well defined. Adenosine Deaminase Acting on RNA 1 (ADAR1) is one of the AGS-associated genes. It carries out A-to-I RNA editing that converts adenosine to inosine at double-stranded RNA regions. Whether an AGS-associated mutation in ADAR1 activates the IFN pathway and causes autoimmune pathogenesis in the brain is yet to be determined. Methods: Mutations in the ADAR1 gene found in AGS patients were introduced into the mouse genome via CRISPR/Cas9 technology. Molecular activities of the specific p.K999N mutation were investigated by measuring the RNA editing levels in brain mRNA substrates of ADAR1 through RNA sequencing analysis. IFN pathway activation in the brain was assessed by measuring ISG expression at the mRNA and protein level through real-time RT-PCR and Luminex assays, respectively. The locations in the brain and neural cell types that express ISGs were determined by RNA in situ hybridization (ISH). Potential AGS-related brain morphologic changes were assessed with immunohistological analysis. Von Kossa and Luxol Fast Blue staining was performed on brain tissue to assess calcification and myelin, respectively. Results: Mice bearing the ADAR1 p.K999N were viable though smaller than wild type sibs. RNA sequencing analysis of neuron-specific RNA substrates revealed altered RNA editing activities of the mutant ADAR1 protein. Mutant mice exhibited dramatically elevated levels of multiple ISGs within the brain. RNA ISH of brain sections showed selective activation of ISG expression in neurons and microglia in a patchy pattern. ISG-15 mRNA was upregulated in ADAR1 mutant brain neurons whereas CXCL10 mRNA was elevated in adjacent astroglia. No calcification or gliosis was detected in the mutant brain. Conclusions: We demonstrated that an AGS-associated mutation in ADAR1, specifically the p.K999N mutation, activates the IFN pathway in the mouse brain. The ADAR1 p.K999N mutant mouse replicates aspects of the brain interferonopathy of AGS. Neurons and microglia express different ISGs. Basal ganglia calcification and leukodystrophy seen in AGS patients were not observed in K999N mutant mice, indicating that development of the full clinical phenotype may need an additional stimulus besides AGS mutations. This mutant mouse presents a robust tool for the investigation of AGS and neuroinflammatory diseases including the modeling of potential “second hits” that enable severe phenotypes of clinically variable diseases.

Original languageEnglish
Article number169
JournalJournal of Neuroinflammation
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Adenosine Deaminase Acting on RNA 1 (ADAR1)
  • Aicardi-Goutières syndrome (AGS)
  • Animal model
  • In situ hybridization
  • Interferonopathy
  • RNA editing


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