Ph.D. Human Genetics, Yale University
Joubert syndrome (JS) is a recessive ciliopathy in which all affected individuals have congenital cerebellar vermis hypoplasia. Here, we report that CEP120, a JS-associated protein involved in centriole biogenesis and cilia assembly, regulates timely neuronal differentiation and the departure of granule neuron progenitors (GNPs) from their germinal zone during cerebellar development. Our results show that depletion of Cep120 perturbs GNP cell cycle progression, resulting in a delay of cell cycle exit in vivo. To dissect the potential mechanism, we investigated the association between CEP120 interactome and the JS database and identified KIAA0753 (a JS-associated protein) as a CEP120-interacting protein. Surprisingly, we found that CEP120 recruits KIAA0753 to centrioles, and that loss of this interaction induces accumulation of GNPs in the germinal zone and impairs neuronal differentiation. Importantly, the replenishment of wild-type CEP120 rescues the above defects, whereas expression of JS-associated CEP120 mutants, which hinder KIAA0753 recruitment, does not. Together, our data reveal a close interplay between CEP120 and KIAA0753 for the germinal zone exit and timely neuronal differentiation of GNPs during cerebellar development, and mutations in CEP120 and KIAA0753 may participate in the heterotopia and cerebellar hypoplasia observed in JS patients.