Huntington's disease (HD) is an autosomal inherited neurological disease caused by a CAG-repeat expansion in the first exon of huntingtin gene encoding for the huntingtin protein (Htt). In HD, there is an accumulation of intracellular aggregates of mutant Htt that negatively influence cellular functions. The aggregates contain ubiquitin, and part of the HD pathophysiology could result from an imbalance in cellular ubiquitin levels. Deubiquitinating enzymes are important for replenishing the ubiquitin pool, but less is known about their roles in brain diseases. We show here that overexpression of the ubiquitin-specific protease-14 (Usp14) reduces cellular aggregates in mutant Htt-expressing cells mainly via the ubiquitin proteasome system. We also observed that the serine-threonine kinase IRE1 involved in endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress responses is activated in mutant Htt-expressing cells in culture as well as in the striatum of mutant Htt transgenic (BACHD) mice. Usp14 interacted with IRE1 in control cells but less in mutant Htt-expressing cells. Overexpression of Usp14 in turn was able to inhibit phosphorylation of IRE1? in mutant Htt-overexpressing cells and to protect against cell degeneration and caspase-3 activation. These results show that ER stress-mediated IRE1 activation is part of mutant Htt toxicity and that this is counteracted by Usp14 expression. Usp14 effectively reduced cellular aggregates and counteracted cell degeneration indicating an important role of this protein in mutant Htt-induced cell toxicity.
A common form of the hyperkinetic movement disorder dystonia is caused by mutations in the gene TOR1A (located within the DYT1 locus), which encodes the ATPase torsinA. The underlying neurobiological mechanisms that result in dystonia are poorly understood, and progress in the field has been hampered by the absence of a dystonia-like phenotype in animal models with genetic modification of Tor1a. In this issue of the JCI, Liang et al. establish the first animal model with a dystonic motor phenotype and link torsinA hypofunction to the development of early neuropathological changes in distinct sensorimotor regions. The findings of this study will likely play an important role in elucidating the neural substrate for dystonia and should stimulate systematic neuropathological and imaging studies in carriers of TOR1A mutations.
Psychiatric and metabolic features appear several years before motor disturbances in the neurodegenerative Huntington's disease (HD), caused by an expanded CAG repeat in the huntingtin (HTT) gene. Although the mechanisms leading to these aspects are unknown, dysfunction in the hypothalamus, a brain region controlling emotion and metabolism, has been suggested. A direct link between the expression of the disease causing protein, huntingtin (HTT), in the hypothalamus and the development of metabolic and psychiatric-like features have been shown in the BACHD mouse model of HD. However, precisely which circuitry in the hypothalamus is critical for these features is not known. We hypothesized that expression of mutant HTT in the ventromedial hypothalamus, an area involved in the regulation of metabolism and emotion would be important for the development of these non-motor aspects. Therefore, we inactivated mutant HTT in a specific neuronal population of the ventromedial hypothalamus expressing the transcription factor steroidogenic factor 1 (SF1) in the BACHD mouse using cross-breeding based on a Cre-loxP system. Effects on anxiety-like behavior were assessed using the elevated plus maze and novelty-induced suppressed feeding test. Depressive-like behavior was assessed using the Porsolt forced swim test. Effects on the metabolic phenotype were analyzed using measurements of body weight and body fat, as well as serum insulin and leptin levels. Interestingly, the inactivation of mutant HTT in SF1-expressing neurons exerted a partial positive effect on the depressive-like behavior in female BACHD mice at 4 months of age. In this cohort of mice, no anxiety-like behavior was detected. The deletion of mutant HTT in SF1 neurons did not have any effect on the development of metabolic features in BACHD mice. Taken together, our results indicate that mutant HTT regulates metabolic networks by affecting hypothalamic circuitries that do not involve the SF1 neurons of the ventromedial hypothalamus.
Psychiatric symptoms such as depression and anxiety are important clinical features of Huntingtons disease (HD). However, the underlying neurobiological substrate for the psychiatric features is not fully understood. In order to explore the biological origin of depression and anxiety in HD, we used a mouse model that expresses the human full-length mutant huntingtin, the BACHD mouse. We found that the BACHD mice displayed depressive- and anxiety-like features as early as at 2 months of age as assessed using the Porsolt forced swim test (FST), the sucrose preference test and the elevated plus maze (EPM). BACHD mice subjected to chronic treatment with the anti-depressant sertraline were not different to vehicle-treated BACHD mice in the FST and EPM. The behavioral manifestations occurred in the absence of reduced hippocampal cell proliferation/neurogenesis or upregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. However, alterations in anxiety- and depression-regulating genes were present in the hypothalamus of BACHD mice including reduced mRNA expression of neuropeptide Y, tachykinin receptor 3 and vesicular monoamine transporter type 2 as well as increased expression of cocaine and amphetamine regulated transcript. Interestingly, the orexin neuronal population in the hypothalamus was increased and showed cellular atrophy in old BACHD mice. Furthermore, inactivation of mutant huntingtin in a subset of the hypothalamic neurons prevented the development of the depressive features. Taken together, our data demonstrate that the BACHD mouse recapitulates clinical HD with early psychiatric aspects and point to the role of hypothalamic dysfunction in the development of depression and anxiety in the disease.
Huntingtons disease (HD) is a fatal neurodegenerative disorder caused by an expanded polyglutamine repeat in the huntingtin protein. Neuropathology in the basal ganglia and in the cerebral cortex has been linked to the motor and cognitive symptoms whereas recent work has suggested that the hypothalamus might be involved in the metabolic dysfunction. Several mouse models of HD that display metabolic dysfunction have hypothalamic pathology, and expression of mutant huntingtin in the hypothalamus has been causally linked to the development of metabolic dysfunction in mice. Although the pathogenic mechanisms by which mutant huntingtin exerts its toxic functions in the HD brain are not fully known, several studies have implicated a role for the lysososomal degradation pathway of autophagy. Interestingly, changes in autophagy in the hypothalamus have been associated with the development of metabolic dysfunction in wild-type mice. We hypothesized that expression of mutant huntingtin might lead to changes in the autophagy pathway in the hypothalamus in mice with metabolic dysfunction. We therefore investigated whether there were changes in basal levels of autophagy in a mouse model expressing a fragment of 853 amino acids of mutant huntingtin selectively in the hypothalamus using a recombinant adeno-associate viral vector approach as well as in the transgenic BACHD mice. We performed qRT-PCR and Western blot to investigate the mRNA and protein expression levels of selected autophagy markers. Our results show that basal levels of autophagy are maintained in the hypothalamus despite the presence of metabolic dysfunction in both mouse models. Furthermore, although there were no major changes in autophagy in the striatum and cortex of BACHD mice, we detected modest, but significant differences in levels of some markers in mice at 12 months of age. Taken together, our results indicate that overexpression of mutant huntingtin in mice do not significantly perturb basal levels of autophagy.
The Flinders Sensitive Line (FSL) rat is a genetic animal model of depression that displays characteristics similar to those of depressed patients including lower body weight, decreased appetite and reduced REM sleep latency. Hypothalamic neuropeptides such as orexin/hypocretin, melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH) and cocaine and amphetamine regulated transcript (CART), that are involved in the regulation of both energy metabolism and sleep, have recently been implicated also in depression. We therefore hypothesized that alterations in these neuropeptide systems may play a role in the development of the FSL phenotype with both depressive like behavior, metabolic abnormalities and sleep disturbances. In this study, we first confirmed that the FSL rats displayed increased immobility in the Porsolt forced swim test compared to their control strain, the Flinders Resistant Line (FRL), which is indicative of depressive-like behavior. We then examined the number of orexin-, MCH- and CART-immunopositive neurons in the hypothalamus using stereological analyses. We found that the total number of orexin-positive neurons was higher in the hypothalamus of female FSL rats compared to female FRL rats, whereas no changes in the MCH or CART populations could be detected between the strains. Chronic treatment with the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) escitalopram reduced immobility only in the FRL rats where it also increased the number of MCH positive neurons compared to untreated rats. These findings support the view that orexin may be involved in depression and strengthen the notion that the "depressed" brain responds differently to pharmacological interventions than the normal brain.
In Huntingtons disease (HD), the mutant huntingtin protein is ubiquitously expressed. The disease was considered to be limited to the basal ganglia, but recent studies have suggested a more widespread pathology involving hypothalamic dysfunction. Here we tested the hypothesis that expression of mutant huntingtin in the hypothalamus causes metabolic abnormalities. First, we showed that bacterial artificial chromosome-mediated transgenic HD (BACHD) mice developed impaired glucose metabolism and pronounced insulin and leptin resistance. Selective hypothalamic expression of a short fragment of mutant huntingtin using adeno-associated viral vectors was sufficient to recapitulate these metabolic disturbances. Finally, selective hypothalamic inactivation of the mutant gene prevented the development of the metabolic phenotype in BACHD mice. Our findings establish a causal link between mutant huntingtin expression in the hypothalamus and metabolic dysfunction, and indicate that metabolic parameters are powerful readouts to assess therapies aimed at correcting dysfunction in HD by silencing huntingtin expression in the brain.
The molecular motor dynein and its associated regulatory subunit dynactin have been implicated in several neurodegenerative conditions of the basal ganglia, such as Huntingtons disease (HD) and Perry syndrome, an atypical Parkinson-like disease. This pathogenic role has been largely postulated from the existence of mutations in the dynactin subunit p150(Glued). However, dynactin is also able to act independently of dynein, and there is currently no direct evidence linking dynein to basal ganglia degeneration. To provide such evidence, we used here a mouse strain carrying a point mutation in the dynein heavy chain gene that impairs retrograde axonal transport. These mice exhibited motor and behavioural abnormalities including hindlimb clasping, early muscle weakness, incoordination and hyperactivity. In vivo brain imaging using magnetic resonance imaging showed striatal atrophy and lateral ventricle enlargement. In the striatum, altered dopamine signalling, decreased dopamine D1 and D2 receptor binding in positron emission tomography SCAN and prominent astrocytosis were observed, although there was no neuronal loss either in the striatum or substantia nigra. In vitro, dynein mutant striatal neurons displayed strongly impaired neuritic morphology. Altogether, these findings provide a direct genetic evidence for the requirement of dynein for the morphology and function of striatal neurons. Our study supports a role for dynein dysfunction in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders of the basal ganglia, such as Perry syndrome and HD.
Huntington disease (HD) is a fatal neurodegenerative disorder caused by expansion of a CAG repeat in the HD gene. Degeneration concentrating in the basal ganglia has been thought to account for the characteristic psychiatric symptoms, cognitive decline and motor dysfunction. However, the homeostatic control of emotions and metabolism are disturbed early in HD, and focused studies have identified a loss of orexin (hypocretin) neurons in the lateral hypothalamus in HD patients. There has been limited assessment of other hypothalamic cell populations that may be involved. In this study, we quantified the neuropeptide-expressing hypothalamic neurons known to regulate metabolism and emotion in patients with HD compared to healthy controls using unbiased stereological methods. We confirmed the loss of orexin-expressing neurons in HD and revealed substantial differences in the peptide expression of other neuronal populations in the same patients. Both oxytocin- and vasopressin-expressing neurons were decreased by 45 and 24%, respectively, while the number of cocaine- and amphetamine-regulated transcript (CART)-expressing neurons was increased by 30%. The increased expression of CART in the hypothalamus is consistent with a previous study showing increased CART levels in cerebrospinal fluid from HD patients. There was no difference in the numbers of neuropeptide Y-expressing neurons. These results show significant and specific alterations in the peptide expression of hypothalamic neurons known to regulate metabolism and emotion. They may be important in the development of psychiatric symptoms and metabolic disturbances in HD, and may provide potential targets for therapeutic interventions.
Behavioral-variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) is a progressive neurodegenerative brain disorder, clinically characterized by changes in cognition, personality, and behavior. Marked disturbances in eating behavior, such as overeating and preference for sweet foods, are also commonly reported. The hypothalamus plays a critical role in feeding regulation, yet the relation between pathology in this region and eating behavior in FTD is unknown. This study aimed to address this issue using 2 complementary approaches.
Huntington disease (HD) is a fatal neurodegenerative disorder caused by an expanded CAG repeat. Its length can be used to estimate the time of clinical diagnosis, which is defined by overt motor symptoms. Non-motor symptoms begin before motor onset, and involve changes in hypothalamus-regulated functions such as sleep, emotion and metabolism. Therefore we hypothesized that hypothalamic changes occur already prior to the clinical diagnosis. We performed voxel-based morphometry and logistic regression analyses of cross-sectional MR images from 220 HD gene carriers and 75 controls in the Predict-HD study. We show that changes in the hypothalamic region are detectable before clinical diagnosis and that its grey matter contents alone are sufficient to distinguish HD gene carriers from control cases. In conclusion, our study shows, for the first time, that alterations in grey matter contents in the hypothalamic region occur at least a decade before clinical diagnosis in HD using MRI.
The orexins (hypocretins) and cocaine and amphetamine regulated transcript (CART) are hypothalamic peptides involved in the regulation of sleep and appetite. We have previously shown that levels of both orexin-A and CART in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) are related to specific psychiatric symptoms.
Huntingtons disease (HD) is a neurodegenerative disorder caused by a CAG repeat expansion in the HD gene. Besides psychiatric, motor and cognitive symptoms, HD patients suffer from sleep disturbances. In order to screen a rat model transgenic for HD (tgHD rats) for sleep-wake cycle dysregulation, we monitored their circadian activity peaks in the present study. TgHD rats of both sexes showed hyperactivity during the dark cycle and more frequent light cycle activity peaks indicative for a disturbed sleep-wake cycle. Focusing on males at the age of 4 and 14 months, analyses of receptor levels in the hypothalamus and the basal forebrain revealed that 5-HT(2A)- and adrenergic alpha(2)-receptor densities in these regions were significantly altered in tgHD rats compared to their wild-type littermates. Adrenergic receptor densities correlated negatively with the light cycle hyperactivity peaks at later stages of the disease in male tgHD rats. Furthermore, reduced leptin levels, a feature associated with circadian misalignment, were present. Our study demonstrates that the male tgHD rat is a suitable model to investigate HD associated sleep alterations. Further studies are warranted to elucidate the role of adrenergic- and 5-HT(2A)-receptors as therapeutic targets for dysregulation of the circadian activity in HD.
Huntington disease is a neurodegenerative disorder caused by an expanded CAG repeat in the Huntington disease gene. The symptomatic phase of the disease is defined by the onset of motor symptoms. However, psychiatric disturbances, including depression, are common features of Huntington disease and recent studies indicate that depression can occur long before the manifestation of motor symptoms. The aetiology of depression in Huntington disease is not fully understood and psychosocial factors such as the knowledge of carrying a mutation for an incurable disease or adverse social circumstances may contribute to its presentation. Due to the difficulties in discriminating between social and biological factors as contributors to depression in clinical Huntington disease, we chose to assess whether a model for Huntington disease not subject to environmental stressors, namely the YAC mouse model of Huntington disease, displays a depressive phenotype. Indeed, the YAC transgenic mice recapitulate the early depressive phenotype of Huntington disease as assessed by the Porsolt forced swim test as well as the sucrose intake test as a measure of anhedonia. The YAC model mirrors clinical Huntington disease in that there were no effects of CAG repeat length or disease duration on the depressive phenotype. The depressive phenotype was completely rescued in YAC transgenic animals expressing a variant of mutant huntingtin that is resistant to cleavage at amino acid 586 suggesting that therapies aimed towards inhibition of huntingtin cleavage are also likely to have beneficial effects on this aspect of the disease. In conclusion, our study provides strong support for a primary neurobiological basis for depression in Huntington disease.
The neurobiological bases of mood disorders remain elusive but both monoamines and neuropeptides may play important roles. The neuropeptide cocaine and amphetamine regulated transcript (CART) was shown to induce anxiety-like behavior in rodents, and mutations in the human CART gene are associated with depression and anxiety. We measured CART-like immunoreactivity (-LI) in genetic rat models of depression and anxiety, i.e. the Flinders Sensitive Line (FSL) and rats selected for High Anxiety-related Behavior (HAB) using a radioimmunoassay. CART-LI was significantly increased in the periaqueductal grey in FSL rats, whereas in the HAB strain it was increased in the hypothalamus, both compared with their respective controls. No line-dependent changes were found in the hippocampus, striatum or frontal cortex. Our results confirm human genetic studies indicating CART as a neurobiological correlate of depression and anxiety, and suggest that its differential regulation in specific brain regions may play a role for the behavioral phenotypes.
Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) is the second most common form of neurodegenerative dementia after Alzheimers disease (AD). The underlying neurobiological mechanism of DLB is not fully understood and no generally accepted biomarkers are yet available for the diagnosis of DLB. In a recent MRI study, DLB patients displayed hypothalamic atrophy whereas this region was not affected in AD patients. Cocaine and amphetamine regulated transcript (CART) is a neuropeptide expressed selectively in neurons in the hypothalamus. Here, we found that CSF CART levels were significantly reduced by 30% in DLB patients (n = 12) compared to controls (n = 12) as well as to AD patients (n = 14) using radioimmunoassay. Our preliminary results suggest that reduced CSF CART is a sign of hypothalamic dysfunction in DLB and that it may serve as a biomarker for this patient group.
A prevailing hypothesis is that neurogenesis is reduced in depression and that the common mechanism for antidepressant treatments is to increase it in adult hippocampus. Reduced neurogenesis has been shown in healthy rats exposed to stress, but it has not yet been demonstrated in depressed patients. Emerging studies now indicate that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors can, exert behavioral effects without affecting neurogenesis in mice. Here we extend our previous findings demonstrating that the number of BrdU positive cells in hippocampus was significantly higher in a rat model of depression, the Flinders Sensitive Line (FSL) compared to the control strain the Flinders Resistant Line (FRL). We also show that chronic treatment with the tricyclic antidepressant nortriptyline exerts behavioral effects in the Porsolt forced swim test without affecting hippocampal cell proliferation in the FSL model. These results strengthen the arguments against hypothesis of neurogenesis being necessary in etiology of depression and as requisite for effects of antidepressants, and illustrate the importance of using a disease model and not healthy animals to assess effects of potential therapies for major depressive disorder.
Huntingtons disease (HD) is a neurodegenerative disorder caused by an expanded CAG repeat in the huntingtin gene. Although it is characterized by progressive motor impairments, cognitive changes and psychiatric disturbances are major components of the disease. In addition, recent studies have shown that other non-motor symptoms such as alterations in sleep pattern, disruption of the circadian rhythm and increased energy metabolism are common and occur early. Emerging evidence suggests that the latter symptoms are likely results of disturbed functions of the hypothalamus and neuroendocrine circuits, which are known to be central in the regulation of emotion, sleep and metabolism. Whereas clinical data are essential to define key pathological features of HD, animal models that can recapitulate the neurobiological and behavioral features of the disorder are critical tools to elucidate the underlying pathogenic mechanisms. Recent studies employing different HD rodent models have been instrumental in identifying a number of neuroendocrine alterations as well as in highlighting novel potential disease pathways. This review summarizes the current state of knowledge derived from neuroendocrine studies in rodent models of HD in light of clinical relevance and points to future implications for this emerging field.
Metabolic and psychiatric disturbances occur early on in the clinical manifestation of Huntingtons disease (HD), a neurodegenerative disorder caused by an expanded CAG repeat in the huntingtin (HTT) gene. Hypothalamus has emerged as an important site of pathology and alterations in this area and its neuroendocrine circuits may play a role in causing early non-motor symptoms and signs in HD. Leptin is a hormone that controls energy homeostasis by signaling through leptin receptors in the hypothalamus. Disturbed leptin action is implicated in both obesity and depression and altered circulating levels of leptin have been reported in both clinical HD and rodent models of the disease. Pathological leptin signaling may therefore be involved in causing the metabolic and psychiatric disturbances of HD. Here we tested the hypothesis that expression of mutant HTT in leptin receptor carrying neurons plays a role in the development of the non-motor phenotype in the BACHD mouse model. Our results show that inactivation of mutant HTT in leptin receptor-expressing neurons in the BACHD mouse using cross-breeding based on a cre-loxP system did not have an effect on the metabolic phenotype or anxiety-like behavior. The data suggest that mutant HTT disrupts critical hypothalamic pathways by other mechanisms than interfering with intracellular leptin signaling.
The aim of this study was to describe the experiences of undergoing a presymptomatic genetic test for the hereditary and fatal Huntingtons disease, using a case study approach. The study was based on 18 interviews with a young woman and her husband from the decision to undergo the test, to receiving the results and trying to adapt to them, which were analysed using a life history approach. The findings show that the process of undergoing a presymptomatic test involves several closely connected ethical and medical questions, such as the reason for the test, the consequences of the test results and how health-care services can be developed to support people in this situation.
Huntingtons disease (HD) is a fatal neurodegenerative disorder caused by an expanded CAG repeat in the huntingtin (htt) gene. Neuropathology is most severe in the striatum and cerebral cortex. As mutant htt is ubiquitously expressed, it has not been possible to establish clear structure-to-function relationships for the clinical aspects. In the present study, we have injected recombinant adeno-associated viral vectors of serotype 5 (rAAV5) expressing an 853-amino-acid fragment of htt with either 79 (mutant) or 18 (wild-type) glutamines (Q) in the dorsal striatum of neonatal rats to achieve expression of htt in the forebrain. Rats were followed for 6 months and compared with control rats. Neuropathological assessment showed long-term expression of the green fluorescent protein (GFP) transgene (used as a marker protein) and accumulation of htt inclusions in the cerebral cortex with the rAAV5-htt-79Q vectors. We estimated that around 10% of NeuN-positive cells in the cerebral cortex and 2% of DARPP-32 neurons in the striatum were targeted with the GFP-expressing vector. Formation of intracellular htt inclusions was not associated with neuronal loss, gliosis or microglia activation and did not lead to altered motor activity or changes in body weight. However, the same mutant htt vector caused orexin loss in the hypothalamus - another area known to be affected in HD. In conclusion, our results demonstrate that widespread forebrain expression of mutant htt can be achieved using rAAV5-vectors and suggest that this technique can be further explored to study region-specific effects of mutant htt or other disease-causing genes in the brain.
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