A mixed fixed ratio/progressive ratio procedure reveals an apathy phenotype in the BAC HD and the z_Q175 KI mouse models of Huntington’s disease

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Apathy, characterized by generally reduced interest in and likelihood to perform goal-directed actions, is a recognized symptom of Huntington’s disease (HD), a devastating neurological disorder caused by a CAG repeat expansion of the Htt gene located on chromosome 4. The present experiments used a modified progressive ratio task that incorporated a fixed-ratio schedule of reinforcement component to assess consummatory behavior, and a progressive-ratio schedule component that required increasing numbers of lever-presses for successive reinforcers (0.01 ml of evaporated milk). The studies revealed an apathetic phenotype in two mouse models of HD, with decreased response rates either overall or only at higher ratio requirements in the progressive-ratio component relative to wild-type controls. Based on the procedure used (within-session fixed- and progressive-ratio components), it is proposed that an observed phenotype can be ascribed either specifically to reduced motivation to work for food reinforcement or more generally to deficits in consummatory behavior. This procedure provides a simple means to assess this type of phenotype in rodents, with issues in consummatory vs. incentive motivation reflected in general alterations in fixed- versus progressive alterations on an escalating-ratio schedules respectively, providing translational measures of the amotivation/apathy construct of the human realm to the homologous construct of incentive motivation in preclinical models of human disease.

Pharmacokinetics of memantine in rats and mice

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To evaluate the potential of memantine as a therapeutic agent for Huntington’s disease (HD) we have undertaken a series of in vitro, ex vivo and whole animal studies to characterize its pharmacokinetics (PK) and pharmacodynamics (PD) in rats and mice. Results from these studies will enable determination of memantine exposures needed to engage the related functional PD marker and help predict the dose regimen for clinical trials to test its proposed mechanism of action; the selective blockade of extrasynaptic, but not synaptic, NMDA receptors. The studies reported here describe the PK of memantine in rats and mice at low (1 mg/kg) and high (10 mg/kg) doses. Our studies indicate that the clearance mechanisms of memantine in rats and mice are different from those in human, and that clearance needs to be taken into account when extrapolating to the human. In rats only, there is a significant metabolic contribution to memantine clearance at lower dose levels. While memantine is primarily cleared renally in all three species, the proportion of total systemic clearance above the glomerular filtration rate (GFR) is much higher in rats and mice (~13, 4.5, and 1.4 times higher than GFR in rats, mice, and humans, respectively), suggesting that the contribution of active transport to memantine elimination in rats and mice is more significant than in the human. In rats and mice, memantine had a short half-life (100). In the human, the half-life of memantine was reported to be very long (60-80 h) with a Cmax/Cmin ratio at steady state concentrations of ~1.5. A small change in the clearance of memantine – for example due to renal impairment or competition for the elimination pathway with a co-administered drug – will likely affect exposure and, therefore, the selectivity of memantine on NMDA receptors . The PK differences observed between these species demonstrate that the PK in mice and rats cannot be directly extrapolated to the human. Further, the relationship between the plasma concentration (and therefore dose) needed to elicit a mechanism-related in vivo functional effect (PD readout) while maintaining the selectivity of the extrasynaptic blockade of the NMDA receptors needs to be established before clinical trials can be appropriately planned.

Effect of the rd1 mutation on motor performance in R6/2 and wild type mice

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Homozygosis for the rd1 mutation in the Pbe6b gene results in the loss of the rod beta-subunit of the cyclic GMP phosphodiesterase and, eventually, of all rod and cone photoreceptors. The R6/2 mouse line is a widely used model of Huntington’s disorder (HD). The original line was made available on a mixed background obtained by crossing, via ovarian transplant, female R6/2 (on a B6CBA mixed background) with male B6CBAF1/J mice. As the CBA/J strain used in the US is homozygous for the rd1 mutation and the breeding scheme does not ensure heterozygosis for the mutation, a significant percentage of the offspring on this mixed background is expected to be homozygous for the rd1 mutation. We investigate here the effect of rd1 homozygosis on motor function and examined the effects of the mutation on the R6/2 phenotype. Homozygosis for the rd1 mutation resulted in increased activity in the open field test and reduced rotarod test performance. In addition, rd1 mutation absence or heterozygosis reduced the differences between the R6/2 and the WT mice. Our recommendation for the neurodegeneration field, and for all mouse studies in general, is to carefully control homozygosis for retinal degeneration mutation, even when using tests of motor function.

Huntington’s like conditions in China, A review of published Chinese cases

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Background: Knowledge about HD in China is lacking in the international literature. We have therefore analyzed the Chinese literature to thoroughly explore the clinical characteristics of Huntington disease in China.

Methods: A computer-based online search of China National Knowledge Infrastructure was performed to review case reports concerning HD published between January 1980 and April of 2011, and the clinical characteristics were extracted.

Results: A total of 92 studies involving 279 patients (157 males and 122 females) were collected, 82.0% of which were from provinces of North China. Most of the cases (97.8%) had a family history of HD, and paternal inheritance (65.5%) was higher than maternal inheritance (34.5%). Onset age was 35.8 (± 11.8) years, death occurred with 45.6 (± 13.5) years after a course of 11.6 (± 5.6) years. Involuntary movements were the most frequent reported presentation (found in 52.3%, including 64.4% in the entire body, 19.8% in the upper limbs, and 13.7% in the head and face). Psychiatric symptoms at onset were reported in 16.1%, and cognitive impairment in 1.8%. With disease progression, 99.6% of patients had abnormal movements, 67.9% cognitive impairment, and 35.0% suffered psychiatric symptoms. Of the reported patients, only 22 underwent IT15 gene testing with positive results.

Conclusion: HD is a well-reported entity in Chinese medical literature, however, only a small number of instances have been proven by molecular diagnosis. Most of the features resemble what is known in other countries. The highly predominant motor presentation, and the higher male prevalence as well as the apparent concentration in Northern China may be due to observational bias. There is therefore a need to prospectively examine cohorts of patients with appropriate comprehensive assessment tools including genetic testing.

Current Pharmacological Management in Juvenile Huntington’s Disease

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Background: The clinical presentation of Juvenile Huntington’s Disease (JHD) can be very different from adult-onset HD with little evidence to guide symptomatic management.

Aim: To survey the current use of pharmacological treatments for JHD.

Methods: Patients were identified through the HD Association, Hospital Doctors and the European Huntington’s Disease Network REGISTRY study.

Results: The most commonly prescribed agents were anti-psychotics (24/45), anti-depressants (17/45) and anti-parkinsonian medications (15/45). 5 patients were taking more than 8 medications.

Conclusions: The most commonly prescribed group of medication was the anti-psychotic. Many patients were on multiple therapies, highlighting the need to rationalise medications.

Stability effects on results of diffusion tensor imaging analysis by reduction of the number of gradient directions due to motion artifacts: an application to presymptomatic Huntington’s disease

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In diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), an improvement in the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of the fractional anisotropy (FA) maps can be obtained when the number of recorded gradient directions (GD) is increased. Vice versa, elimination of motion-corrupted or noisy GD leads to a more accurate characterization of the diffusion tensor. We previously suggest a slice-wise method for artifact detection in FA maps. This current study applies this approach to a cohort of 18 premanifest Huntington’s disease (pHD) subjects and 23 controls. By 2-D voxelwise statistical comparison of original FA-maps and FA-maps with a reduced number of GD, the effect of eliminating GD that were affected by motion was demonstrated.

We present an evaluation metric that allows to test if the computed FA-maps (with a reduced number of GD) still reflect a “true” FA-map, as defined by simulations in the control sample. Furthermore, we investigated if omitting data volumes affected by motion in the pHD cohort could lead to an increased SNR in the resulting FA-maps.

A high agreement between original FA maps (with all GD) and corrected FA maps (i.e. without GD corrupted by motion) were observed even for numbers of eliminated GD up to 13. Even in one data set in which 46 GD had to be eliminated, the results showed a moderate agreement.

Aspiration pneumonia and death in Huntington’s disease

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Huntington’s disease (HD) is a progressive neurodegenerative autosomal dominant disease characterized by choreatic and hypokinetic movements, disturbed behaviour, and cognitive decline. Pneumonia is the most common cause of death, followed by cardiovasculair diseases. It has been suggested that choking is the causative underlying factor for pneumonia in HD. As a detailed specification of the type of pneumonia has never been performed, we analyzed the records of our Brain Bank containing 224 cases to determine the exact cause of death and type of pneumonia. The conclusion is that the majority (86.8%) of our HD patients where the cause of death could be identified died from aspiration pneumonia.

Seven-year clinical follow-up of premanifest carriers of Huntington’s disease

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Detecting subtle clinical abnormalities in the ‘premanifest’ phase of Huntington’s disease (HD) is of importance in the development of instruments to monitor early therapeutic intervention trials. The current study examined changes in motor function, cognition and behaviour over a period of seven years in premanifest carriers of the HD gene mutation. Twenty-nine carriers without unequivocal motor signs of HD and 43 non-carrier controls were prospectively examined four times. The assessments consisted of the Unified Huntington’s Disease Rating Scale (UHDRS) and an extensive neuropsychological test battery addressing global cognitive function, memory, language and executive function. Rate of Change (RoC) analysis was performed to measure longitudinal differences between carriers and non-carriers. Carriers performed consistently worse on executive function (Symbol Digit Modalities Test (SDMT), Stroop, Trail Making Test (TMT) and WAIS-R arithmetic). Over the years, carriers showed a decline in memory and concentration function (Wechsler Memory Scale (WMS)) and in motor function (UHDRS motor scale). Changes over time could be particularly ascribed to carriers converting to manifest HD. These results demonstrate that standardized motor assessments and objective memory and concentration tasks are sensitive to change over a period of 7 years, specifically in carriers converting to manifest HD. Executive tasks also showed subtle cognitive abnormalities in premanifest HD, but a decline over time could not be demonstrated.

No evidence of impaired gastric emptying in early Huntington‘s Disease

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Background: Several factors, such as dysphagia, an increased motor activity, increased metabolic rate and a hypermetabolic state have been discussed as contributing to weight loss even at the early stages of Huntington’s Disease (HD). Aim of this pilot study was to investigate gastric emptying as a possible reason for weight loss in HD.

Methods: 11 HD participants at early stages of the disease and matched controls were investigated by using the well-established and non-invasive 13C-octanoate breath test. The “Gastroparesis Cardinal Symptom Index” and the “Short-Form Leeds Dyspepsia Questionnaire” were used for clinical evaluation of gastroparesis or dyspepsia.

Results: When compared to standard values ​​given in literature and controls all HD patients had normal breath test results. There was no evidence of gastroparesis or dyspepsia. There was a correlation of breath test results with the cognitive and functional performance of HD participants.

Conclusion: According to our data, there is no evidence of impaired gastric emptying in early HD. We can not exclude that gastric emptying contributes to weight loss at more advanced stages of the disease.

Corresponding author: PD Dr. med. Carsten Saft, Department of Neurology, Huntington-Center NRW, St. Josef Hospital, Gudrunstrasse 56, 44791 Bochum, Germany, E-mail: carsten.saft@ruhr-uni-bochum.de

§ Carsten Saft and Jürgen Andrich contributed equally to this work

Use of Tetrabenazine in Huntington Disease Patients on Antidepressants or with Advanced Disease: Results from the TETRA-HD Study

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The safety and effectiveness of tetrabenazine in different sub-populations of Huntington disease (HD) is not known. In this study, we evaluated the safety of tetrabenazine in individuals on an antidepressant and its effectiveness in advanced HD. Tetrabenazine was not associated with an increased incidence of depressed mood among those taking antidepressants and was effective at reducing chorea in those with advanced HD.

Background: The safety and effectiveness of tetrabenazine in different sub-populations of Huntington disease (HD) is not known. We evaluated its safety in individuals on an antidepressant and its effectiveness in advanced HD.

Methods: The TETRA-HD study was a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study of 84 individuals with HD who were randomized 2:1 to receive tetrabenazine (54 participants) or placebo (30 participants). We used data from the 12-week randomized controlled study of tetrabenazine to evaluate the incidence of depressed mood either as an adverse event or as a two points or greater worsening on the “depressed mood” item of the Unified Huntington Disease Rating Scale. We also evaluated the effectiveness of tetrabenazine in reducing chorea in advanced HD. Advanced HD was defined as a baseline maximum total chorea score of 19 or greater or as a total functional capacity score of seven or less. Only individuals who were randomized to tetrabenazine (n=54) were included in these analyses.

Results: At baseline, 27 (56%) of the 48 participants randomized to tetrabenazine who completed the trial were taking an antidepressant. The incidence of depressed mood did not differ between those taking (15%) and not taking (5%) an antidepressant (p=0.37), and the proportion of individuals experiencing a substantial worsening in their mood scores also did not differ (7% v. 10%; p=1.00). Based on chorea, 14 of the 54 (26%) tetrabenazine participants enrolled had advanced HD, and based on function, 22 (41%) had advanced HD. Chorea declined by 8.1 units among those with baseline scores 19 or greater compared to 4.3 units for those with scores under 19 (p<0.01), but the relative rates of decline did not differ (p=0.62). The decline in chorea did not differ by HD severity as measured by function (p=0.20).

Conclusion: In this post hoc analysis, tetrabenazine was not associated with an increased incidence of depressed mood among those taking antidepressants and was effective at reducing chorea in those with advanced HD. Larger, prospective studies are needed to confirm these findings.