The genome of the Bacterial Artificial Chromosome (BAC) transgenic mouse model of Huntington’s Disease (BAC HD) contains the 170 kb human HTT locus modified by the addition of exon 1 with 97 mixed CAA-CAG repeats. BAC HD mice present robust behavioral deficits in both the open field and the accelerating rotarod tests, two standard behavioral assays of motor function. BAC HD mice, however, also typically present significantly increased body weights relative to wildtype littermate controls (WT) which potentially confounds the interpretation of any motor deficits associated directly with the effects of mutant huntingtin. In order to evaluate this possible confound of body weight, we directly compared the performance of BAC HD and WT female mice under food restricted versus free feeding conditions in both the open field and rotarod tasks to test the hypothesis that some of the motor deficits observed in this HTT-transgenic mouse line results solely from increased body weight. Our results suggest that the rotarod deficit exhibited by BAC HD mice is modulated by both body weight and non-body weight factors resulting from overexpression of full length mutant Htt. When body weights of WT and BAC HD transgenic mice were normalized using restricted feeding, the deficits exhibited by BAC HD mice on the rotarod task were less marked, but were still significant. Since the rotarod deficit between WT and BAC HD mice is attenuated when body weight is normalized by food restriction, utilization of this task in BAC HD mice during pre-clinical evaluation must be powered accordingly and results carefully considered as therapeutic benefit can result from decreased overall body weight and or motoric improvement that may not be related to body mass. Furthermore, after controlling for body weight differences, the hypoactive phenotype displayed by ad libitum fed BAC HD mice in the open field assay was not observed in the BAC HD mice undergoing food restriction. These findings suggest that assessment of spontaneous locomotor activity, as measured in the open field test, may not be the appropriate behavioral endpoint to evaluate the BAC HD mouse during preclinical evaluation since it appears that the apparent hypoactive phenotype in this model is driven primarily by body weight differences.
Phenotyping with traditional behavioral assays constitutes a major bottleneck in the primary screening, characterization, and validation of genetic mouse models of disease, leading to downstream delays in drug discovery efforts. We present a novel and comprehensive one-stop approach to phenotyping, the PhenoCube™. This system simultaneously captures the cognitive performance, motor activity, and circadian patterns of group-housed mice by use of home-cage operant conditioning modules (IntelliCage) and custom-built computer vision software. We evaluated two different mouse models of Huntington’s Disease (HD), the R6/2 and the BACHD in the PhenoCube™ system. Our results demonstrated that this system can efficiently capture and track alterations in both cognitive performance and locomotor activity patterns associated with these disease models. This work extends our prior demonstration that PhenoCube™ can characterize circadian dysfunction in BACHD mice and shows that this system, with the experimental protocols used, is a sensitive and efficient tool for a first pass high-throughput screening of mouse disease models in general and mouse models of neurodegeneration in particular.
While there has been a guideline for laboratory/genetic diagnosis of Huntington Disease (HD) since 1998, no such statement exists for the diagnosis of clinical HD. Informally, the most frequently used criteria for diagnosis of clinical HD is ‘Motor 4’ within the Unified Huntington Disease Rating Scale ’99 (motor), made when the rater is highly confident that ‘motor abnormalities observed are unequivocal signs of HD’. Recent studies involving pre-manifest individuals illustrated the shortcomings of this motor-only diagnostic approach. For instance, PREDICT-HD found cognitive changes decades before the expected date of motor diagnosis. Using a number of case studies, we highlight some of the subtleties involved in diagnosing clinical HD, in the absence of unequivocal motor signs for HD. New, broader, criteria for the diagnosis of clinical HD would be helpful in many ways. However its formulation will need to flexible rather than prescriptive, and will require extensive consultation with clinicians and families with HD.
Metabolic dysfunction and mitochondrial involvement are recognised as part of the pathology in Huntington’s Disease (HD). Post-mortem examinations of the striatum from end-stage HD patients have shown a decrease in the in vitro activity of complexes II, III and IV of the electron transport system (ETS). In different models of HD, evidence of enzyme defects have been reported in complex II and complex IV using enzyme assays. However, such assays are highly variable and results have been inconsistent.
We investigated the integrated ETS function ex vivo using a sensitive high-resolution respirometric (HRR) method. The O2 flux in a whole-cell sample combined with the addition of mitochondrial substrates, uncouplers and inhibitors enabled us to accurately quantitate the function of individual mitochondrial complexes in intact mitochondria, while retaining mitochondrial regulation and compensatory mechanisms.
We used HRR to examine the mitochondrial function in striata from 12-week old R6/2 mice expressing exon 1 of human HTT with 130 CAG repeats. A significant reduction in complex II and complex IV flux control ratios was found in the R6/2 mouse striatum at 12 weeks of age compared to controls, confirming previous findings obtained with spectrophotometric enzyme assays.
This report represents a detailed description of experiments designed to replicate and extend the findings of a published study on the effects of treating the R6/2 Huntington’s disease (HD) mouse model with ~300 CAG repeats using the pimelic diphenylamide histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor, HDACi 4b (Thomas et al., 2008). In addition to testing the R6/2 mice, similar experiments examined the effects of the drug on a second transgenic HD mouse model, the N171-82Q mice. As in the original study, the drug was delivered in the drinking water. In the present study we tested larger groups of mice than in the original study. The results indicated that we were unable to replicate the significant behavioral effects of oral HDACi 4b treatment in the R6/2 mice. There were however, non-significant trends for the treated R6/2 mice to be less affected on some of the measures and there were instances of phenotype progression being delayed in these treated mice. In contrast, we did replicate the protection from striatal atrophy in the R6/2 mice. We also did not observe any beneficial effects of HDACi 4b treatment in the N171-82Q mice. Although the behavioral procedures were replicated and an automated activity assessment was added, there were several unexpected complications in terms of solubility of the drug, CAG repeat length differences and gender differences in progression of the phenotype that could have affected outcomes. Clearly more studies will have to be performed using other methods of delivery as well as assessing effects in more slowly progressing HD models to better evaluate the effects of this HDAC inhibitor.
Abnormalities in brain cholesterol homeostasis have been reported in Huntington’s disease (HD), an adult-onset neurodegenerative disorder caused by an expansion in the number of CAG repeats in the huntingtin (HTT) gene. However, the results have been contradictory with respect to whether cholesterol levels increase or decrease in HD models. Biochemical and mass spectrometry methods show reduced levels of cholesterol precursors and cholesterol in HD cells and in the brains of several HD animal models. Abnormal brain cholesterol homeostasis was also inferred from studies in HD patients. In contrast, colorimetric and enzymatic methods indicate cholesterol accumulation in HD cells and tissues. Here we used several methods to investigate cholesterol levels in cultured cells in the presence or absence of mutant HTT protein.
Colorimetric and enzymatic methods with low sensitivity gave variable results, whereas results from a sensitive analytical method, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, were more reliable. Sample preparation, high cell density and cell clonality also influenced the detection of intracellular cholesterol.
Detection of cholesterol in HD samples by colorimetric and enzymatic assays should be supplemented by detection using more sensitive analytical methods. Care must be taken to prepare the sample appropriately. By evaluating lathosterol levels using isotopic dilution mass spectrometry, we confirmed reduced cholesterol biosynthesis in knock-in cells expressing the polyQ mutation in a constitutive or inducible manner.
*Correspondence should be addressed to Elena Cattaneo: firstname.lastname@example.org
Juvenile Huntington’s disease (JHD) is usually defined as Huntington’s disease with an onset ≤ 20 years. The proportion of JHD cases reported in studies of Huntington’s disease (HD) varies. A review of the literature found 62 studies that reported the proportion of JHD cases amongst all HD cases. The proportion of JHD cases in these studies ranged from 1% to 15%, and in a meta-analysis the pooled proportion of JHD cases was 4.92% (95% confidence interval of 4.07% to 5.84%). Limiting the analysis to the 25 studies which used multiple methods of ascertainment resulted in a similar pooled proportion of 5.32%, (95% confidence interval 4.18% to 6.60%).
A small difference was observed when the meta-analysis was restricted to studies from countries defined by the World Bank as high income, that used multiple methods of ascertainment, and that were conducted since 1980 (4.81%, 95% confidence interval 3.31% to 6.58%, n=11). This contrasts with the pooled result from three post 1980 studies using multiple methods of ascertainment from South Africa and Venezuela, defined by the World Bank as upper middle income, where the estimated mean proportion was 9.95%, (95% confidence interval 6.37% to 14.22%).
These results, which are expected to be more robust than those from a single study alone, may be helpful in estimating the proportion of JHD cases in a given population.
Key Words: Juvenile Huntington’s disease, prevalence, epidemiology
Huntington’s disease (HD) is a late-onset progressive neurodegenerative disorder characterised by irrepressible motor dysfunction, cognitive decline and psychiatric disturbances for which there is no effective disease-modifying treatment. The proteolytic cleavage of huntingtin (HTT) to generate N-terminal fragments has been proposed to be a key aspect of HD pathogenesis. In particular, it has been shown that HTT can be cleaved at amino acid 586 by caspase-6 (CASP6) and that prevention of cleavage at this site is neuroprotective and can rescue HD-related phenotypes in YAC transgenic HD mouse models. To determine the role that CASP6 plays in HTT proteolysis, we evaluated the effects of the genetic ablation of Casp6 in the HdhQ150 knock-in mouse model of HD. Here we show that the loss of CASP6 had no effect on the proteolysis of HTT, and did not modify the pattern of N-terminal HTT fragments that are present in the brains of these animals. Furthermore, we show that CASP6 ablation does not influence the steady-state levels of soluble HTT in the brains of presymptomatic mice. Therefore, we conclude that CASP6 is not necessary for HTT proteolysis in the HdhQ150 mouse model of HD, and that targeting CASP6 as a therapeutic strategy should be approached with caution in the context of this complex disease.
* Corresponding author: Gillian P. Bates, Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics, King’s College London School of Medicine, 8th Floor Tower Wing, Guy’s Hospital, London, SE1 9RT, United Kingdom. Phone: +44 20 7188 3722; Fax: +44 20 7188 2585; Email: email@example.com
Stem cell-based treatment for Huntington’s disease (HD) is an expanding field of research. Although various stem cells have been shown to be beneficial in vivo, no long standing clinical effect has been demonstrated. To address this issue, we are developing a stem cell-based therapy designed to improve the microenvironment of the diseased tissue via delivery of neurotrophic factors (NTFs). Previously, we established that bone marrow derived human mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can be differentiated using medium based cues into NTF-secreting cells (NTF+ cells) that express astrocytic markers. NTF+ cells were shown to alleviate neurodegeneration symptoms in several disease models in vitro and in vivo, including the model for excitotoxicity.
In the present study, we explored if the timing of intrastriatal transplantation of hNTF+ cells into the R6/2 transgenic mouse model for HD influences motor function and survival. One hundred thousand cells were transplanted bilaterally into the striatum of immune-suppressed mice at 4.5, 5.5 and 6.5 weeks of age.
Contrary to our expectations, early transplantation of NTF+ cells did not improve motor function or overall survival. However, late (6.5 weeks) transplantation resulted in a temporary improvement in motor function and an extension of life span relative to that observed for PBS treated mice.
We conclude that late transplantation of NTF+ cells induces a beneficial effect in this transgenic model for HD. Since no transplanted NTF+ cells could be detected in vivo, we suspect that the temporary nature of the beneficial effect is due to poor survival of transplanted cells. In general, we submit that NTF+ cells should be further evaluated for the therapy of HD.
The physiological role of huntingtin and the pathogenic mechanisms that produce the disease are unknown. Mutant huntingtin changes its normal localization and produces cytoplasmic and intranuclear inclusions, changes gene transcription, alters synaptic transmission, impairs mitochondrial activity and activates caspases and other pro-apoptotic molecules, promotes excitotoxicity, energy deficits, synthesis and release reduction of neurotrophic factors and oxidative stress. Previous studies confirm that the mutant huntingtin difficult neurotrophic function of astrocytes leading to neuronal dysfunction in Huntington’s disease. Our objective was to study the neuroprotective potential role of glia-conditioned medium (GCM) in an in vitro model of Huntington’s disease. We used conditionally-immortalized striatal neuronal progenitor cell lines (STHdhQ7/Q7 and STHdhQ111/Q111) expressing endogenous levels of normal and mutant huntingtin with 7 and 111 glutamines, respectively. We studied the protection of fetal and postnatal glia conditioned medium (GCM) on H2O2 (2 µM), glutamate (5 mM) and 3-nitropropionic acid (2.5 mM) related toxicity. We also compared the neuroprotective effects of GCM versus that of the growth factors bFGF, BDNF and GDNF.
Fetal GCM protects from every toxin, reducing the cell death and increasing the cell survival. Fetal GCM reduces the caspases fragmentation of the protein PARP, the expression of chaperone Hsp70 and the accumulation of ROS and polyubiquitinated proteins. In addition, in Q111 striatal cells treated with H2O2 (2 µM) for 24 hours, the intracellular GSH levels are higher in the presence of GCM. Notably, the 13-day and 2-month postnatal GCM, totally protects from H2O2 induced cell death in mutant striatal cells. GCM neuroprotective effects are more potent than those of the already identified neurotrophic factors.
We conclude that GCM protects Q111 cells from neuronal neurotoxins and the effects of GCM are more potent than those of any known neurotrophic factor. GCM may contain new and more potent, as yet unidentified, neurotrophic molecules, potentially useful in patients with Huntington’s disease.