We know very little about the genetic factors affecting susceptibility to drug-induced central nervous system (CNS) toxicities, and this has limited our ability to optimally utilize existing drugs or to develop new drugs for CNS disorders. For example, haloperidol is a potent dopamine antagonist that is used to treat psychotic disorders, but 50% of treated patients develop characteristic extrapyramidal symptoms caused by haloperidol-induced toxicity (HIT), which limits its clinical utility. We do not have any information about the genetic factors affecting this drug-induced toxicity. HIT in humans is directly mirrored in a murine genetic model, where inbred mouse strains are differentially susceptible to HIT. Therefore, we genetically analyzed this murine model and performed a translational human genetic association study.
Methods and Findings
A whole genome SNP database and computational genetic mapping were used to analyze the murine genetic model of HIT. Guided by the mouse genetic analysis, we demonstrate that genetic variation within an ABC-drug efflux transporter (Abcb5) affected susceptibility to HIT. In situ hybridization results reveal that Abcb5 is expressed in brain capillaries, and by cerebellar Purkinje cells. We also analyzed chromosome substitution strains, imaged haloperidol abundance in brain tissue sections and directly measured haloperidol (and its metabolite) levels in brain, and characterized Abcb5 knockout mice. Our results demonstrate that Abcb5 is part of the blood-brain barrier; it affects susceptibility to HIT by altering the brain concentration of haloperidol. Moreover, a genetic association study in a haloperidol-treated human cohort indicates that human ABCB5 alleles had a time-dependent effect on susceptibility to individual and combined measures of HIT. Abcb5 alleles are pharmacogenetic factors that affect susceptibility to HIT, but it is likely that additional pharmacogenetic susceptibility factors will be discovered.
ABCB5 alleles alter susceptibility to HIT in mouse and humans. This discovery leads to a new model that (at least in part) explains inter-individual differences in susceptibility to a drug-induced CNS toxicity.
Gary Peltz and colleagues examine the role of ABCB5 alleles in haloperidol-induced toxicity in a murine genetic model and humans treated with haloperidol.
The brain is the control center of the human body. This complex organ controls thoughts, memory, speech, and movement, it is the seat of intelligence, and it regulates the function of many organs. The brain comprises many different parts, all of which work together but all of which have their own special functions. For example, the forebrain is involved in intellectual activities such as thinking whereas the hindbrain controls the body’s vital functions and movements. Messages are passed between the various regions of the brain and to other parts of the body by specialized cells called neurons, which release and receive signal molecules known as neurotransmitters. Like all the organs in the body, blood vessels supply the brain with the oxygen, water, and nutrients it needs to function. Importantly, however, the brain is protected from infectious agents and other potentially dangerous substances circulating in the blood by the “blood-brain barrier,” a highly selective permeability barrier that is formed by the cells lining the fine blood vessels (capillaries) within the brain.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although drugs have been developed to treat various brain disorders, more active and less toxic drugs are needed to improve the treatment of many if not most of these conditions. Unfortunately, relatively little is known about how the blood-brain barrier regulates the entry of drugs into the brain or about the genetic factors that affect the brain’s susceptibility to drug-induced toxicities. It is not known, for example, why about half of patients given haloperidol—a drug used to treat psychotic disorders (conditions that affect how people think, feel, or behave)—develop tremors and other symptoms caused by alterations in the brain region that controls voluntary movements. Here, to improve our understanding of how drugs enter the brain and impact its function, the researchers investigate the genetic factors that affect haloperidol-induced toxicity by genetically analyzing several inbred mouse strains (every individual in an inbred mouse strain is genetically identical) with different susceptibilities to haloperidol-induced toxicity and by undertaking a human genetic association study (a study that looks for non-chance associations between specific traits and genetic variants).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used a database of genetic variants called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and a computational genetic mapping approach to show first that variations within the gene encoding Abcb5 affected susceptibility to haloperidol-induced toxicity (indicated by changes in the length of time taken by mice to move their paws when placed on an inclined wire-mesh screen) among inbred mouse strains. Abcb5 is an ATP-binding cassette transporter, a type of protein that moves molecules across cell membranes. The researchers next showed that Abcb5 is expressed in brain capillaries, which is the location of the blood-brain barrier. Abcb5 was also expressed in cerebellar Purkinje cells, which help to control motor (intentional) movements. They also measured the measured the effect of haloperidol and the haloperidol concentration in brain tissue sections in mice that were genetically engineered to make no Abcb5 (Abcb5 knockout mice). Finally, the researchers investigated whether specific alleles (alternative versions) of ABCB5 are associated with haloperidol-induced toxicity in people. Among a group of 85 patients treated with haloperidol for a psychotic illness, one specific ABCB5 allele was associated with haloperidol-induced toxicity during the first few days of treatment.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that Abcb5 is a component of the blood-brain barrier in mice and suggest that genetic variants in the gene encoding this protein underlie, at least in part, the differences in susceptibility to haloperidol-induced toxicity seen among inbred mice strains. Moreover, the human genetic association study indicates that a specific ABCB5 allele also affects the susceptibility of people to haloperidol-induced toxicity. The researchers note that other ABCB5 alleles or other genetic factors that affect haloperidol-induced toxicity in people might emerge if larger groups of patients were studied. However, based on their findings, the researchers propose a new model for the genetic mechanisms that underlie inter-individual and cell type-specific differences in susceptibility to haloperidol-induced brain toxicity. If confirmed in future studies, this model might facilitate the development of more effective and less toxic drugs to treat a range of brain disorders.
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001782.
The US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke provides information about a wide range of brain diseases (in English and Spanish); its fact sheet “Brain Basics: Know Your Brain” is a simple introduction to the human brain; its “Blueprint Neurotherapeutics Network” was established to develop new drugs for disorders affecting the brain and other parts of the nervous system
MedlinePlus provides links to additional resources about brain diseases and their treatment (in English and Spanish)
Wikipedia provides information about haloperidol, about ATP-binding cassette transporters and about genetic association (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)