Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder and is characterized by the degeneration of dopaminergic (DA) neurons within the substantia nigra. Dopamine replacement drugs remain the most effective PD treatment but only provide temporary symptomatic relief. New therapies are urgently needed, but the search for a disease-modifying treatment and a definitive understanding of the underlying mechanisms of PD has been limited by the lack of physiologically relevant models that recapitulate the disease phenotype. The use of immortalized cell lines as in vitro model systems for drug discovery has met with limited success, since efficacy and safety too often fail to translate successfully in human clinical trials. Drug discoverers are shifting their focus to more physiologically relevant cellular models, including primary neurons and stem cells. The recent discovery of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell technology presents an exciting opportunity to derive human DA neurons from patients with sporadic and familial forms of PD. We anticipate that these human DA models will recapitulate key features of the PD phenotype. In parallel, high-content screening platforms, which extract information on multiple cellular features within individual neurons, provide a network-based approach that can resolve temporal and spatial relationships underlying mechanisms of neurodegeneration and drug perturbations. These emerging technologies have the potential to establish highly predictive cellular models that could bring about a desperately needed revolution in PD drug discovery.
Huntington’s disease (HD) is a devastating neurodegenerative disorder with no disease modifying treatments available. The disease is caused by expansion of a CAG trinucleotide repeat and manifests with progressive motor abnormalities, psychiatric symptoms and cognitive decline. Expression of an expanded polyglutamine repeat within the Huntingtin (Htt) protein impacts numerous cellular processes, including protein folding and clearance. A hallmark of the disease is the progressive formation of inclusions that represent the culmination of a complex aggregation process. Methylene blue (MB) has been shown to modulate aggregation of amyloidogenic disease proteins. We investigated whether MB could impact mutant Htt-mediated aggregation and neurotoxicity. MB inhibited recombinant protein aggregation in vitro, even when added to preformed oligomers and fibrils. MB also decreased oligomer number and size and decreased accumulation of insoluble mutant Htt in cells. In functional assays, MB increased survival of primary cortical neurons transduced with mutant Htt, reduced neurodegeneration and aggregation in a Drosophila melanogaster model of HD, and reduced disease phenotypes in R6/2 HD modeled mice. Further, MB treatment also promoted an increase in levels of BDNF RNA and protein in vivo. Thus, MB, which is well tolerated and used in humans, has therapeutic potential for HD.
Despite years of incremental progress in our understanding of diseases such as Alzheimer's disease (AD), Parkinson's disease (PD), Huntington's disease (HD), and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), there are still no disease-modifying therapeutics. The discrepancy between the number of lead compounds and approved drugs may partially be a result of the methods used to generate the leads and highlights the need for new technology to obtain more detailed and physiologically relevant information on cellular processes in normal and diseased states. Our high-throughput screening (HTS) system in a primary neuron model can help address this unmet need. HTS allows scientists to assay thousands of conditions in a short period of time which can reveal completely new aspects of biology and identify potential therapeutics in the span of a few months when conventional methods could take years or fail all together. HTS in primary neurons combines the advantages of HTS with the biological relevance of intact, fully differentiated neurons which can capture the critical cellular events or homeostatic states that make neurons uniquely susceptible to disease-associated proteins. We detail methodologies of our primary neuron HTS assay workflow from sample preparation to data reporting. We also discuss our adaptation of our HTS system into high-content screening (HCS), a type of HTS that uses multichannel fluorescence images to capture biological events in situ, and is uniquely suited to study dynamical processes in living cells.
Primary neuron; High-throughput microscopy; High-content screen; Neurodegeneration
Proteins prone to misfolding form large macroscopic deposits in many neurodegenerative diseases. Yet the in situ aggregation kinetics remains poorly understood because of an inability to demarcate precursor oligomers from monomers. We developed a novel strategy for mapping the localization of soluble oligomers and monomers directly in live cells. Sensors for mutant huntingtin, which forms aggregates in Huntington’s disease, were made by introducing a tetracysteine motif into huntingtin that becomes occluded from binding biarsenical fluorophores in oligomers, but not monomers. Up to 70% of the diffusely distributed huntingtin molecules appeared as submicroscopic oligomers in individual neuroblastoma cells expressing mutant huntingtin. We anticipate the sensors to enable insight into cellular mechanisms mediated by oligomers and monomers, and for the approach to be adaptable more generally in the study of protein-protein self-association.
ReAsH; FlAsH; protein aggregation; amyloid; polyglutamine; tri-nucleotide repeats
The activity-regulated cytoskeletal (Arc) gene encodes a protein that is critical for memory consolidation. Arc is one of the most tightly regulated molecules known: neuronal activity controls Arc mRNA induction, trafficking, and accumulation, and Arc protein production, localization and stability. Arc regulates synaptic strength through multiple mechanisms and is involved in essentially every known form of synaptic plasticity. It also mediates memory formation and is implicated in multiple neurological diseases. In this review, we will discuss how Arc is regulated and used as a tool to study neuronal activity. We will also attempt to clarify how its molecular functions correspond to its requirement for various forms of plasticity, discuss Arc’s role in behavior and disease, and highlight critical unresolved questions.
The study of autophagy is rapidly expanding, and our knowledge of the molecular mechanism and its connections to a wide range of physiological processes has increased substantially in the past decade. The vocabulary associated with autophagy has grown concomitantly. In fact, it is difficult for readers—even those who work in the field—to keep up with the ever-expanding terminology associated with the various autophagy-related processes. Accordingly, we have developed a comprehensive glossary of autophagy-related terms that is meant to provide a quick reference for researchers who need a brief reminder of the regulatory effects of transcription factors and chemical agents that induce or inhibit autophagy, the function of the autophagy-related proteins, and the roles of accessory components and structures that are associated with autophagy.
autophagy; lysosome; mitophagy; pexophagy; stress; vacuole
Progranulin (PGRN) is a widely expressed secreted protein that is linked to inflammation. In humans, PGRN haploinsufficiency is a major inherited cause of frontotemporal dementia (FTD), but how PGRN deficiency causes neurodegeneration is unknown. Here we show that loss of PGRN results in increased neuron loss in response to injury in the CNS. When exposed acutely to 1-methyl-4-(2′-methylphenyl)-1,2,3,6-tetrahydrophine (MPTP), mice lacking PGRN (Grn–/–) showed more neuron loss and increased microgliosis compared with wild-type mice. The exacerbated neuron loss was due not to selective vulnerability of Grn–/– neurons to MPTP, but rather to an increased microglial inflammatory response. Consistent with this, conditional mutants lacking PGRN in microglia exhibited MPTP-induced phenotypes similar to Grn–/– mice. Selective depletion of PGRN from microglia in mixed cortical cultures resulted in increased death of wild-type neurons in the absence of injury. Furthermore, Grn–/– microglia treated with LPS/IFN-γ exhibited an amplified inflammatory response, and conditioned media from these microglia promoted death of cultured neurons. Our results indicate that PGRN deficiency leads to dysregulated microglial activation and thereby contributes to increased neuron loss with injury. These findings suggest that PGRN deficiency may cause increased neuron loss in other forms of CNS injury accompanied by neuroinflammation.
In Parkinson disease (PD), dopamine depletion alters neuronal activity in the direct and indirect pathways and leads to increased synchrony in the basal ganglia network. However, the origins of these changes remain elusive. Because GABAergic interneurons regulate activity of projection neurons and promote neuronal synchrony, we recorded from pairs of striatal fast-spiking (FS) interneurons and direct- or indirect-pathway MSNs after dopamine depletion with 6-OHDA. Synaptic properties of FS-MSN connections remained similar, yet within 3 days of dopamine depletion, individual FS cells doubled their connectivity to indirect-pathway MSNs, whereas connections to direct-pathway MSNs remained unchanged. A model of the striatal microcircuit revealed that such increases in FS innervation were effective at enhancing synchrony within targeted cell populations. These data suggest that after dopamine depletion, rapid target-specific microcircuit organization in the striatum may lead to increased synchrony of indirect-pathway MSNs that contributes to pathological network oscillations and motor symptoms of PD.
Polyglutamine (polyQ) stretches exceeding a threshold length confer a toxic function on proteins that contain them and cause at least nine neurological disorders. The basis for this toxicity threshold is unclear. Although polyQ expansions render proteins prone to aggregate into inclusion bodies (IBs), IB formation may be a neuronal coping response to more toxic forms of polyQ. The exact structure of these more toxic forms is unknown. Here we show that monoclonal antibody (mAb) 3B5H10 recognizes a species of polyQ protein in situ that strongly predicts neuronal death. The epitope selectively appears among some of the many low-molecular weight conformational states expanded polyQ assumes and disappears in higher molecular-weight aggregated forms, such as IBs. These results suggest that protein monomers and possibly small oligomers containing expanded polyQ stretches can adopt a conformation that is recognized by 3B5H10 and is toxic or closely related to a toxic species.
An expanded polyglutamine (polyQ) stretch in the protein huntingtin (htt) induces self-aggregation into inclusion bodies (IBs) and causes Huntington’s disease (HD). Defining precise relationships between early observable variables and neuronal death at the molecular and cellular levels should improve our understanding of HD pathogenesis. Here, we utilized an automated microscope that can track thousands of neurons individually over their entire lifetime to quantify interconnected relationships between early variables, such as htt levels, polyQ length, and IB formation, and neuronal death in a primary striatal model of HD. The resulting model revealed that: mutant htt increases the risk of death by tonically interfering with homeostatic coping mechanisms rather than producing accumulated damage to the neuron; htt toxicity is saturable; the rate limiting steps for inclusion body formation and death can be traced to different conformational changes in monomeric htt; and IB formation reduces the impact of a neuron’s starting levels of htt on its risk of death. Finally, the model that emerges from our quantitative measurements places critical limits on the potential mechanisms by which mutant htt might induce neurodegeneration, which should help direct future research.
Huntington’s disease; quantitative model; one-hit model; inclusion body kinetics; polyglutamine length; huntingtin levels
Amyloid-β (Aβ) peptides, derived from the amyloid precursor protein, and the microtubule-associated protein tau are key pathogenic factors in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). How exactly they impair cognitive functions is unknown. Here we assessed the effects of Aβ and tau on axonal transport of mitochondria and the neurotrophin receptor TrkA, cargoes that are critical for neuronal function and survival and whose distributions are altered in AD. Aβ oligomers rapidly inhibited axonal transport of these cargoes in wildtype neurons. Lowering tau levels prevented these defects without affecting baseline axonal transport. Thus, Aβ requires tau to impair axonal transport and tau reduction protects against Aβ-induced axonal transport defects.
In a recent study, we investigated the relationship between formation of an inclusion body (IB) and activity of the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) in a primary neuron model of Huntington disease. We applied single-cell longitudinal acquisition and analysis to simultaneously monitor mutant huntingtin, which causes Huntington disease, IB formation, UPS function, and neuronal toxicity. We found that proteasome inhibition is toxic to striatal neurons in a dose-dependent fashion. The UPS is more impaired in neurons that go on to form IBs than in those that do not; however, after IBs form, UPS function improves. Our findings suggest that IBs are a protective cellular response to mutant protein mediated, in part, by improving intracellular protein degradation. The study also revealed some surprising differences in the ways that neurons regulate protein turnover compared with non-neuronal cells, which we discuss further in this article.
Huntington disease; autophagy; neurodegeneration; rapamycin; everolimus; LC3
The N-terminal 17-amino-acids of huntingtin (NT17) can be phosphorylated on serines 13 and 16; however, the significance of these modifications in Huntington’s disease pathogenesis remains unknown. In this study, we developed BAC transgenic mice expressing full-length mutant huntingtin (fl-mhtt) with serines 13 and 16 mutated to either aspartate (phosphomimetic or SD) or alanine (phosphoresistant or SA). Both mutant proteins preserve the essential function of huntingtin in rescuing knockout mouse phenotypes. However, fl-mhtt induced disease pathogenesis, including motor and psychiatric-like behavioral deficits, mhtt aggregation and selective neurodegeneration are abolished in SD but preserved in SA mice. Moreover, modification of these serines in expanded repeat huntingtin peptides modulates aggregation and amyloid fibril formation in vitro. Together, our findings demonstrate that serines 13 and 16 are critical determinants of fl-mhtt-induced disease pathogenesis in vivo, supporting the targeting of huntingtin NT17 domain and its modifications in HD therapy.
High-content screening (HCS), historically limited to drug-development companies, is now a powerful and affordable technology for academic researchers. Through automated routines, this technology acquires large datasets of fluorescence images depicting functional states of thousands to millions of cells. Information on shapes, textures, intensities, and localizations is then used to create unique representations, or “phenotypic signatures,” of each cell. These signatures quantify physiologic or diseased states, for example, dendritic arborization, drug response, or cell coping strategies. Live-cell imaging in HCS adds the ability to correlate cellular events at different points in times, thereby allowing sensitivities and observations not possible with fixed endpoint analysis. HCS with live-cell imaging therefore provides unprecedented capability to detect spatiotemporal changes in cells and is particularly suited for time-dependent, stochastic processes such as neurodegenerative disorders.
Mutations in the gene encoding TDP-43 — the major protein component of neuronal aggregates characteristic of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal lobar degeneration with ubiquitin-positive inclusion bodies (FTLDu) — have been linked to familial forms of both disorders. Aggregates of TDP-43 in cortical and spinal motoneurons in ALS, or in neurons of the frontal and temporal cortices in FTLD, are closely linked to neuron loss and atrophy in these areas. However, the mechanism by which TDP-43 mutations lead to neurodegeneration is unclear. To investigate the pathogenic role of TDP-43 mutations, we established a model of TDP-43 proteinopathies by expressing fluorescently tagged wildtype and mutant TDP-43 in primary rat cortical neurons. Expression of mutant TDP-43 was toxic to neurons, and mutant-specific toxicity was associated with increased cytoplasmic mislocalization of TDP-43. Inclusion bodies were not necessary for the toxicity and did not affect the risk of cell death. Cellular survival was unaffected by the total amount of exogenous TDP-43 in the nucleus, but the amount of cytoplasmic TDP-43 was a strong and independent predictor of neuronal death. These results suggest that mutant TDP-43 is mislocalized to the cytoplasm, where it exhibits a toxic gain-of-function and induces cell death.
TDP43; ALS; FTLD; cytoplasm; neurodegeneration; survival
The protein mutated in Huntington's disease is phosphorylated by the inflammatory kinase IKK, which promotes other post-translational modifications, and protein degradation.
Expansion of the polyglutamine repeat within the protein Huntingtin (Htt) causes Huntington's disease, a neurodegenerative disease associated with aging and the accumulation of mutant Htt in diseased neurons. Understanding the mechanisms that influence Htt cellular degradation may target treatments designed to activate mutant Htt clearance pathways. We find that Htt is phosphorylated by the inflammatory kinase IKK, enhancing its normal clearance by the proteasome and lysosome. Phosphorylation of Htt regulates additional post-translational modifications, including Htt ubiquitination, SUMOylation, and acetylation, and increases Htt nuclear localization, cleavage, and clearance mediated by lysosomal-associated membrane protein 2A and Hsc70. We propose that IKK activates mutant Htt clearance until an age-related loss of proteasome/lysosome function promotes accumulation of toxic post-translationally modified mutant Htt. Thus, IKK activation may modulate mutant Htt neurotoxicity depending on the cell's ability to degrade the modified species.
The nucleus is the primary site of protein aggregation in many polyglutamine diseases, suggesting a central role in pathogenesis. In SBMA, the nucleus is further implicated by the critical role for disease of androgens, which promote the nuclear translocation of the mutant androgen receptor (AR). To clarify the importance of the nucleus in SBMA, we genetically manipulated the nuclear localization signal of the polyglutamine-expanded AR. Transgenic mice expressing this mutant AR displayed inefficient nuclear translocation and substantially improved motor function compared with SBMA mice. While we found that nuclear localization of polyglutamine-expanded AR is required for SBMA, we also discovered, using cell models of SBMA, that it is insufficient for both aggregation and toxicity and requires androgens for these disease features. Through our studies of cultured motor neurons, we further found that the autophagic pathway was able to degrade cytoplasmically retained expanded AR and represents an endogenous neuroprotective mechanism. Moreover, pharmacologic induction of autophagy rescued motor neurons from the toxic effects of even nuclear-residing mutant AR, suggesting a therapeutic role for autophagy in this nucleus-centric disease. Thus, our studies firmly establish that polyglutamine-expanded AR must reside within nuclei in the presence of its ligand to cause SBMA. They also highlight a mechanistic basis for the requirement for nuclear localization in SBMA neurotoxicity, namely the lack of mutant AR removal by the autophagic protein degradation pathway.
The immediate-early effector gene Arc/Arg3.1 is robustly upregulated by synaptic activity associated with learning and memory. Here we show in primary cortical neuron culture that diverse stimuli induce Arc expression through new transcription. Searching for regulatory regions important for Arc transcription, we found nine DNaseI-sensitive nucleosome-depleted sites at this genomic locus. A reporter gene encompassing these sites responded to synaptic activity in an NMDA receptor–dependent manner, consistent with endogenous Arc mRNA. Responsiveness mapped to two enhancer regions ∼6.5 kb and ∼1.4 kb upstream of Arc. We dissected these regions further and found that the proximal enhancer contains a functional and conserved “Zeste-like” response element that binds a putative novel nuclear protein in neurons. Therefore, activity regulates Arc transcription partly by a novel signaling pathway. We also found that the distal enhancer has a functional and highly conserved serum response element. This element binds serum response factor, which is recruited by synaptic activity to regulate Arc. Thus, Arc is the first target of serum response factor that functions at synapses to mediate plasticity.
plasticity; brain-derived neurotrophic factor; Zeste; serum response factor; Arc; gene transcription
The accumulation of mutant protein is a common feature of neurodegenerative disease. In Huntington’s disease, a polyglutamine expansion in the huntingtin protein triggers neuronal toxicity. Accompanying neuronal death, mutant huntingtin aggregates in large macromolecular structures called inclusion bodies. The function of the machinery for intracellular protein degradation is linked to huntingtin toxicity and components of this machinery colocalize with inclusion bodies. An increasing body of evidence implicates the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway in the failure of cells to degrade mutant huntingtin. A number of potential mechanisms that link compromised ubiquitin-proteasome pathway function and neurodegeneration have been proposed and may offer opportunities for therapeutic intervention.
neurodegeneration; polyglutamine; autophagy; protein misfolding
Optimization of crystallization conditions and cryoprotectants decreased the anisotropy of the diffraction obtained from 3B5H10 Fab crystals. Dehydration improved the resolution of cryoprotected 3B5H10 crystals from 2.6 to 1.9 Å, but changed the space group of the crystals from P21212 to P21.
Because it binds soluble forms of proteins with disease-associated polyglutamine expansions, the antibody 3B5H10 is a powerful tool for studying polyglutamine-related diseases. Crystals of the 3B5H10 Fab (47 kDa) were obtained by vapor diffusion at room temperature from PEG 3350. However, the initial crystals gave highly anisotropic diffraction patterns. After optimization of the crystallization conditions and cryoprotectants, a nearly isotropic diffraction pattern at 2.6 Å resolution was achieved for crystals with unit-cell parameters a = 133.26, b = 79.52, c = 41.49 Å and space group P21212. Dehydrated crystals diffracted isotropically to 1.9 Å with unit-cell parameters a = 123.65, b = 78.25, c = 42.26 Å, β = 90.3° and space group P21.
3B5H10; Fab fragment; antibodies; polyglutamine expansions