Genetic mouse models based on α-synuclein overexpression are particularly compelling because abnormal accumulation of α-synuclein occurs in sporadic Parkinson’s disease (PD). Our laboratory has characterized a mouse overexpressing wild-type human α-synuclein under the Thy1 promoter, which confers broad expression of the transgene in neurons. These mice show progressive sensorimotor anomalies starting at 2 months of age, as well as olfactory and digestive deficits similar to those observed in patients at early stages of PD. Patterns of gene expression examined in nigrostriatal neurons isolated by single-cell laser capture microdissection in these mice at 6 months of age show an upregulation of defence mechanisms including increased levels of genes involved in proteasome and mitochondrial function, as well as cholesterol biosynthesis. At the same time, numerous alterations in genes encoding ion channels suggest that changes in the cellular function of these neurons occur independently of cell death. These data provide information on the early effects – in a mammalian brain – of a mutation known to cause PD, and they identify a number of useful end-points for evaluating potential neuroprotective therapies that could interfere with the pathophysiological mechanisms of PD upstream of neuronal cell death.
α-synuclein; genetic models; Parkinson’s disease; Thy1 promoter
Identification of mutations that cause rare familial forms of Parkinson’s disease (PD) and subsequent studies of genetic risk factors for sporadic PD have led to an improved understanding of the pathological mechanisms that may cause nonfamilial PD. In particular, genetic and pathological studies strongly suggest that alpha-synuclein, albeit very rarely mutated in PD patients, plays a critical role in the vast majority of individuals with the sporadic form of the disease. We have extensively characterized a mouse model over-expressing full-length, human, wild-type alpha-synuclein under the Thy-1 promoter. We have also shown that this model reproduces many features of sporadic PD, including progressive changes in dopamine release and striatal content, alpha-synuclein pathology, deficits in motor and nonmotor functions that are affected in pre-manifest and manifest phases of PD, inflammation, and biochemical and molecular changes similar to those observed in PD. Preclinical studies have already demonstrated improvement with promising new drugs in this model, which provides an opportunity to test novel neuroprotective strategies during different phases of the disorder using endpoint measures with high power to detect drug effects.
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Parkinson’s disease; Alpha-synuclein; Mouse model; Thy1-aSyn; Progressive
Parkinson's disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by the loss of nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons and the accumulation of alpha-synuclein. Both traumatic brain injury (TBI) and pesticides are risk factors for PD, but whether TBI causes nigrostriatal dopaminergic cell loss in experimental models and whether it acts synergistically with pesticides is unknown. We have examined the acute and long-term effects of TBI and exposure to low doses of the pesticide paraquat, separately and in combination, on nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons in adult male rats. In an acute study, rats received moderate TBI by lateral fluid percussion (LFP) injury, were injected with saline or paraquat (10 mg/kg IP) 3 and 6 days after LFP, were sacrificed 5 days later, and their brains processed for immunohistochemistry. TBI alone increased microglial activation in the substantia nigra, and caused a 15% loss of dopaminergic neurons ipsilaterally. Paraquat increased the TBI effect, causing a 30% bilateral loss of dopaminergic neurons, reduced striatal tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) immunoreactivity more than TBI alone, and induced alpha-synuclein accumulation in the substantia nigra pars compacta. In a long-term study, rats received moderate LFP, were injected with saline or paraquat at 21 and 22 weeks post-injury, and were sacrificed 4 weeks later. At 26 weeks post injury, TBI alone induced a 30% bilateral loss of dopaminergic neurons that was not exacerbated by paraquat. These data suggest that TBI is sufficient to induce a progressive degeneration of nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons. Furthermore, TBI and pesticide exposure, when occurring within a defined time frame, could combine to increase the PD risk.
alpha-synuclein; lateral fluid percussion; microglia; paraquat; Parkinson's disease; traumatic brain injury
Alpha synuclein (SNCA) has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases (synucleinopathies) that include Parkinson's disease (PD). Although the primary neurodegeneration in PD involves nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons, more extensive yet regionally selective neurodegeneration is observed in other synucleinopathies. Furthermore, SNCA is ubiquitously expressed in neurons and numerous neuronal systems are dysfunctional in PD. Therefore it is of interest to understand how overexpression of SNCA affects neuronal function in regions not directly targeted for neurodegeneration in PD.
The present study investigated the consequences of SNCA overexpression on cellular processes and functions in the striatum of mice overexpressing wild-type, human SNCA under the Thy1 promoter (Thy1-aSyn mice) by transcriptome analysis. The analysis revealed alterations in multiple biological processes in the striatum of Thy1-aSyn mice, including synaptic plasticity, signaling, transcription, apoptosis, and neurogenesis.
The results support a key role for SNCA in synaptic function and revealed an apoptotic signature in Thy1-aSyn mice, which together with specific alterations of neuroprotective genes suggest the activation of adaptive compensatory mechanisms that may protect striatal neurons in conditions of neuronal overexpression of SNCA.
α-synuclein; apoptosis; neuroprotection; Parkinson's disease; Alzheimer's disease; synaptic plasticity; vesicle release; diabetes
Although it has been known for more than twenty years that an aberrant conformation of the prion protein (PrP) is the causative agent in prion diseases, the role of PrP in normal biology is undetermined. Numerous studies have suggested a protective function for PrP, including protection from ischemic and excitotoxic lesions and several apoptotic insults. On the other hand, many observations have suggested the contrary, linking changes in PrP localization or domain structure—independent of infectious prion conformation—to severe neuronal damage. Surprisingly, a recent report suggests that PrP is a receptor for toxic oligomeric species of a-β, a pathogenic fragment of the amyloid precursor protein, and likely contributes to disease pathogenesis of Alzheimer disease. We sought to access the role of PrP in diverse neurological disorders. First, we confirmed that PrP confers protection against ischemic damage using an acute stroke model, a well characterized association. After ischemic insult, PrP knockouts had dramatically increased infarct volumes and decreased behavioral performance compared to controls. To examine the potential of PrP's neuroprotective or neurotoxic properties in the context of other pathologies, we deleted PrP from several transgenic models of neurodegenerative disease. Deletion of PrP did not substantially alter the disease phenotypes of mouse models of Parkinson disease or tauopathy. Deletion of PrP in one of two Huntington disease models tested, R6/2, modestly slowed motor deterioration as measured on an accelerating rotarod but otherwise did not alter other major features of the disease. Finally, transgenic overexpression of PrP did not exacerbate the Huntington motor phenotype. These results suggest that PrP has a context-dependent neuroprotective function and does not broadly contribute to the disease models tested herein.
neurodegeneration; protein misfolding; PrP; home cage; stroke
In addition to the hallmark neurological manifestations of Huntington's disease (HD), weight loss with metabolic dysfunction is often observed in the later stages of disease progression and is associated with poor prognosis. The mechanism for weight loss in HD is unknown. Using two mouse models of HD, the R6/2 transgenic and CAG140 knock-in mouse strains, we demonstrate that adipose tissue dysfunction is detectable at early ages and becomes more pronounced as the disease progresses. Adipocytes acquire a ‘de-differentiated’ phenotype characterized by impaired expression of fat storage genes. In addition, HD mice exhibit reduced levels of leptin and adiponectin, adipose tissue-derived hormones that regulate food intake and glucose metabolism. Importantly, some of these changes occur prior to weight loss and development of some of the characteristic neurological symptoms. We demonstrate that impaired gene expression and lipid accumulation in adipocytes can be recapitulated by expression of an inducible mutant huntingtin transgene in an adipocyte cell line and that mutant huntingtin inhibits transcriptional activity of the PGC-1α co-activator in adipocytes, which may contribute to aberrant gene expression. Thus, our findings indicate that mutant huntingtin has direct detrimental effects in cell types other than neurons. The results also indicate that circulating adipose-tissue-derived hormones may be accessible markers for HD prognosis and progression and suggest that adipose tissue may be a useful therapeutic target to improve standard of life for HD patients.
Recessive mutations in parkin are the most common cause of familial early onset Parkinson's disease (PD). Recent studies suggest that certain parkin mutants may exert dominant toxic effects to cultured cells and such dominant toxicity can lead to progressive dopaminergic (DA) neuron degeneration in Drosophila. To explore whether mutant parkin could exert similar pathogenic effects to mammalian DA neurons in vivo, we developed a Bacterial Artificial Chromosome (BAC) transgenic mouse model expressing a C-terminal truncated human mutant parkin (Parkin-Q311X) in DA neurons driven by a dopamine transporter promoter. Parkin-Q311X mice exhibit multiple late-onset and progressive hypokinetic motor deficits. Stereological analyses reveal that the mutant mice develop age-dependent DA neuron degeneration in substantia nigra accompanied by a significant loss of DA neuron terminals in the striatum. Neurochemical analyses reveal a significant reduction of the striatal dopamine level in mutant mice, which is significantly correlated with their hypokinetic motor deficits. Finally, mutant Parkin-Q311X mice, but not wild-type controls, exhibit age-dependent accumulation of proteinase-K resistant endogenous α-synuclein in substantia nigra and co-localized with 3-nitrotyrosine, a marker for oxidative protein damage. Hence, our study provides the first mammalian genetic evidence that dominant toxicity of a parkin mutant is sufficient to elicit age-dependent hypokinetic motor deficits and DA neuron loss in vivo, and uncovers a causal relationship between dominant parkin toxicity and progressive α-synuclein accumulation in DA neurons. Our study underscores the need to further explore the putative link between parkin dominant toxicity and PD.
Parkinson's disease; Dopaminergic; transgenic; mice; Neuron Death; Neuropathology
Mutations in alpha-synuclein were the first genetic defect linked to Parkinson’s disease (PD). The relevance of alpha-synuclein to sporadic PD is strongly supported by the presence of alpha-synuclein aggregates in neurons of patients. This has prompted the development of numerous animal models based on alpha-synuclein overexpression, primarily through genetic methods in mice and viral transduction in rats. In mice, different promoters and transgenes lead to a wide variety of phenotypes accompanied by non-existent, late onset, or non-specific neurodegeneration. Rapid neurodegeneration, in contrast, is observed after viral transduction but is limited to the targeted region and does not mimic the broad pathology observed in the disease. Overall, each model reproduces a subset of features of PD and can be used to identify therapeutic targets and test disease-modifying therapies. The predictive value of all models of the disease, however, remains speculative in the absence of effective neuroprotective treatments for PD in humans.
Parkinson's disease (PD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder whose etiology is not understood. This disease occurs both sporadically and through inheritance of single genes, although the familial types are rare. Over the past decade or so, experimental and clinical data suggest that PD could be a multifactorial, neurodegenerative disease that involves strong interactions between the environment and genetic predisposition. Our understanding of the pathophysiology and motor deficits of the disease relies heavily on fundamental research on animal models and the last few years have seen an explosion of toxin-, inflammation- induced and genetically manipulated models. The insight gained from the use of such models has strongly advanced our understanding of the progression and stages of the disease. The models have also aided the development of novel therapies to improve symptomatic management, and they are critical for the development of neuroprotective strategies. This review critically evaluates these in vivo models and the roles they play in mimicking the progression of PD.
substantia nigra; MPTP; 6-OHDA; rotenone; LPS; engrail; alpha-synuclein