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1.  Aberrant Regulation of DNA Methylation in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis: A New Target of Disease Mechanisms 
Neurotherapeutics  2013;10(4):722-733.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is the third most common adult-onset neurodegenerative disease. A diagnosis is fatal owing to degeneration of motor neurons in brain and spinal cord that control swallowing, breathing, and movement. ALS can be inherited, but most cases are not associated with a family history of the disease. The mechanisms causing motor neuron death in ALS are still unknown. Given the suspected complex interplay between multiple genes, the environment, metabolism, and lifestyle in the pathogenesis of ALS, we have hypothesized that the mechanisms of disease in ALS involve epigenetic contributions that can drive motor neuron degeneration. DNA methylation is an epigenetic mechanism for gene regulation engaged by DNA methyltransferase (Dnmt)-catalyzed methyl group transfer to carbon-5 in cytosine residues in gene regulatory promoter and nonpromoter regions. Recent genome-wide analyses have found differential gene methylation in human ALS. Neuropathologic assessments have revealed that motor neurons in human ALS show significant abnormalities in Dnmt1, Dnmt3a, and 5-methylcytosine. Similar changes are seen in mice with motor neuron degeneration, and Dnmt3a was found abundantly at synapses and in mitochondria. During apoptosis of cultured motor neuron-like cells, Dnmt1 and Dnmt3a protein levels increase, and 5-methylcytosine accumulates. Enforced expression of Dnmt3a, but not Dnmt1, induces degeneration of cultured neurons. Truncation mutation of the Dnmt3a catalytic domain and Dnmt3a RNAi blocks apoptosis of cultured neurons. Inhibition of Dnmt catalytic activity with small molecules RG108 and procainamide protects motor neurons from excessive DNA methylation and apoptosis in cell culture and in a mouse model of ALS. Thus, motor neurons can engage epigenetic mechanisms to cause their degeneration, involving Dnmts and increased DNA methylation. Aberrant DNA methylation in vulnerable cells is a new direction for discovering mechanisms of ALS pathogenesis that could be relevant to new disease target identification and therapies for ALS.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s13311-013-0205-6) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC3805862  PMID: 23900692
Chromatin modification; DNA methyltransferase; 5-methylcytosine; mitochondria; motor neuron; RG108.
2.  Adenosine A2A receptor contributes to ischemic brain damage in newborn piglet 
Pharmacologic inactivation or genetic deletion of adenosine A2A receptors protects ischemic neurons in adult animals, but studies in neonatal hypoxia-ischemia (H-I) are inconclusive. The present study in neonatal piglets examined the hypothesis that A2A receptor signaling after reoxygenation from global H-I contributes to injury in highly vulnerable striatal neurons where A2A receptors are enriched. A2A receptor immunoreactivity was detected in striatopallidal neurons. In nonischemic piglets, direct infusion of the selective A2A receptor agonist CGS 21680 through microdialysis probes into putamen increased phosphorylation of N-methyl-D-aspartic acid (NMDA) receptor NR1 subunit and Na+,K+-ATPase selectively at protein kinase A (PKA)-sensitive sites. In ischemic piglets, posttreatment with SCH 58261, a selective A2A receptor antagonist, improved early neurologic recovery and preferentially protected striatopallidal neurons. SCH 58261 selectively inhibited the ischemia-induced phosphorylation of NR1, Na+,K+-ATPase, and cAMP-regulated phosphoprotein 32 KDa (DARPP32) at PKA-sensitive sites at 3 hours of recovery and improved Na+,K+-ATPase activity. SCH 58261 also suppressed ischemia-induced protein nitration and oxidation. Thus, A2A receptor activation during reoxygenation contributes to the loss of a subpopulation of neonatal putamen neurons after H-I. Its toxic signaling may be related to DARPP32-dependent phosphorylation of PKA-sensitive sites on NR1 and Na+,K+-ATPase, thereby augmenting excitotoxicity-induced oxidative stress after reoxygenation.
PMCID: PMC3790932  PMID: 23860373
adenosine; dopamine; global ischemia; neonatal ischemia; receptors
3.  The non-human primate striatum undergoes marked prolonged remodeling during postnatal development 
We examined the postnatal ontogeny of the striatum in rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) to identify temporal and spatial patterns of histological and chemical maturation. Our goal was to determine whether this forebrain structure is developmentally static or dynamic in postnatal life. Brains from monkeys at 1 day, 1, 4, 6, 9, and 12 months of age (N = 12) and adult monkeys (N = 4) were analyzed. Nissl staining was used to assess striatal volume, cytoarchitecture, and apoptosis. Immunohistochemistry was used to localize and measure substance P (SP), leucine-enkephalin (LENK), tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), and calbindin D28 (CAL) immunoreactivities. Mature brain to body weight ratio was achieved at 4 months of age, and striatal volume increased from ∼1.2 to ∼1.4 cm3 during the first postnatal year. Nissl staining identified, prominently in the caudate nucleus, developmentally persistent discrete cell islands with neuronal densities greater than the surrounding striatal parenchyma (matrix). Losses in neuronal density were observed in island and matrix regions during maturation, and differential developmental programmed cell death was observed in islands and matrix regions. Immunohistochemistry revealed striking changes occurring postnatally in striatal chemical neuroanatomy. At birth, the immature dopaminergic nigrostriatal innervation was characterized by islands enriched in TH-immunoreactive puncta (putative terminals) in the neuropil; TH-enriched islands aligned completely with areas enriched in SP immunoreactivity but low in LENK immunoreactivity. These areas enriched in SP immunoreactivity but low in LENK immunoreactivity were identified as striosome and matrix areas, respectively, because CAL immunoreactivity clearly delineated these territories. SP, LENK, and CAL immunoreactivities appeared as positive neuronal cell bodies, processes, and puncta. The matrix compartment at birth contained relatively low TH-immunoreactive processes and few SP-positive neurons but was densely populated with LENK-immunoreactive neurons. The nucleus accumbens part of the ventral striatum also showed prominent differences in SP, LENK, and CAL immunoreactivities in shell and core territories. During 12 months of postnatal maturation salient changes occurred in neurotransmitter marker localization: TH-positive afferents densely innervated the matrix to exceed levels of immunoreactivity in the striosomes; SP immunoreactivity levels increased in the matrix; and LENK-immunoreactivity levels decreased in the matrix and increased in the striosomes. At 12 months of age, striatal chemoarchitecture was similar qualitatively to adult patterns, but quantitatively different in LENK and SP in caudate, putamen, and nucleus accumbens. This study shows for the first time that the rhesus monkey striatum requires more than 12 months after birth to develop an adult-like pattern of chemical neuroanatomy and that principal neurons within striosomes and matrix have different developmental programs for neuropeptide expression. We conclude that postnatal maturation of the striatal mosaic in primates is not static but, rather, is a protracted and dynamic process that requires many synchronous and compartment-selective changes in afferent innervation and in the expression of genes that regulate neuronal phenotypes.
PMCID: PMC4170103  PMID: 25294985
striatal mosaic; striosome; rhesus monkey; infant; autism; epigenetics; leucine-enkephalin; nucleus accumbens
4.  GNX-4728, a novel small molecule drug inhibitor of mitochondrial permeability transition, is therapeutic in a mouse model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis 
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal neurological disorder in humans characterized by progressive degeneration of skeletal muscle and motor neurons in spinal cord, brainstem, and cerebral cortex causing skeletal muscle paralysis, respiratory insufficiency, and death. There are no cures or effective treatments for ALS. ALS can be inherited, but most cases are not associated with a family history of the disease. Mitochondria have been implicated in the pathogenesis but definitive proof of causal mechanisms is lacking. Identification of new clinically translatable disease mechanism-based molecular targets and small molecule drug candidates are needed for ALS patients. We tested the hypothesis in an animal model that drug modulation of the mitochondrial permeability transition pore (mPTP) is therapeutic in ALS. A prospective randomized placebo-controlled drug trial was done in a transgenic (tg) mouse model of ALS. We explored GNX-4728 as a therapeutic drug. GNX-4728 inhibits mPTP opening as evidenced by increased mitochondrial calcium retention capacity (CRC) both in vitro and in vivo. Chronic systemic treatment of G37R-human mutant superoxide dismutase-1 (hSOD1) tg mice with GNX-4728 resulted in major therapeutic benefits. GNX-4728 slowed disease progression and significantly improved motor function. The survival of ALS mice was increased significantly by GNX-4728 treatment as evidence by a nearly 2-fold extension of lifespan (360 days–750 days). GNX-4728 protected against motor neuron degeneration and mitochondrial degeneration, attenuated spinal cord inflammation, and preserved neuromuscular junction (NMJ) innervation in the diaphragm in ALS mice. This work demonstrates that a mPTP-acting drug has major disease-modifying efficacy in a preclinical mouse model of ALS and establishes mitochondrial calcium retention, and indirectly the mPTP, as targets for ALS drug development.
PMCID: PMC4271619  PMID: 25565966
motor neuron disease; therapeutics; motoneuron; mitochondrial permeability transition pore; mitochondria; mitochondrial calcium uptake; neuromuscular junction
5.  Mitochondrial pathobiology in ALS 
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is the third most common human adult-onset neurodegenerative disease. Some forms of ALS are inherited, and disease-causing genes have been identified. Nevertheless, the mechanisms of neurodegeneration in ALS are unresolved. Genetic, biochemical, and morphological analyses of human ALS as well as cell and animal models of ALS reveal that mitochondria could have roles in this neurodegeneration. The varied functions and properties of mitochondria might render subsets of selectively vulnerable neurons intrinsically susceptible to cellular aging and stress and overlying genetic variations. Changes occur in mitochondrial respiratory chain enzymes and mitochondrial programmed cell death proteins in ALS. Transgenic mouse models of ALS reveal possible principles governing the biology of neurodegeneration that implicate mitochondria and the mitochondrial permeability transition pore. This paper reviews how mitochondrial pathobiology might contribute to the mechanisms of neurodegeneration in ALS.
PMCID: PMC4131252  PMID: 22083126
Apoptosis; Cyclophilin D; Mitochondrial permeability transition pore; Motor neuron; Voltage-dependent anion channel
6.  Neuronal Cell Death in Neonatal Hypoxia-Ischemia 
Annals of neurology  2011;69(5):743-758.
Perinatal hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is a significant cause of mortality and morbidity in infants and young children. Therapeutic opportunities are very limited for neonatal and pediatric HIE. Specific neural systems and populations of cells are selectively vulnerable in HIE; however, the mechanisms of degeneration are unresolved. These mechanisms involve oxidative stress, excitotoxicity, inflammation, and the activation of several different cell death pathways. Decades ago the structural and mechanistic basis of the cellular degeneration in HIE was thought to be necrosis. Subsequently, largely due to advances in cell biology and to experimental animal studies, emphasis has been switched to apoptosis or autophagy mediated by programmed cell death (PCD) mechanisms as important forms of degeneration in HIE. We have conceptualized based on morphological and biochemical data that this degeneration is better classified according to an apoptosis-necrosis cell death continuum and that programmed cell necrosis has prominent contribution in the neurodegeneration of HIE in animal models. It is likely that neonatal HIE evolves through many cell death chreodes influenced by the dynamic injury landscape. The relevant injury mechanisms remain to be determined in human neonatal HIE, though preliminary work suggests a complexity in the cell death mechanisms greater than that anticipated from experimental animal models. The accurate identification of the various cell death chreodes and their mechanisms unfolding within the immature brain matrix could provide fresh insight for developing meaningful therapies for neonatal and pediatric HIE.
PMCID: PMC4000313  PMID: 21520238
7.  Nuclear Localization of Human Superoxide Dismutase 1 (SOD1) and Mutant SOD1-Specific Disruption of Survival Motor Neuron Protein Complex in Transgenic Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Mice 
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal adult-onset neurodegenerative disease that causes degeneration of motor neurons and paralysis. Approximately 20% of familial ALS cases have been linked to mutations in the copper/zinc superoxide dismutase (SOD1) gene but it is unclear how mutations in the protein result in motor neuron degeneration. Transgenic (tg) mice expressing mutated forms of human SOD1 (hSOD1) develop clinical and pathological features similar to those of ALS. We used tg mice expressing hSOD1-G93A, hSOD1-G37R, and hSOD1-wild type to investigate a new subcellular pathology involving mutant hSOD1 protein prominently localizing to the nuclear compartment and disruption of the architecture of nuclear gems. We developed methods for extracting relatively pure cell nucleus fractions from mouse CNS tissues and demonstrate low nuclear presence of endogenous SOD1 in mouse brain and spinal cord, but prominent nuclear accumulation of hSOD1-G93A, -G37R and -wild type in tg mice. hSOD1 concentrated in nuclei of spinal cord cells, particularly motor neurons, at a young age. The survival motor neuron protein (SMN) complex is disrupted in motor neuron nuclei prior to disease onset in hSOD1-G93A and -G37R mice; age-matched hSOD1-wild type mice did not show SMN disruption despite a nuclear presence. Our data suggest new mechanisms involving hSOD1 accumulation in the cell nucleus and mutant hSOD1-specific perturbations in SMN localization with disruption of the nuclear SMN complex in the ALS model mice and suggest overlap of pathogenic mechanisms with spinal muscular atrophy.
PMCID: PMC3432922  PMID: 22249462
Cajal body; Gemin 1; Nuclear gems; Snurportin; Spinal muscular atrophy
8.  Mitochondrial DNMT3A and DNA methylation in skeletal muscle and CNS of transgenic mouse models of ALS 
Cytosine methylation is an epigenetic modification of DNA catalyzed by DNA methyltransferases. Cytosine methylation of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is believed to have relative underrepresentation; however, possible tissue and cell differences in mtDNA methylation and relationships to neurodegenerative disease have not been examined. We show by immunoblotting that DNA methyltransferase 3A (Dnmt3a) isoform is present in pure mitochondria of adult mouse CNS, skeletal muscle, and testes, and adult human cerebral cortex. Dnmt1 was not detected in adult mouse CNS or skeletal muscle mitochondria but appeared bound to the outer mitochondrial membrane. Immunofluorescence confirmed the mitochondrial localization of Dnmt3a and showed 5-methylcytosine (5mC) immunoreactivity in mitochondria of neurons and skeletal muscle myofibers. DNA pyrosequencing of two loci (D-loop and 16S rRNA gene) and twelve cytosine-phosphate-guanine (CpG) sites in mtDNA directly showed a tissue differential presence of 5mC. Because mitochondria have been implicated in the pathogenesis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), but the disease mechanisms are uncertain, we evaluated mitochondrial Dnmt3a and 5mC levels in human superoxide dismutase-1 (SOD1) transgenic mouse models of ALS. Mitochondrial Dnmt3a protein levels were reduced significantly in skeletal muscle and spinal cord at presymptomatic or early disease. Immunofluorescence showed that 5mC immunoreactivity was present in mitochondria of neurons and skeletal myofibers, and 5mC immunoreactivity became aggregated in motor neurons of ALS mice. DNA pyrosequencing revealed significant abnormalities in 16S rRNA gene methylation in ALS mice. Immunofluorescence showed that 5mC immunoreactivity can be sequestered into autophagosomes and that mitophagy was increased and mitochondrial content was decreased in skeletal muscle in ALS mice. This study reveals a tissue-preferential mitochondrial localization of Dnmt3a and presence of cytosine methylation in mtDNA of nervous tissue and skeletal muscle and demonstrates that mtDNA methylation patterns and mitochondrial Dnmt3a levels are abnormal in skeletal muscle and spinal cord of presymptomatic ALS mice, and these abnormalities occur in parallel with loss of myofiber mitochondria.
PMCID: PMC3872319  PMID: 24399935
ALS; DNA pyrosequencing; Dnmt1; Dnmt3a; mitochondrial DNA; 5-methylcytosine; mitochondria; motor neuron
9.  Inhibitory Synaptic Regulation of Motoneurons: A New Target of Disease Mechanisms in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis 
Molecular neurobiology  2011;45(1):30-42.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is the third most common adult-onset neurodegenerative disease. It causes the degeneration of motoneurons and is fatal due to paralysis, particularly of respiratory muscles. ALS can be inherited, and specific disease-causing genes have been identified, but the mechanisms causing motoneuron death in ALS are not understood. No effective treatments exist for ALS. One well-studied theory of ALS pathogenesis involves faulty RNA editing and abnormal activation of specific glutamate receptors as well as failure of glutamate transport resulting in glutamate excitotoxicity; however, the excitotoxicity theory is challenged by the inability of anti-glutamate drugs to have major disease-modifying effects clinically. Nevertheless, hyperexcitability of upper and lower motoneurons is a feature of human ALS and transgenic (tg) mouse models of ALS. Motoneuron excitability is strongly modulated by synaptic inhibition mediated by presynaptic glycinergic and GABAergic innervations and postsynaptic glycine receptors (GlyR) and GABAA receptors; yet, the integrity of inhibitory systems regulating motoneurons has been understudied in experimental models, despite findings in human ALS suggesting that they may be affected. We have found in tg mice expressing a mutant form of human superoxide dismutase-1 (hSOD1) with a Gly93 → Ala substitution (G93A-hSOD1), causing familial ALS, that subsets of spinal interneurons degenerate. Inhibitory glycinergic innervation of spinal motoneurons becomes deficient before motoneuron degeneration is evident in G93A-hSOD1 mice. Motoneurons in these ALS mice also have insufficient synaptic inhibition as reflected by smaller GlyR currents, smaller GlyR clusters on their plasma membrane, and lower expression of GlyR1α mRNA compared to wild-type motoneurons. In contrast, GABAergic innervation of ALS mouse motoneurons and GABAA receptor function appear normal. Abnormal synaptic inhibition resulting from dysfunction of interneurons and motoneuron GlyRs is a new direction for unveiling mechanisms of ALS pathogenesis that could be relevant to new therapies for ALS.
PMCID: PMC3530198  PMID: 22072396
Chloride channel; Glutamate receptor; Glycine receptor; Hb9-eGFP; Excitotoxicity; Hyperexcitability; Interneuron; Renshaw cell
10.  An Approach to Experimental Synaptic Pathology Using Green Fluorescent Protein-Transgenic Mice and Gene Knockout Mice to Show Mitochondrial Permeability Transition Pore-Driven Excitotoxicity in Interneurons and Motoneurons 
Toxicologic pathology  2010;39(1):220-233.
Researchers used transgenic mice expressing enhanced-green fluorescent protein (eGFP) driven by either the glycine transporter-2 gene promoter to specifically visualize glycinergic interneurons or the homeobox-9 (Hb9) gene promoter to visualize motoneurons for assessing their vulnerabilities to excitotoxins in vivo. Stereotaxic excitotoxic lesions were made in adult male and female mouse lumbar spinal cord with the specific N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor agonist quinolinic acid (QA) and the non-NMDA ion channel glutamate receptor agonist kainic acid (KA). QA and KA induced large-scale degeneration of glycinergic interneurons in spinal cord. Glycinergic interneurons were more sensitive than motoneurons to NMDA receptor-mediated and non-NMDA glutamate receptor-mediated excitotoxicity. Outcome after spinal cord excitotoxicity was gender-dependent, with males showing greater sensitivity than females. Excitotoxic degeneration of spinal interneurons resembled apoptosis, while motoneuron degeneration appeared non-apoptotic. Perikaryal mitochondrial accumulation was antecedent to both NMDA and non-NMDA receptor-mediated excitotoxic stimulation of interneurons and motoneurons. Genetic ablation of cyclophilin D, a regulator of the mitochondrial permeability transition pore (mPTP), protected both interneurons and motoneurons from excitotoxicity. The results demonstrate in adult mouse spinal cord that glycinergic interneurons are more sensitive than motoneurons to excitotoxicity that stimulates mitochondrial accumulation, and that the mPTP has pro-death functions mediating apoptotic and non-apoptotic neuronal degeneration in vivo.
PMCID: PMC3517994  PMID: 21378209
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; apoptosis; cyclophilin D; excitotoxicity; green fluorescent protein; mitochondrial fission; synaptic pathology
11.  Skeletal Muscle DNA Damage Precedes Spinal Motor Neuron DNA Damage in a Mouse Model of Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e93329.
Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is a hereditary childhood disease that causes paralysis by progressive degeneration of skeletal muscles and spinal motor neurons. SMA is associated with reduced levels of full-length Survival of Motor Neuron (SMN) protein, due to mutations in the Survival of Motor Neuron 1 gene. The mechanisms by which lack of SMN causes SMA pathology are not known, making it very difficult to develop effective therapies. We investigated whether DNA damage is a perinatal pathological event in SMA, and whether DNA damage and cell death first occur in skeletal muscle or spinal cord of SMA mice. We used a mouse model of severe SMA to ascertain the extent of cell death and DNA damage throughout the body of prenatal and newborn mice. SMA mice at birth (postnatal day 0) exhibited internucleosomal fragmentation in genomic DNA from hindlimb skeletal muscle, but not in genomic DNA from spinal cord. SMA mice at postnatal day 5, compared with littermate controls, exhibited increased apoptotic cell death profiles in skeletal muscle, by hematoxylin and eosin, terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase dUTP nick end labeling, and electron microscopy. SMA mice had no increased cell death, no loss of choline acetyl transferase (ChAT)-positive motor neurons, and no overt pathology in the ventral horn of the spinal cord. At embryonic days 13 and 15.5, SMA mice did not exhibit statistically significant increases in cell death profiles in spinal cord or skeletal muscle. Motor neuron numbers in the ventral horn, as identified by ChAT immunoreactivity, were comparable in SMA mice and control littermates at embryonic day 15.5 and postnatal day 5. These observations demonstrate that in SMA, disease in skeletal muscle emerges before pathology in spinal cord, including loss of motor neurons. Overall, this work identifies DNA damage and cell death in skeletal muscle as therapeutic targets for SMA.
PMCID: PMC3965546  PMID: 24667816
Neuroscience  2007;149(4):822-833.
Controversy surrounds proper classification of neurodegeneration occurring acutely following neonatal hypoxia-ischemia. By ultrastructural classification, in the first 24 hours after neonatal hypoxia-ischemia in the p7 rat, the majority of striatal cells die having both apoptotic and necrotic features. There is formation of a functional apoptosome, and activation of caspases 9 and 3 occurring simultaneously with loss of structurally intact mitochondria to 34.7±25% and loss of mitochondrial cytochrome C oxidase activity to 34.7±12.7% of control levels by 3 hours after hypoxia-ischemia. There is also loss of the mitochondrial motor protein, kinesin. This combination of activation of apoptosis pathways simultaneous with significant mitochondrial dysfunction may cause incomplete packaging of nuclear and cytoplasmic contents and a hybrid of necrotic and apoptotic features. Evidence for an intermediate biochemistry of cell death including expression of the 17 kDa isoform of caspase-3 in dying neurons lacking a classic apoptotic morphology and degradation of the neuronal cytoskeletal protein spectrin by caspase-3 and calcium-activated calpains yielding 120 kDa and 145/150 kDa fragments, respectively, is also found. In summary, neonatal hypoxia-ischemia triggers apoptotic cascades, and simultaneously causes mitochondrial structural and functional failure. The presence of a ‘continuum phenotype’ of cell death that varies on a cell-by-cell basis suggests that the phenotype of cell death is dependent on the energy available to drive the apoptotic pathways to completion.
PMCID: PMC3947608  PMID: 17961929
Continuum cell death; neonatal brain injury; mitochondria; neurodegeneration; ultrastructure
13.  Motoneuron subtypes show specificity in glycine receptor channel abnormalities in a transgenic mouse model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis 
Channels  2011;5(4):299-303.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease characterized by selective loss of motoneurons. Recently we studied glycine receptors (GlyRs) in motoneurons in an ALS mouse model expressing a mutant form of human superoxide dismutase-1 with a Gly93→Ala substitution (G93A-SOD1). Living motoneurons in dissociated spinal cord cultures were identified by using transgenic mice expressing eGFP driven by the Hb9 promoter. We showed that GlyR-mediated currents were reduced in large-sized (diameter >28 µm) Hb9-eGFP+ motoneurons from G93A-SOD1 embryonic mice. Here we analyze GlyR currents in a morphologically distinct subgroup of medium-sized (diameter 10–28 µm) Hb9-eGFP+ motoneurons, presumably gamma or slow-type alpha motoneurons. We find that glycine-induced current densities were not altered in medium-sized G93A-SOD1 motoneurons. No significant differences in glycinergic mIPSCs were observed between G93A-SOD1 and control medium-sized motoneurons. These results indicate that GlyR deficiency early in the disease process of ALS is specific for large alpha motoneurons.
PMCID: PMC3225730  PMID: 21558795
Hb9-eGFP; mutant SOD1; motoneuron culture; patch clamp; mIPSC; gamma motoneuron; alpha motoneuron
14.  Epigenetic Regulation of Motor Neuron Cell Death Through DNA Methylation 
DNA methylation is an epigenetic mechanism for gene silencing engaged by DNA methyltransferase (Dnmt)-catalyzed methyl group transfer to cytosine residues in gene regulatory regions. It is unknown if aberrant DNA methylation can cause neurodegeneration. We tested the hypothesis that Dnmts can mediate neuronal cell death. Enforced expression of Dnmt3a induced degeneration of cultured NSC34 cells. During apoptosis of NSC34 cells induced by camptothecin, levels of Dnmt1 and Dnmt3a increased five-fold and two-fold, respectively, and 5-methylcytosine accumulated in nuclei. Truncation mutation of the Dnmt3a catalytic domain and Dnmt3a RNAi blocked apoptosis of cultured neurons. Inhibition of Dnmt catalytic activity with RG108 and procainamide protected cultured neurons from excessive DNA methylation and apoptosis. In vivo, Dnmt1 and Dnmt3a are expressed differentially during mouse brain and spinal cord maturation and in adulthood when Dnmt3a is abundant in synapses and mitochondria. Dnmt1 and Dnmt3a are expressed in motor neurons of adult mouse spinal cord, and, during their apoptosis induced by sciatic nerve avulsion, nuclear and cytoplasmic 5-methylcytosine immunoreactivity, Dnmt3a protein levels, and Dnmt enzyme activity increased preapoptotically. Inhibition of Dnmts with RG108 blocked completely the increase in 5-methycytosine and the apoptosis of motor neurons in mice. In human amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), motor neurons showed changes in Dnmt1, Dnmt3a, and 5-methylcytosine similar to experimental models. Thus, motor neurons can engage epigenetic mechanisms to drive apoptosis, involving Dnmt upregulation and increased DNA methylation. These cellular mechanisms could be relevant to human ALS pathobiology and disease treatment.
PMCID: PMC3238138  PMID: 22090490
Apoptosis; axotomy; epigenetics; 5-methylcytosine; DNA methylation; Hb9-eGFP; mitochondria; NSC34 cells; DNA methyltransferase; Dnmt-GFP; RG108
15.  The Olfactory Bulb in Newborn Piglet Is a Reservoir of Neural Stem and Progenitor Cells 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e81105.
The olfactory bulb (OB) periventricular zone is an extension of the forebrain subventricular zone (SVZ) and thus is a source of neuroprogenitor cells and neural stem cells. While considerable information is available on the SVZ-OB neural stem cell (NSC)/neuroprogenitor cell (NPC) niche in rodents, less work has been done on this system in large animals. The newborn piglet is used as a preclinical translational model of neonatal hypoxic-ischemic brain damage, but information about the endogenous sources of NSCs/NPCs in piglet is needed to implement endogenous or autologous cell-based therapies in this model. We characterized NSC/NPC niches in piglet forebrain and OB-SVZ using western blotting, histological, and cell culture methods. Immunoblotting revealed nestin, a NSC/NPC marker, in forebrain-SVZ and OB-SVZ in newborn piglet. Several progenitor or newborn neuron markers, including Dlx2, musashi, doublecortin, and polysialated neural cell adhesion molecule were also detected in OB-SVZ by immunoblotting. Immunohistochemistry confirmed the presence of nestin, musashi, and doublecortin in forebrain-SVZ and OB-SVZ. Bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) labeling showed that the forebrain-SVZ and OB-SVZ accumulate newly replicated cells. BrdU-positive cells were immunolabeled for astroglial, oligodendroglial, and neuronal markers. A lateral migratory pathway for newly born neuron migration to primary olfactory cortex was revealed by BrdU labeling and co-labeling for doublecortin and class III β tubulin. Isolated and cultured forebrain-SVZ and OB-SVZ cells from newborn piglet had the capacity to generate numerous neurospheres. Single cell clonal analysis of neurospheres revealed the capacity for self-renewal and multipotency. Neurosphere-derived cells differentiated into neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes and were amenable to permanent genetic tagging with lentivirus encoding green fluorescent protein. We conclude that the piglet OB-SVZ is a reservoir of NSCs and NPCs suitable to use in autologous cell therapy in preclinical models of neonatal/pediatric brain injury.
PMCID: PMC3836747  PMID: 24278384
16.  Glycine Receptor Channels in Spinal Motoneurons are Abnormal in a Transgenic Mouse Model of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis 
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a rapidly evolving and fatal adult-onset neurological disease characterized by progressive degeneration of motoneurons. Our previous study showed that glycinergic innervation of spinal motoneurons is deficient in an ALS mouse model expressing a mutant form of human superoxide dismutase-1 with a Gly93→Ala substitution (G93A-SOD1). In this study we have examined, using whole-cell patch clamp recordings, glycine receptor (GlyR)-mediated currents in spinal motoneurons from these transgenic mice. We developed a dissociated spinal cord culture model using embryonic transgenic mice expressing eGFP driven by the Hb9 promoter. Motoneurons were identified as Hb9-eGFP+ neurons with a characteristic morphology. To examine GlyRs in ALS motoneurons, we bred G93A-SOD1 mice to Hb9-eGFP mice and compared glycine-evoked currents in cultured Hb9-eGFP+ motoneurons prepared from G93A-SOD1 embryos and from their non-transgenic littermates. Glycine-evoked current density was significantly smaller in the G93A-SOD1 motoneurons compared with control. Furthermore, the averaged current densities of spontaneous glycinergic miniature inhibitory postsynaptic currents (mIPSCs) were significantly smaller in the G93A-SOD1 motoneurons than in control motoneurons. No significant differences in GABA-induced currents and GABAergic mIPSCs were observed between G93A-SOD1 and control motoneurons. Quantitative single-cell RT-PCR found lower GlyRα1 subunit mRNA expression in G93A-SOD1 motoneurons, indicating that the reduction of GlyR current may result from the downregulation of GlyR mRNA expression in motoneurons. Immunocytochemistry demonstrated a decrease of surface postsynaptic GlyR on G93A-SOD1 motoneurons. Our study suggests that selective alterations in GlyR function contribute to inhibitory insufficiency in motoneurons early in the disease process of ALS.
PMCID: PMC3081715  PMID: 21414903
Hb9-eGFP; mutant SOD1; motoneuron culture; GABAA receptor; patch clamp; single-cell RT-PCR
17.  The Mitochondrial Permeability Transition Pore Regulates Nitric Oxide-Mediated Apoptosis of Neurons Induced by Target Deprivation 
Ablation of mouse occipital cortex induces precisely timed and uniform p53-modulated and Bax-dependent apoptosis of thalamocortical projection neurons in the dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) by 7 days postlesion. We tested the hypothesis that this neuronal apoptosis is initiated by oxidative stress and the mitochondrial permeability transition pore (mPTP). Pre-apoptotic LGN neurons accumulate mitochondria, Zn2+ and Ca2+, and generate higher levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS), including superoxide, nitric oxide (NO) and peroxynitrite, than LGN neurons with an intact cortical target. Pre-apoptosis of LGN neurons is associated with increased formation of protein carbonyls, protein nitration, and protein S-nitrosylation. Genetic deletion of nitric oxide synthase 1 (nos1) and inhibition of NOS1 with nitroindazole protected LGN neurons from apoptosis, revealing NO as a mediator. Putative components of the mPTP are expressed in mouse LGN, including the voltage-dependent anion channel (VDAC), adenine nucleotide translocator (ANT), and cyclophilin D (CyPD). Nitration of CyPD and ANT in LGN mitochondria occurs by 2 days after cortical injury. Chemical cross-linking showed that LGN neuron pre-apoptosis is associated with formation of CyPD and VDAC oligomers, consistent with mPTP formation. Mice without CyPD are rescued from neuron apoptosis as are mice treated with the mPTP inhibitors TRO-19622 and TAT-Bcl-XL-BH4. Manipulation of the mPTP markedly attenuated the early pre-apoptotic production of reactive oxygen/nitrogen species in target-deprived neurons. Our results demonstrate in adult mouse brain neurons that the mPTP functions to enhance ROS production and the mPTP and NO trigger apoptosis; thus, the mPTP is a target for neuroprotection in vivo.
PMCID: PMC3078575  PMID: 21209222
Alzheimer’s disease; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; axotomy; cell death; DNA damage; Parkinson’s disease; target deprivation; traumatic brain injury
18.  Early Antioxidant Treatment and Delayed Hypothermia After Hypoxia-Ischemia Have No Additive Neuroprotection in Newborn Pigs 
Anesthesia and analgesia  2012;115(3):627-637.
The implementation and clinical efficacy of hypothermia in neonatal hypoxic-ischemic (HI) encephalopathy are limited, in part, by the delay in instituting hypothermia and access to equipment. In a piglet model of HI, half of the neurons in putamen already showed ischemic cytopathology by 6 hours of recovery. We tested the hypothesis that treatment with the superoxide dismutase-catalase mimetic EUK-134 at 30 minutes of recovery provides additive neuronal protection when combined with one day of whole body hypothermia implemented 4 hours after resuscitation.
Anesthetized piglets were subjected to 40 minutes of hypoxia (10% inspired oxygen) followed by 7 minutes of airway occlusion and resuscitation. Body temperature was maintained at 38.5°C in normothermic groups and at 34°C in hypothermic groups. All groups were mechanically ventilated, sedated, and received muscle relaxants during the first day of recovery. Neuropathology was assessed by profile and stereological cell counting methods.
At 10 days of recovery, neuronal viability in putamen of a normothermic group treated with saline vehicle was reduced to 17±6% (±95% confidence interval) of the value in a sham-operated control group (100±15%). Intravenous infusion of EUK-134 (2.5 mg/kg at 30 minutes of recovery + 1.25 mg/kg/h until 4 hours of recovery) with normothermic recovery resulted in 40±12% viable neurons in putamen. Treatment with saline vehicle followed by delayed hypothermia resulted in partial protection (46±15%). Combining early EUK-134 treatment with delayed hypothermia also produced partial protection (47±18%) that was not significantly greater than single treatment with EUK-134 (confidence interval of difference: −15% to 29%) or delayed hypothermia (−16% to 19%). Furthermore, no additive neuroprotection was detected in caudate nucleus or parasagittal neocortex, where neuronal loss was less severe.
We conclude that early treatment with this antioxidant does not substantially enhance the therapeutic benefit of delayed hypothermia in protecting highly vulnerable neurons in HI-insulted newborns, possibly because basal ganglia neurons are already undergoing irreversible cell death signaling by the time EUK-134 is administered or because this compound and hypothermia attenuate similar mechanisms of injury.
PMCID: PMC3425722  PMID: 22745113
19.  The Mitochondrial Permeability Transition Pore: A Molecular Target for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Therapy 
Biochimica et biophysica acta  2009;1802(1):186-197.
Effective therapies are needed for the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a fatal type of motor neuron disease. Morphological, biochemical, molecular genetic, and cell/animal model studies suggest that mitochondria have potentially diverse roles in neurodegenerative disease mechanisms and neuronal cell death. In human ALS, abnormalities have been found in mitochondrial structure, mitochondrial respiratory chain enzymes, and mitochondrial cell death proteins indicative of some non-classical form of programmed cell death. Mouse models of ALS are beginning to reveal possible principles governing the biology of selective neuronal vulnerability that implicate mitochondria. This minireview summarizes work on the how malfunctioning mitochondria might contribute to neuronal death in ALS through the biophysical entity called the mitochondrial permeability pore (mPTP). The major protein components of the mPTP are enriched in mouse motor neurons. Early in the course of disease in ALS mice expressing human mutant superoxide dismutase-1, mitochondria in motor neurons undergo trafficking abnormalities and dramatic remodeling resulting in the formation of mega-mitochondria and coinciding with increased protein carbonyl formation and nitration of mPTP components. The genetic deletion of a major mPTP component, cyclophilin D, has robust effects in ALS mice by delaying disease onset and extending survival. Thus, attention should be directed to the mPTP as rational target for the development of drugs designed to treat ALS.
PMCID: PMC2790555  PMID: 19651206
adenine nucleotide translocator; apoptosis; cell death; cyclophilin D; excitotoxicity; mitochondria; motor neuron; ppif; voltage-dependent anion channel
20.  The Mitochondrial Permeability Transition Pore in Motor Neurons: Involvement in the Pathobiology of ALS Mice 
Experimental neurology  2009;218(2):333-346.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal neurodegenerative disease of motor neurons (MNs) that causes paralysis. Some forms of ALS are inherited, caused by mutations in the superoxide dismutase-1 (SOD1) gene. The mechanisms of human mutant SOD1 (mSOD1) toxicity to MNs are unresolved. Mitochondria in MNs might be key sites for ALS pathogenesis, but cause-effect relationships between mSOD1 and mitochrondiopathy need further study. We used transgenic mSOD1 mice to test the hypothesis that the mitochondrial permeability transition pore (mPTP) is involved in the MN degeneration of ALS. Components of the multi-protein mPTP are expressed highly in mouse MNs, including the voltage-dependent anion channel, adenine nucleotide translocator (ANT), and cyclophilin D (CyPD), and are present in mitochondria marked by manganese SOD. MNs in pre-symptomatic mSOD1-G93A mice form swollen megamitochondria with CyPD immunoreactivity. Early disease is associated with mitochondrial cristae remodeling and matrix vesiculation in ventral horn neuron dendrites. MN cell bodies accumulate mitochondria derived from the distal axons projecting to skeletal muscle. Incipient disease in spinal cord is associated with increased oxidative and nitrative stress, indicated by protein carbonyls and nitration of CyPD and ANT. Reducing the levels of CyPD by genetic ablation significantly delays disease onset and extends the lifespan of G93A-mSOD1 mice expressing high and low levels of mutant protein in a gender-dependent pattern. These results demonstrate that mitochondria have causal roles in the disease mechanisms in MNs in ALS mice. This work defines a new mitochondrial mechanism for MN degeneration in ALS.
PMCID: PMC2710399  PMID: 19272377
adenine nucleotide translocase; cristae remodeling; mutant SOD1; nitration; porin; ppif; voltage-dependent anion channel
21.  Molecular Regulation of DNA Damage-Induced Apoptosis in Neurons of Cerebral Cortex 
Cerebral Cortex (New York, NY)  2008;19(6):1273-1293.
Cerebral cortical neuron degeneration occurs in brain disorders manifesting throughout life, but the mechanisms are understood poorly. We used cultured embryonic mouse cortical neurons and an in vivo mouse model to study mechanisms of DNA damaged-induced apoptosis in immature and differentiated neurons. p53 drives apoptosis of immature and differentiated cortical neurons through its rapid and prominent activation stimulated by DNA strand breaks induced by topoisomerase-I and -II inhibition. Blocking p53-DNA transactivation with α-pifithrin protects immature neurons; blocking p53-mitochondrial functions with μ-pifithrin protects differentiated neurons. Mitochondrial death proteins are upregulated in apoptotic immature and differentiated neurons and have nonredundant proapoptotic functions; Bak is more dominant than Bax in differentiated neurons. p53 phosphorylation is mediated by ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM) kinase. ATM inactivation is antiapoptotic, particularly in differentiated neurons, whereas inhibition of c-Abl protects immature neurons but not differentiated neurons. Cell death protein expression patterns in mouse forebrain are mostly similar to cultured neurons. DNA damage induces prominent p53 activation and apoptosis in cerebral cortex in vivo. Thus, DNA strand breaks in cortical neurons induce rapid p53-mediated apoptosis through actions of upstream ATM and c-Abl kinases and downstream mitochondrial death proteins. This molecular network operates through variations depending on neuron maturity.
PMCID: PMC2677647  PMID: 18820287
Alzheimer's disease; ATM; neonatal brain injury; p53; Parkinson's disease; stroke
22.  Attenuation of neonatal ischemic brain damage using a 20-HETE synthesis inhibitor 
Journal of Neurochemistry  2012;121(1):168-179.
20-hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acid (20-HETE) is a cytochrome P450 (CYP) metabolite of arachidonic acid that that contributes to infarct size following focal cerebral ischemia. However, little is known about the role of 20-HETE in global cerebral ischemia or neonatal hypoxia-ischemia (H-I). The present study examined the effects of blockade of the synthesis of 20-HETE with HET0016 in neonatal piglets after H-I to determine if it protects highly vulnerable striatal neurons. Administration of HET0016 after H-I improved early neurological recovery and protected neurons in putamen after 4 days of recovery. HET0016 had no significant effect on cerebral blood flow. CYP 4A immunoreactivity was detected in putamen neurons, and direct infusion of 20-HETE in the putamen increased phosphorylation of Na+,K+-ATPase and NMDA receptor NR1 subunit selectively at PKC-sensitive sites but not at PKA-sensitive sites. HET0016 selectively inhibited the H-I–induced phosphorylation at these same sites at 3 h of recovery and improved Na+,K+-ATPase activity.At 3 h, HET0016 also suppressed H-I–induced Erk1/2 activation and protein markers of nitrosative and oxidative stress. Thus, 20-HETE can exert direct effects on key proteins involved in neuronal excitotoxicity in vivo and contributes to neurodegeneration after global cerebral ischemia in immature brain.
PMCID: PMC3303996  PMID: 22251169
cerebral blood flow; cytochrome P450 4A; HET0016; Na+, K+-ATPase; NMDA receptor; piglet
The basal ganglia of newborns are extremely vulnerable to hypoxic ischemia (HI). Striatal neurons undergo prominent necrosis after HI. The mechanisms for this degeneration are not well understood. Post-asphyxic hypothermia ameliorates the striatal necrosis, but the mechanisms of hypothermia-induced neuroprotection are not known. We used a newborn piglet model of hypoxic-asphyxic cardiac arrest to test the hypotheses that N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor activation and free radical damage coexist, prior to neurodegeneration, early after resuscitation, and that these changes are attenuated with hypothermia. Piglets were subjected to 30 minutes of hypoxia followed by 7 minutes of airway occlusion, causing asphyxia cardiac arrest, and then were resuscitated and survived normothermically for 5 minutes, 3 hours, or 6 hours, or hypothermically for 3 hours. By 6 hours of normothermic recovery, 50% of neurons in putamen showed ischemic cytopathology. Striatal tissue was fractionated into membrane or soluble proteins and was assayed by immunoblotting for carbonyl modification, phosphorylation of the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor subunit NR1, and neuronal nitric oxide synthase. Significant accumulation of soluble protein carbonyls was present at 3 hours (196% of control) and 6 hours (142% of control). Phosphorylation of serine-897 of NR1 was increased significantly at 5 minutes (161% of control) and 3 hours (226% of control) after HI. Phosphorylation of serine-890 of NR1 was also increased after HI. Membrane associated neuronal nitric oxide synthase was increased by 35% at 5 minutes. Hypothermia attenuated the oxidative damage and the NR1 phosphorylation in striatum. We conclude that neuronal death signaling in newborn striatum after HI is engaged rapidly through N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor activation, neuronal nitric oxide synthase recruitment, and oxidative stress. Postasphyxic, mild whole body hypothermia provides neuroprotection by suppressing N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor phosphorylation and protein oxidation.
PMCID: PMC2692732  PMID: 17950559
asphyxia; cardiac arrest; neonatal brain ischemia; pediatric brain damage; protein carbonyl; nitric oxide
24.  Biology of Mitochondria in Neurodegenerative Diseases 
Alzheimer's disease (AD), Parkinson's disease (PD), and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) are the most common human adult-onset neurodegenerative diseases. They are characterized by prominent age-related neurodegeneration in selectively vulnerable neural systems. Some forms of AD, PD, and ALS are inherited, and genes causing these diseases have been identified. Nevertheless, the mechanisms of the neuronal degeneration in these familial diseases, and in the more common idiopathic (sporadic) diseases, are unresolved. Genetic, biochemical, and morphological analyses of human AD, PD, and ALS, as well as their cell and animal models, reveal that mitochondria could have roles in this neurodegeneration. The varied functions and properties of mitochondria might render subsets of selectively vulnerable neurons intrinsically susceptible to cellular aging and stress and the overlying genetic variations. In AD, alterations in enzymes involved in oxidative phosphorylation, oxidative damage, and mitochondrial binding of Aβ and amyloid precursor protein have been reported. In PD, mutations in mitochondrial proteins have been identified and mitochondrial DNA mutations have been found in neurons in the substantia nigra. In ALS, changes occur in mitochondrial respiratory chain enzymes and mitochondrial programmed cell death proteins. Transgenic mouse models of human neurodegenerative disease are beginning to reveal possible principles governing the biology of selective neuronal vulnerability that implicate mitochondria and the mitochondrial permeability transition pore. This chapter reviews several aspects of mitochondrial biology and how mitochondrial pathobiology might contribute to the mechanisms of neurodegeneration in AD, PD, and ALS.
PMCID: PMC3530202  PMID: 22482456
25.  DNA Damage and Repair: Relevance to Mechanisms of Neurodegeneration 
DNA damage is a form of cell stress and injury that has been implicated in the pathogenesis of many neurologic disorders, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer disease, Down syndrome, Parkinson disease, cerebral ischemia, and head trauma. However, most data reveal only associations, and the role for DNA damage in direct mechanisms of neurodegeneration is vague with respect to being a definitive upstream cause of neuron cell death, rather than a consequence of the degeneration. Although neurons seem inclined to develop DNA damage during oxidative stress, most of the existing work on DNA damage and repair mechanisms has been done in the context of cancer biology using cycling non-neuronal cells but not nondividing (i.e. postmitotic) neurons. Nevertheless, the identification of mutations in genes that encode proteins that function in DNA repair and DNA damage response in human hereditary DNA repair deficiency syndromes and ataxic disorders is establishing a mechanistic precedent that clearly links DNA damage and DNA repair abnormalities with progressive neurodegeneration. This review summarizes DNA damage and repair mechanisms and their potential relevance to the evolution of degeneration in postmitotic neurons.
PMCID: PMC2474726  PMID: 18431258
Alzheimer disease; Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Apoptosis; Aprataxin; Cortical neuron; Motor neuron; p53

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