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1.  Characterization of Maleimide-Based Glycogen Synthase Kinase-3 (GSK-3) Inhibitors as Stimulators of Steroidogenesis 
Journal of medicinal chemistry  2013;56(12):5115-5129.
Inhibition of GSK-3β has been well documented to account for the behavioral actions of the mood stabilizer lithium in various animal models of mood disorders. Recent studies have showed that genetic or pharmacological inhibition of GSK-3β resulted in anxiolytic-like and pro-social behavior. In our ongoing efforts to develop GSK-3β inhibitors for the treatment of mood disorders, SAR studies on maleimide-based compounds were undertaken. We present herein for the first time that some of these GSK-3β inhibitors, in particular analogs 1 and 9, were able to stimulate progesterone production in the MA-10 mouse tumor Leydig cell model of steroidogenesis without any significant toxicity. These two compounds were tested in the SmartCube® behavioral assay and showed anxiolytic-like signatures following daily dose administration (50 mg/kg, i.p.) for 13 days. Taken together, these results support the hypothesis that GSK-3β inhibition could influence neuroactive steroid production thereby mediating the modulation of anxiety-like behavior in vivo.
doi:10.1021/jm400511s
PMCID: PMC3777810  PMID: 23725591
kinase inhibitor; GSK-3; maleimides; steroidogenesis; lithium; anxiolytic
2.  Genetic Deletion of Transglutaminase 2 Does Not Rescue the Phenotypic Deficits Observed in R6/2 and zQ175 Mouse Models of Huntington's Disease 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e99520.
Huntington's disease (HD) is an autosomal dominant, progressive neurodegenerative disorder caused by expansion of CAG repeats in the huntingtin gene. Tissue transglutaminase 2 (TG2), a multi-functional enzyme, was found to be increased both in HD patients and in mouse models of the disease. Furthermore, beneficial effects have been reported from the genetic ablation of TG2 in R6/2 and R6/1 mouse lines. To further evaluate the validity of this target for the treatment of HD, we examined the effects of TG2 deletion in two genetic mouse models of HD: R6/2 CAG 240 and zQ175 knock in (KI). Contrary to previous reports, under rigorous experimental conditions we found that TG2 ablation had no effect on either motor or cognitive deficits, or on the weight loss. In addition, under optimal husbandry conditions, TG2 ablation did not extend R6/2 lifespan. Moreover, TG2 deletion did not change the huntingtin aggregate load in cortex or striatum and did not decrease the brain atrophy observed in either mouse line. Finally, no amelioration of the dysregulation of striatal and cortical gene markers was detected. We conclude that TG2 is not a valid therapeutic target for the treatment of HD.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0099520
PMCID: PMC4067284  PMID: 24955833
3.  The potent and selective α4β2*/α6*-nicotinic acetylcholine receptor partial agonist 2-[5-[5-((S)Azetidin-2-ylmethoxy)-3-pyridinyl]-3-isoxazolyl]ethanol demonstrates antidepressive-like behavior in animal models and a favorable ADME-tox profile 
Preclinical and clinical studies demonstrated that the inhibition of cholinergic supersensitivity through nicotinic antagonists and partial agonists can be used successfully to treat depressed patients, especially those who are poor responders to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). In our effort to develop novel antidepressant drugs, LF-3-88 was identified as a potent nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) partial agonist with subnanomolar to nanomolar affinities for β2-containing nAChRs (α2β2, α3β2, α4β2, and α4β2*) and superior selectivity away from α3β4 − (Ki > 104 nmol/L) and α7-nAChRs (Ki > 104 nmol/L) as well as 51 other central nervous system (CNS)-related neurotransmitter receptors and transporters. Functional activities at different nAChR subtypes were characterized utilizing 86Rb+ ion efflux assays, two-electrode voltage-clamp (TEVC) recording in oocytes, and whole-cell current recording measurements. In mouse models, administration of LF-3-88 resulted in antidepressive-like behavioral signatures 15 min post injection in the SmartCube® test (5 and 10 mg/kg, i.p.; about 45-min session), decreased immobility in the forced swim test (1–3 mg/kg, i.p.; 1–10 mg/kg, p.o.; 30 min pretreatment, 6-min trial), and decreased latency to approach food in the novelty-suppressed feeding test after 29 days chronic administration once daily (5 mg/kg but not 10 mg/kg, p.o.; 15-min trial). In addition, LF-3-88 exhibited a favorable profile in pharmacokinetic/ADME-Tox (absorption, distribution, metabolism, excretion, and toxicity) assays. This compound was also shown to cause no mortality in wild-type Balb/CJ mice when tested at 300 mg/kg. These results further support the potential of potent and selective nicotinic partial agonists for use in the treatment of depression.
doi:10.1002/prp2.26
PMCID: PMC4184702  PMID: 25505580
Antidepressive-like behavior; nicotinic acetylcholine receptor; partial agonist; selectivity
4.  Discovery of Highly Potent and Selective α4β2-Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor (nAChR) Partial Agonists Containing an Isoxazolylpyridine Ether Scaffold that Demonstrate Antidepressant-like Activity. Part II 
Journal of medicinal chemistry  2012;55(22):9998-10009.
In our continued efforts to develop α4β2-nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) partial agonists as novel antidepressants having a unique mechanism of action, structure activity relationship (SAR) exploration of certain isoxazolylpyridine ethers is presented. In particular, modifications to both the azetidine ring present in the starting structure 4 and its metabolically liable hydroxyl side chain substituent have been explored to improve compound druggability. The pharmacological characterization of all new compounds has been carried out using [3H]epibatidine binding studies together with functional assays based on 86Rb+ ion flux measurements. We found that the deletion of the metabolically liable hydroxyl group or its replacement by a fluoromethyl group not only maintained potency and selectivity, but also resulted in compounds showing antidepressant-like properties in the mouse forced swim test. These isoxazolylpyridine ethers appear to represent promising lead candidates in the design of innovative chemical tools containing reporter groups for imaging purposes and of possible therapeutics.
doi:10.1021/jm301177j
PMCID: PMC3532055  PMID: 23092294
5.  Deficits in a Simple Visual Go/No-go Discrimination Task in Two Mouse Models of Huntington’s Disease 
PLoS Currents  2013;5:ecurrents.hd.fe74c94bdd446a0470f6f905a30b5dd1.
Huntington’s disease (HD), a devastating neurodegenerative disorder caused by a CAG repeat expansion on the HTT gene located on chromosome 4, is associated with a characteristic pattern of progressive cognitive dysfunction known to involve early deficits in executive function. A modified Go/No-go successive discrimination task was designed to assess the type of online response control/executive function known to be disrupted in patients with HD. The present studies show that this simple discrimination assay revealed early and robust deficits in two mouse models of HD, the zQ175 KI mouse (deficits from 28 weeks of age) and the R6/2 mouse, carrying ~240 CAG repeats (deficits from 9 weeks of age). These deficits are not due to gross motor dysfunction in the test animals, but instead appear to measure some inability to inhibit responding in the HD mouse models, suggesting this assay may measure deficits in underlying attentional and/or behavioral inhibition processes. Accordingly, this assay may be well suited to evaluation of simple deficits in cognitive function in mouse HD models, providing a potential platform for preclinical screening.
doi:10.1371/currents.hd.fe74c94bdd446a0470f6f905a30b5dd1
PMCID: PMC3828223  PMID: 24270512
6.  Increased Body Weight of the BAC HD Transgenic Mouse Model of Huntington’s Disease Accounts for Some but Not All of the Observed HD-like Motor Deficits  
PLoS Currents  2013;5:ecurrents.hd.0ab4f3645aff523c56ecc8ccbe41a198.
The genome of the Bacterial Artificial Chromosome (BAC) transgenic mouse model of Huntington’s Disease (BAC HD) contains the 170 kb human HTT locus modified by the addition of exon 1 with 97 mixed CAA-CAG repeats. BAC HD mice present robust behavioral deficits in both the open field and the accelerating rotarod tests, two standard behavioral assays of motor function. BAC HD mice, however, also typically present significantly increased body weights relative to wildtype littermate controls (WT) which potentially confounds the interpretation of any motor deficits associated directly with the effects of mutant huntingtin. In order to evaluate this possible confound of body weight, we directly compared the performance of BAC HD and WT female mice under food restricted versus free feeding conditions in both the open field and rotarod tasks to test the hypothesis that some of the motor deficits observed in this HTT-transgenic mouse line results solely from increased body weight. Our results suggest that the rotarod deficit exhibited by BAC HD mice is modulated by both body weight and non-body weight factors resulting from overexpression of full length mutant Htt. When body weights of WT and BAC HD transgenic mice were normalized using restricted feeding, the deficits exhibited by BAC HD mice on the rotarod task were less marked, but were still significant. Since the rotarod deficit between WT and BAC HD mice is attenuated when body weight is normalized by food restriction, utilization of this task in BAC HD mice during pre-clinical evaluation must be powered accordingly and results carefully considered as therapeutic benefit can result from decreased overall body weight and or motoric improvement that may not be related to body mass. Furthermore, after controlling for body weight differences, the hypoactive phenotype displayed by ad libitum fed BAC HD mice in the open field assay was not observed in the BAC HD mice undergoing food restriction. These findings suggest that assessment of spontaneous locomotor activity, as measured in the open field test, may not be the appropriate behavioral endpoint to evaluate the BAC HD mouse during preclinical evaluation since it appears that the apparent hypoactive phenotype in this model is driven primarily by body weight differences.
doi:10.1371/currents.hd.0ab4f3645aff523c56ecc8ccbe41a198
PMCID: PMC3770835  PMID: 24042107
7.  A mixed fixed ratio/progressive ratio procedure reveals an apathy phenotype in the BAC HD and the z_Q175 KI mouse models of Huntington’s disease 
PLoS Currents  2012;4:e4f972cffe82c0.
Apathy, characterized by generally reduced interest in and likelihood to perform goal-directed actions, is a recognized symptom of Huntington’s disease (HD), a devastating neurological disorder caused by a CAG repeat expansion of the Htt gene located on chromosome 4. The present experiments used a modified progressive ratio task that incorporated a fixed-ratio schedule of reinforcement component to assess consummatory behavior, and a progressive-ratio schedule component that required increasing numbers of lever-presses for successive reinforcers (0.01 ml of evaporated milk). The studies revealed an apathetic phenotype in two mouse models of HD, with decreased response rates either overall or only at higher ratio requirements in the progressive-ratio component relative to wild-type controls. Based on the procedure used (within-session fixed- and progressive-ratio components), it is proposed that an observed phenotype can be ascribed either specifically to reduced motivation to work for food reinforcement or more generally to deficits in consummatory behavior. This procedure provides a simple means to assess this type of phenotype in rodents, with issues in consummatory vs. incentive motivation reflected in general alterations in fixed- versus progressive alterations on an escalating-ratio schedules respectively, providing translational measures of the amotivation/apathy construct of the human realm to the homologous construct of incentive motivation in preclinical models of human disease.
doi:10.1371/4f972cffe82c0
PMCID: PMC3729251  PMID: 23925262
8.  SAHA Enhances Synaptic Function and Plasticity In Vitro but Has Limited Brain Availability In Vivo and Does Not Impact Cognition 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e69964.
Suberoylanilide hydroxamic acid (SAHA) is an inhibitor of histone deacetylases (HDACs) used for the treatment of cutaneous T cell lymphoma (CTCL) and under consideration for other indications. In vivo studies suggest reducing HDAC function can enhance synaptic function and memory, raising the possibility that SAHA treatment could have neurological benefits. We first examined the impacts of SAHA on synaptic function in vitro using rat organotypic hippocampal brain slices. Following several days of SAHA treatment, basal excitatory but not inhibitory synaptic function was enhanced. Presynaptic release probability and intrinsic neuronal excitability were unaffected suggesting SAHA treatment selectively enhanced postsynaptic excitatory function. In addition, long-term potentiation (LTP) of excitatory synapses was augmented, while long-term depression (LTD) was impaired in SAHA treated slices. Despite the in vitro synaptic enhancements, in vivo SAHA treatment did not rescue memory deficits in the Tg2576 mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Along with the lack of behavioral impact, pharmacokinetic analysis indicated poor brain availability of SAHA. Broader assessment of in vivo SAHA treatment using high-content phenotypic characterization of C57Bl6 mice failed to demonstrate significant behavioral effects of up to 150 mg/kg SAHA following either acute or chronic injections. Potentially explaining the low brain exposure and lack of behavioral impacts, SAHA was found to be a substrate of the blood brain barrier (BBB) efflux transporters Pgp and Bcrp1. Thus while our in vitro data show that HDAC inhibition can enhance excitatory synaptic strength and potentiation, our in vivo data suggests limited brain availability may contribute to the lack of behavioral impact of SAHA following peripheral delivery. These results do not predict CNS effects of SAHA during clinical use and also emphasize the importance of analyzing brain drug levels when interpreting preclinical behavioral pharmacology.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069964
PMCID: PMC3724849  PMID: 23922875
9.  High-Throughput Automated Phenotyping of Two Genetic Mouse Models of Huntington's Disease 
PLoS Currents  2013;5:ecurrents.hd.124aa0d16753f88215776fba102ceb29.
Phenotyping with traditional behavioral assays constitutes a major bottleneck in the primary screening, characterization, and validation of genetic mouse models of disease, leading to downstream delays in drug discovery efforts. We present a novel and comprehensive one-stop approach to phenotyping, the PhenoCube™. This system simultaneously captures the cognitive performance, motor activity, and circadian patterns of group-housed mice by use of home-cage operant conditioning modules (IntelliCage) and custom-built computer vision software. We evaluated two different mouse models of Huntington’s Disease (HD), the R6/2 and the BACHD in the PhenoCube™ system. Our results demonstrated that this system can efficiently capture and track alterations in both cognitive performance and locomotor activity patterns associated with these disease models. This work extends our prior demonstration that PhenoCube™ can characterize circadian dysfunction in BACHD mice and shows that this system, with the experimental protocols used, is a sensitive and efficient tool for a first pass high-throughput screening of mouse disease models in general and mouse models of neurodegeneration in particular.
doi:10.1371/currents.hd.124aa0d16753f88215776fba102ceb29
PMCID: PMC3710674  PMID: 23863947
10.  Identification of Novel α4β2-Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor (nAChR) Agonists Based on an Isoxazole Ether Scaffold that Demonstrate Antidepressant-like Activity 
Journal of Medicinal Chemistry  2012;55(2):812-823.
There is considerable evidence to support the hypothesis that the blockade of nAChR is responsible for the antidepressant action of nicotinic ligands. The nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) antagonist, mecamylamine, has been shown to be an effective add-on in patients that do not respond to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. This suggests that nAChR ligands may address an unmet clinical need by providing relief from depressive symptoms in refractory patients. In this study, a new series of nAChR ligands based on an isoxazole-ether scaffold have been designed and synthesized for binding and functional assays. Preliminary structure-activity relationship (SAR) efforts identified a lead compound 43, which possesses potent antidepressant-like activity (1 mg/kg, IP; 5 mg/kg, PO) in the classical mouse forced swim test. Early stage absorption, distribution, metabolism, excretion, and toxicity (ADME-Tox) studies also suggested favorable drug-like properties, and broad screening towards other common neurotransmitter receptors indicated that compound 43 is highly selective for nAChRs over the other 45 neurotransmitter receptors and transporters tested.
doi:10.1021/jm201301h
PMCID: PMC3272775  PMID: 22148173
11.  Comprehensive Behavioral and Molecular Characterization of a New Knock-In Mouse Model of Huntington’s Disease: zQ175 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e49838.
Huntington’s disease (HD) is an autosomal dominant neurodegenerative disorder characterized by motor, cognitive and psychiatric manifestations. Since the mutation responsible for the disease was identified as an unstable expansion of CAG repeats in the gene encoding the huntingtin protein in 1993, numerous mouse models of HD have been generated to study disease pathogenesis and evaluate potential therapeutic approaches. Of these, knock-in models best mimic the human condition from a genetic perspective since they express the mutation in the appropriate genetic and protein context. Behaviorally, however, while some abnormal phenotypes have been detected in knock-in mouse models, a model with an earlier and more robust phenotype than the existing models is required. We describe here for the first time a new mouse line, the zQ175 knock-in mouse, derived from a spontaneous expansion of the CAG copy number in our CAG 140 knock-in colony [1]. Given the inverse relationship typically observed between age of HD onset and length of CAG repeat, since this new mouse line carries a significantly higher CAG repeat length it was expected to be more significantly impaired than the parent line. Using a battery of behavioral tests we evaluated both heterozygous and homozygous zQ175 mice. Homozygous mice showed motor and grip strength abnormalities with an early onset (8 and 4 weeks of age, respectively), which were followed by deficits in rotarod and climbing activity at 30 weeks of age and by cognitive deficits at around 1 year of age. Of particular interest for translational work, we also found clear behavioral deficits in heterozygous mice from around 4.5 months of age, especially in the dark phase of the diurnal cycle. Decreased body weight was observed in both heterozygotes and homozygotes, along with significantly reduced survival in the homozygotes. In addition, we detected an early and significant decrease of striatal gene markers from 12 weeks of age. These data suggest that the zQ175 knock-in line could be a suitable model for the evaluation of therapeutic approaches and early events in the pathogenesis of HD.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049838
PMCID: PMC3527464  PMID: 23284626
12.  Discovery of Isoxazole Analogs of Sazetidine-A as Selective α4β2-Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor (nAChR) Partial Agonists for the Treatment of Depression 
Journal of medicinal chemistry  2011;54(20):7280-7288.
Depression, a common neurological condition, is one of the leading causes of disability and suicide worldwide. Standard treatment targeting monoamine transporters selective for the neurotransmitters serotonin and noradrenalin are not able to help many patients that are poor responders. This study advances the development of sazetidine-A analogs that interact with α4β2-nAChR as partial agonists and that possess favorable antidepressant profiles. The resulting compounds that are highly selective for the α4β2 subtype of nAChR over α3β4-nAChRs are partial agonists at the α4β2 subtype and have excellent antidepressant behavioral profiles as measured by the mouse forced swim test. Preliminary ADMET studies for one promising ligand revealed an excellent plasma protein binding (PPB) profile, low CYP450 related metabolism, and low cardiovascular toxicity, suggesting it is a promising lead as well as a drug candidate to be advanced through the drug discovery pipeline.
doi:10.1021/jm200855b
PMCID: PMC3197876  PMID: 21905669
13.  HD mouse models reveal clear deficits in learning to perform a simple instrumental response 
PLoS Currents  2011;3:RRN1282.
Mouse models of Huntington’s disease (HD) were trained to acquire one of two simple instrumental responses (a lever press or a nosepoke) to obtain food reinforcement. Animals from several HD strains revealed apparently progressive deficits in this task, being significantly less able than littermate controls to perform the required responses, at ages where motor function is only mildly affected. These data could provide a simple way to measure learning deficits in these mouse models, likely related to the characteristic pattern of neural damage observed in HD mouse models.
doi:10.1371/currents.RRN1282
PMCID: PMC3327146  PMID: 22512000
14.  Effect of the rd1 mutation on motor performance in R6/2 and wild type mice 
PLoS Currents  2012;4:RRN1303.
Homozygosis for the rd1 mutation in the Pbe6b gene results in the loss of the rod beta-subunit of the cyclic GMP phosphodiesterase and, eventually, of all rod and cone photoreceptors. The R6/2 mouse line is a widely used model of Huntington’s disease (HD). The original line was made available on a mixed background obtained by crossing, via ovarian transplant, female R6/2 (on a B6CBA mixed background) with male B6CBAF1/J mice. As the CBA/J strain used in the US is homozygous for the rd1 mutation and the breeding scheme does not ensure heterozygosis for the mutation, a significant percentage of the offspring on this mixed background is expected to be homozygous for the rd1 mutation. We investigate here the effect of rd1 homozygosis on motor function and examined the effects of the mutation on the R6/2 phenotype. Homozygosis for the rd1 mutation resulted in increased activity in the open field test and reduced rotarod test performance. In addition, rd1 mutation absence or heterozygosis reduced the differences between the R6/2 and the WT mice. Our recommendation for the neurodegeneration field, and for all mouse studies in general, is to carefully control homozygosis for retinal degeneration mutation, even when using tests of motor function.
doi:10.1371/currents.RRN1303
PMCID: PMC3278853  PMID: 22367489
15.  Effect of the rd1 mutation on motor performance in R6/2 and wild type mice 
PLoS Currents  2012;4:RRN1303.
Homozygosis for the rd1 mutation in the Pbe6b gene results in the loss of the rod b-subunit of the cyclic GMP phosphodiesterase and, eventually, of all rod and cone photoreceptors. The R6/2 mouse line is a widely used model of Huntington’s disorder (HD). The original line was made available on a mixed background obtained by crossing, via ovarian transplant, female R6/2 (on a B6CBA mixed background) with male B6CBAF1/J mice. As the CBA/J strain used in the US is homozygous for the rd1 mutation and the breeding scheme does not ensure heterozygosis for the mutation, a significant percentage of the offspring on this mixed background is expected to be homozygous for the rd1 mutation. We investigate here the effect of rd1 homozygosis on motor function and examined the effects of the mutation on the R6/2 phenotype. Homozygosis for the rd1 mutation resulted in increased activity in the open field test and reduced rotarod test performance. In addition, rd1 mutation absence or heterozygosis reduced the differences between the R6/2 and the WT mice. Our recommendation for the neurodegeneration field, and for all mouse studies in general, is to carefully control homozygosis for retinal degeneration mutation, even when using tests of motor function.
doi:10.1371/currents.RRN1303
PMCID: PMC3278853  PMID: 22367489
16.  Circadian Abnormalities in Motor Activity in a BAC Transgenic Mouse Model of Huntington’s Disease 
PLoS Currents  2011;3:RRN1225.
Huntington’s disease (HD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease marked by psychiatric and motor problems. Recently, these findings have been extended to deficits in sleep and circadian function that can be observed in HD patients and in HD mouse models, with abnormal sleep patterns correlating with symptom severity in patients. Here, we studied the behavior of the BAC HD mouse model using an 24/7 automated system; the results indicate significant lengthening of the circadian period in the mutant mice. These results reinforce previous findings in HD models and symptomatic HD patients, indicating that circadian dysfunction is a core feature of HD.
doi:10.1371/currents.RRN1225
PMCID: PMC3072044  PMID: 21479110
17.  Rapid, Computer Vision-Enabled Murine Screening System Identifies Neuropharmacological Potential of Two New Mechanisms 
The lack of predictive in vitro models for behavioral phenotypes impedes rapid advancement in neuropharmacology and psychopharmacology. In vivo behavioral assays are more predictive of activity in human disorders, but such assays are often highly resource-intensive. Here we describe the successful application of a computer vision-enabled system to identify potential neuropharmacological activity of two new mechanisms. The analytical system was trained using multiple drugs that are used clinically to treat depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, and other psychiatric or behavioral disorders. During blinded testing the PDE10 inhibitor TP-10 produced a signature of activity suggesting potential antipsychotic activity. This finding is consistent with TP-10’s activity in multiple rodent models that is similar to that of clinically used antipsychotic drugs. The CK1ε inhibitor PF-670462 produced a signature consistent with anxiolytic activity and, at the highest dose tested, behavioral effects similar to that of opiate analgesics. Neither TP-10 nor PF-670462 was included in the training set. Thus, computer vision-based behavioral analysis can facilitate drug discovery by identifying neuropharmacological effects of compounds acting through new mechanisms.
doi:10.3389/fnins.2011.00103
PMCID: PMC3169783  PMID: 21927596
mouse; behavioral models; antipsychotic; anxiolytic; high-throughput screening; machine learning; computer vision; drug development

Results 1-17 (17)