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1.  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
2.  Characterization of behavioral and neuromuscular junction phenotypes in a novel allelic series of SMA mouse models 
Human Molecular Genetics  2012;21(20):4431-4447.
A number of mouse models for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) have been genetically engineered to recapitulate the severity of human SMA by using a targeted null mutation at the mouse Smn1 locus coupled with the transgenic addition of varying copy numbers of human SMN2 genes. Although this approach has been useful in modeling severe SMA and very mild SMA, a mouse model of the intermediate form of the disease would provide an additional research tool amenable for drug discovery. In addition, many of the previously engineered SMA strains are multi-allelic by design, containing a combination of transgenes and targeted mutations in the homozygous state, making further genetic manipulation difficult. A new genetic engineering approach was developed whereby variable numbers of SMN2 sequences were incorporated directly into the murine Smn1 locus. Using combinations of these alleles, we generated an allelic series of SMA mouse strains harboring no, one, two, three, four, five, six or eight copies of SMN2. We report here the characterization of SMA mutants in this series that displayed a range in disease severity from embryonic lethal to viable with mild neuromuscular deficits.
doi:10.1093/hmg/dds285
PMCID: PMC3459466  PMID: 22802075
3.  Chemistry and Behavioral Studies Identify Chiral Cyclopropanes as Selective α4β2-Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor Partial Agonists Exhibiting an Antidepressant Profile 
Journal of Medicinal Chemistry  2012;55(2):717-724.
Despite their discovery in the early 20th century and intensive study over the last twenty years, nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are still far from being well understood. Only a few chemical entities targeting nAChRs are currently undergoing clinical trials, and even fewer have reached the marketplace. In our efforts to discover novel and truly selective nAChR ligands, we designed and synthesized a series of chiral cyclopropane-containing α4β2-specific ligands that display low nanomolar binding affinities and excellent subtype selectivity, while acting as partial agonists at α4β2-nAChRs. Their favorable antidepressant-like properties were demonstrated in the classical mouse forced swim test. Preliminary ADMET studies and broad screening towards other common neurotransmitter receptors were also carried out to further evaluate their safety profile and eliminate their potential off-target activity. These highly potent cyclopropane ligands possess superior subtype selectivity compared to other α4β2-nAChR agonists reported to date, including the marketed drug varenicline, and therefore may fully satisfy the crucial prerequisite for avoiding adverse side effects. These novel chemical entities could potentially be advanced to the clinic as new drug candidates for treating depression.
doi:10.1021/jm201157c
PMCID: PMC3292870  PMID: 22171543
4.  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
5.  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
6.  Dissociation between duration of action in the forced swim test and nicotinic acetylcholine receptor occupancy with sazetidine, varenicline, and 5-I-A85380 
Psychopharmacology  2011;217(2):199-210.
RATIONALE
Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) agonists, partial agonists and antagonists have antidepressant-like effects in rodent models and reduce symptoms of depression in humans.
OBJECTIVE
The aim of this study was to determine if the β2* partial agonist sazetidine-A (sazetidine) showed an antidepressant-like effect in the forced swim test that was mediated by β2* nAChRs activation or desensitization.
RESULTS
Sazetidine, the less selective β2* partial agonist varenicline and the full β2* agonist 5-I-A8350, exhibited acute antidepressant-like effects in the forced swim test. The role of β2* nAChRs was confirmed by results showing 1) reversal of sazetidine’s antidepressant-like effects in the forced swim test by nAChR antagonists mecamylamine and dihydro-β-erythroidine (DHβE); 2) no effect of sazetidine in mice lacking the β2 subunit of the nAChR; and 3) a high correspondence between behaviorally active doses of sazetidine and β2* receptor occupancy. β2* receptor occupancy following acute sazetidine, varenicline, and 5-I-A8350 extended beyond the duration of action in the forced swim test. The long lasting receptor occupancy of sazetidine did not diminish behavioral efficacy in the forced swim test following repeated dosing.
CONCLUSIONS
These results demonstrate that activation of β2* nAChRs mediate sazetidine’s antidepressant-like actions and suggest that ligands that activate β2* nAChRs would be promising targets for the development of a new class of antidepressant.
doi:10.1007/s00213-011-2271-y
PMCID: PMC3266849  PMID: 21487659
nicotinic receptor; antidepressant; sazetidine-A; AMOP-H-OH; varenicline; 5-I-A85380; receptor occupancy; forced swim
7.  Psychostimulant-like discriminative stimulus and locomotor sensitization properties of the wake-promoting agent modafinil in rodents 
The present studies assessed the potential abuse liability and likely mechanism(s) of action of the wake-promoting agent modafinil.
Methods
Experiments assessed the locomotor sensitization (LS) and discriminative stimulus (DS) properties of modafinil in mouse and rat, respectively. Comparative data were generated with a range of psychostimulants and monoamine reuptake inhibitors.
Results
Repeated administration of d-amphetamine and cocaine, psychostimulants with high abuse liability, resulted in the induction and expression of LS in mice. Bupropion and caffeine, two psychostimulants not abused in humans, were not associated with LS. GBR12909 induced LS during repeated exposure, but there was no evidence of expression of LS after acute challenge following withdrawal. In contrast, repeated administration of modafinil resulted in the expression, but not induction, of LS. d-amphetamine, but not the μ-opioid agonist morphine or the nAChR agonist nicotine, fully substituted for the cocaine DS in rats. The selective dopamine transporter (DAT) inhibitor GBR12909 fully substituted, the preferential norepinephrine transporter (NET) inhibitor desipramine partially substituted, and the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor citalopram failed to substitute for cocaine. Modafinil fully substituted for cocaine, similar to the mixed DAT/NET inhibitor bupropion.
Conclusions
Two preclinical assays indicated potential abuse liability of modafinil; drug discrimination studies suggest DAT blockade by modafinil is a likely mechanism of action in vivo.
doi:10.1016/j.pbb.2010.03.006
PMCID: PMC2880855  PMID: 20346966
modafinil; locomotor sensitization; drug discrimination; cocaine; d-amphetamine; bupropion; citalopram; desipramine; GBR12909; caffeine; morphine; nicotine; rat; mouse

Results 1-7 (7)