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1.  Heteromers of amyloid precursor protein in cerebrospinal fluid 
Soluble fragments of the amyloid precursor protein (APP) generated by α- and β-secretases, sAPPα and sAPPβ, have been postulated as promising new cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) biomarkers for the clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). However, the capacity of these soluble proteins to assemble has not been explored and could be relevant. Our aim is to characterize possible sAPP oligomers that could contribute to the quantification of sAPPα and sAPPβ in CSF by ELISA, as well as to characterize the possible presence of soluble full-length APP (sAPPf).
We employed co-immunoprecipitation, native polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and ultracentrifugation in sucrose density gradients to characterize sAPP oligomers in CSF. We have characterized the presence of sAPPf in CSF from NDC and AD subjects and demonstrated that all forms, including sAPPα and sAPPβ, are capable of assembling into heteromers, which differ from brain APP membrane-dimers. We measured sAPPf, sAPPα and sAPPβ by ELISA in CSF samples from AD (n = 13) and non-disease subjects (NDC, n = 13) before and after immunoprecipitation with antibodies against the C-terminal APP or against sAPPβ. We demonstrated that these sAPP heteromers participate in the quantification of sAPPα and sAPPβ by ELISA. Immunoprecipitation with a C-terminal antibody to remove sAPPf reduced by ~30% the determinations of sAPPα and sAPPβ by ELISA, whereas immunoprecipitation with an APPβ antibody reduced by ~80% the determination of sAPPf and sAPPα.
The presence of sAPPf and sAPP heteromers should be taken into consideration when exploring the levels of sAPPα and sAPPβ as potential CSF biomarkers.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1750-1326-10-2) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4298044  PMID: 25573162
sAPPα; sAPPβ; Heteromers; Cerebrospinal fluid; Alzheimer’s disease; ELISA
2.  Aβ reduction in BACE1 heterozygous null 5XFAD mice is associated with transgenic APP level 
The β-secretase, BACE1, cleaves APP to initiate generation of the β-amyloid peptide, Aβ, that comprises amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Reducing BACE1 activity is an attractive therapeutic approach to AD, but complete inhibition of BACE1 could have mechanism-based side-effects as BACE1−/− mice show deficits in axon guidance, myelination, memory, and other neurological processes. Since BACE1+/− mice appear normal there is interest in determining whether 50% reduction in BACE1 is potentially effective in preventing or treating AD. APP transgenic mice heterozygous for BACE1 have decreased Aβ but the extent of reduction varies greatly from study to study. Here we assess the effects of 50% BACE1 reduction on the widely used 5XFAD mouse model of AD.
50% BACE1 reduction reduces Aβ42, plaques, and BACE1-cleaved APP fragments in female, but not in male, 5XFAD/BACE1+/− mice. 5XFAD/BACE1+/+ females have higher levels of Aβ42 and steady-state transgenic APP than males, likely caused by an estrogen response element in the transgene Thy-1 promoter. We hypothesize that higher transgenic APP level in female 5XFAD mice causes BACE1 to no longer be in excess over APP so that 50% BACE1 reduction has a significant Aβ42 lowering effect. In contrast, the lower APP level in 5XFAD males allows BACE1 to be in excess over APP even at 50% BACE1 reduction, preventing lowering of Aβ42 in 5XFAD/BACE1+/− males. We also developed and validated a dot blot assay with an Aβ42-selective antibody as an accurate and cost-effective alternative to ELISA for measuring cerebral Aβ42 levels.
50% BACE1 reduction lowers Aβ42 in female 5XFAD mice only, potentially because BACE1 is not in excess over APP in 5XFAD females with higher transgene expression, while BACE1 is in excess over APP in 5XFAD males with lower transgene expression. Our results suggest that greater than 50% BACE1 inhibition might be necessary to significantly lower Aβ, given that BACE1 is likely to be in excess over APP in the human brain. Additionally, in experiments using the 5XFAD mouse model, or other Thy-1 promoter transgenic mice, equal numbers of male and female mice should be used, in order to avoid artifactual gender-related differences.
PMCID: PMC4297413  PMID: 25567526
β-secretase; Amyloid precursor protein; Alzheimer’s disease; APP transgenic mouse models; 5XFAD; BACE1 heterozygous; Amyloid; Aβ; Dot blot; Estrogen response element
3.  Increasing membrane cholesterol of neurons in culture recapitulates Alzheimer’s disease early phenotypes 
It is suspected that excess of brain cholesterol plays a role in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Membrane-associated cholesterol was shown to be increased in the brain of individuals with sporadic AD and to correlate with the severity of the disease. We hypothesized that an increase of membrane cholesterol could trigger sporadic AD early phenotypes.
We thus acutely loaded the plasma membrane of cultured neurons with cholesterol to reach the 30% increase observed in AD brains. We found changes in gene expression profiles that are reminiscent of early AD stages. We also observed early AD cellular phenotypes. Indeed we found enlarged and aggregated early endosomes using confocal and electron microscopy after immunocytochemistry. In addition amyloid precursor protein vesicular transport was inhibited in neuronal processes, as seen by live-imaging. Finally transient membrane cholesterol loading lead to significantly increased amyloid-β42 secretion.
Membrane cholesterol increase in cultured neurons reproduces most early AD changes and could thus be a relevant model for deciphering AD mechanisms and identifying new therapeutic targets.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1750-1326-9-60) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4280040  PMID: 25524049
Alzheimer’s disease; Amyloid precursor protein; Cholesterol; Endosomes; Neurons; Axonal transport
4.  Associations between brain microstructures, metabolites, and cognitive deficits during chronic HIV-1 infection of humanized mice 
Host-species specificity of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) limits pathobiologic, diagnostic and therapeutic research investigations to humans and non-human primates. The emergence of humanized mice as a model for viral infection of the nervous system has overcome such restrictions enabling research for HIV-associated end organ disease including behavioral, cognitive and neuropathologic deficits reflective of neuroAIDS. Chronic HIV-1 infection of NOD/scid-IL-2Rgcnull mice transplanted with human CD34+ hematopoietic stem cells (CD34-NSG) leads to persistent viremia, profound CD4+ T lymphocyte loss and infection of human monocyte-macrophages in the meninges and perivascular spaces. Murine cells are not infected with virus.
Changes in mouse behavior were measured, starting at 8 weeks after viral infection. These were recorded coordinate with magnetic resonance spectroscopy metabolites including N-acetylaspartate (NAA), creatine and choline. Diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging (DTI) was recorded against multispectral immunohistochemical staining for neuronal markers that included microtubule associated protein-2 (MAP2), neurofilament (NF) and synaptophysin (SYN); for astrocyte glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP); and for microglial ionized calcium binding adaptor molecule 1 (Iba-1). Oligodendrocyte numbers and integrity were measured for myelin associated glycoprotein (MAG) and myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein (MOG) antigens.
Behavioral abnormalities were readily observed in HIV-1 infected mice. Longitudinal open field activity tests demonstrated lack of habituation indicating potential for memory loss and persistent anxiety in HIV-1 infected mice compared to uninfected controls. End-point NAA and creatine in the cerebral cortex increased with decreased MAG. NAA and glutamate decreased with decreased SYN and MAG. Robust inflammation reflected GFAP and Iba-1 staining intensities. DTI metrics were coordinate with deregulation of NF, Iba-1, MOG and MAG levels in the whisker barrel and MAP2, NF, MAG, MOG and SYN in the corpus callosum.
The findings are consistent with some of the clinical, biochemical and pathobiologic features of human HIV-1 nervous system infections. This model will prove useful towards investigating the mechanisms of HIV-1 induced neuropathology and in developing novel biomarkers and therapeutic strategies for disease.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1750-1326-9-58) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4297430  PMID: 25523827
1H magnetic resonance spectroscopy; Behavioral and cognitive deficits; Diffusion tensor imaging; HIV-1; Humanized mice
5.  Structural biology of presenilin 1 complexes 
The presenilin genes were first identified as the site of missense mutations causing early onset autosomal dominant familial Alzheimer's disease. Subsequent work has shown that the presenilin proteins are the catalytic subunits of a hetero-tetrameric complex containing APH1, nicastrin and PEN-2. This complex (variously termed presenilin complex or gamma-secretase complex) performs an unusual type of proteolysis in which the transmembrane domains of Type I proteins are cleaved within the hydrophobic compartment of the membrane. This review describes some of the molecular and structural biology of this unusual enzyme complex. The presenilin complex is a bilobed structure. The head domain contains the ectodomain of nicastrin. The base domain contains a central cavity with a lateral cleft that likely provides the route for access of the substrate to the catalytic cavity within the centre of the base domain. There are reciprocal allosteric interactions between various sites in the complex that affect its function. For instance, binding of Compound E, a peptidomimetic inhibitor to the PS1 N-terminus, induces significant conformational changes that reduces substrate binding at the initial substrate docking site, and thus inhibits substrate cleavage. However, there is a reciprocal allosteric interaction between these sites such that prior binding of the substrate to the initial docking site paradoxically increases the binding of the Compound E peptidomimetic inhibitor. Such reciprocal interactions are likely to form the basis of a gating mechanism that underlies access of substrate to the catalytic site. An increasingly detailed understanding of the structural biology of the presenilin complex is an essential step towards rational design of substrate- and/or cleavage site-specific modulators of presenilin complex function.
PMCID: PMC4326451  PMID: 25523933
Presenilin; Nicastrin; APH1; PEN-2; Gamma-secretase; Epsilon secretase; Notch; APP; Abeta; Structural biology; Gamma-secretase inhibitor compounds; Gamma-secretase modulator compounds; Lateral gate
6.  The cognitive defects of neonatally irradiated mice are accompanied by changed synaptic plasticity, adult neurogenesis and neuroinflammation 
Background/purpose of the study
Epidemiological evidence suggests that low doses of ionising radiation (≤1.0 Gy) produce persistent alterations in cognition if the exposure occurs at a young age. The mechanisms underlying such alterations are unknown. We investigated the long-term effects of low doses of total body gamma radiation on neonatally exposed NMRI mice on the molecular and cellular level to elucidate neurodegeneration.
Significant alterations in spontaneous behaviour were observed at 2 and 4 months following a single 0.5 or 1.0 Gy exposure. Alterations in the brain proteome, transcriptome, and several miRNAs were analysed 6–7 months post-irradiation in the hippocampus, dentate gyrus (DG) and cortex. Signalling pathways related to synaptic actin remodelling such as the Rac1-Cofilin pathway were altered in the cortex and hippocampus. Further, synaptic proteins MAP-2 and PSD-95 were increased in the DG and hippocampus (1.0 Gy). The expression of synaptic plasticity genes Arc, c-Fos and CREB was persistently reduced at 1.0 Gy in the hippocampus and cortex. These changes were coupled to epigenetic modulation via increased levels of microRNAs (miR-132/miR-212, miR-134). Astrogliosis, activation of insulin-growth factor/insulin signalling and increased level of microglial cytokine TNFα indicated radiation-induced neuroinflammation. In addition, adult neurogenesis within the DG was persistently negatively affected after irradiation, particularly at 1.0 Gy.
These data suggest that neurocognitive disorders may be induced in adults when exposed at a young age to low and moderate cranial doses of radiation. This raises concerns about radiation safety standards and regulatory practices.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1750-1326-9-57) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4280038  PMID: 25515237
Dendritic spines; Hippocampus; Cortex; CREB; miR-132; Ionising radiation; Proteomics; Rac1; Cofilin; Alzheimer
7.  Merging pathology with biomechanics using CHIMERA (Closed-Head Impact Model of Engineered Rotational Acceleration): a novel, surgery-free model of traumatic brain injury 
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a major health care concern that currently lacks any effective treatment. Despite promising outcomes from many preclinical studies, clinical evaluations have failed to identify effective pharmacological therapies, suggesting that the translational potential of preclinical models may require improvement. Rodents continue to be the most widely used species for preclinical TBI research. As most human TBIs result from impact to an intact skull, closed head injury (CHI) models are highly relevant, however, traditional CHI models suffer from extensive experimental variability that may be due to poor control over biomechanical inputs. Here we describe a novel CHI model called CHIMERA (Closed-Head Impact Model of Engineered Rotational Acceleration) that fully integrates biomechanical, behavioral, and neuropathological analyses. CHIMERA is distinct from existing neurotrauma model systems in that it uses a completely non-surgical procedure to precisely deliver impacts of prescribed dynamic characteristics to a closed skull while enabling kinematic analysis of unconstrained head movement. In this study, we characterized head kinematics as well as functional, neuropathological, and biochemical outcomes up to 14d following repeated TBI (rTBI) in adult C57BL/6 mice using CHIMERA.
Head kinematic analysis showed excellent repeatability over two closed head impacts separated at 24h. Injured mice showed significantly prolonged loss of righting reflex and displayed neurological, motor, and cognitive deficits along with anxiety-like behavior. Repeated TBI led to diffuse axonal injury with extensive microgliosis in white matter from 2-14d post-rTBI. Injured mouse brains also showed significantly increased levels of TNF-α and IL-1β and increased endogenous tau phosphorylation.
Repeated TBI using CHIMERA mimics many of the functional and pathological characteristics of human TBI with a reliable biomechanical response of the head. This makes CHIMERA well suited to investigate the pathophysiology of TBI and for drug development programs.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1750-1326-9-55) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4269957  PMID: 25443413
Traumatic brain injury; Animal model of traumatic brain injury; Animal model of closed head injury; Diffuse axonal injury; Microglia activation; Neuroinflammation; Tau hyperphosphorylation; Head kinematics; Head injury biomechanics; Impact-acceleration traumatic brain injury model; Surgery-free animal model of traumatic brain injury; Traumatic brain injury biomechanics
8.  Long-term treadmill exercise attenuates tau pathology in P301S tau transgenic mice 
Recent epidemiological evidence suggests that modifying lifestyle by increasing physical activity could be a non-pharmacological approach to improving symptoms and slowing disease progression in Alzheimer’s disease and other tauopathies. Previous studies have shown that exercise reduces tau hyperphosphorylation, however, it is not known whether exercise reduces the accumulation of soluble or insoluble tau aggregates and neurofibrillary tangles, which are both neuropathological hallmarks of neurodegenerative tauopathy. In this study, 7-month old P301S tau transgenic mice were subjected to 12-weeks of forced treadmill exercise and evaluated for effects on motor function and tau pathology at 10 months of age.
Exercise improved general locomotor and exploratory activity and resulted in significant reductions in full-length and hyperphosphorylated tau in the spinal cord and hippocampus as well as a reduction in sarkosyl-insoluble AT8-tau in the spinal cord. Exercise did not attenuate significant neuron loss in the hippocampus or cortex. Key proteins involved in autophagy—microtubule-associated protein 1A/1B light chain 3 and p62/sequestosome 1 —were also measured to assess whether autophagy is implicated in the exercised-induced reduction of aggregated tau protein. There were no significant effects of forced treadmill exercise on autophagy protein levels in P301S mice.
Our results suggest that forced treadmill exercise differently affects the brain and spinal cord of aged P301S tau mice, with greater benefits observed in the spinal cord versus the brain. Our work adds to the growing body of evidence that exercise is beneficial in tauopathy, however these benefits may be more limited at later stages of disease.
PMCID: PMC4280713  PMID: 25432085
Tau pathology; Exercise; Alzheimer’s disease; Neurodegeneration
9.  SNAP-25 is a promising novel cerebrospinal fluid biomarker for synapse degeneration in Alzheimer’s disease 
Synaptic degeneration is an early pathogenic event in Alzheimer’s disease, associated with cognitive impairment and disease progression. Cerebrospinal fluid biomarkers reflecting synaptic integrity would be highly valuable tools to monitor synaptic degeneration directly in patients. We previously showed that synaptic proteins such as synaptotagmin and synaptosomal-associated protein 25 (SNAP-25) could be detected in pooled samples of cerebrospinal fluid, however these assays were not sensitive enough for individual samples.
We report a new strategy to study synaptic pathology by using affinity purification and mass spectrometry to measure the levels of the presynaptic protein SNAP-25 in cerebrospinal fluid. By applying this novel affinity mass spectrometry strategy on three separate cohorts of patients, the value of SNAP-25 as a cerebrospinal fluid biomarker for synaptic integrity in Alzheimer’s disease was assessed for the first time. We found significantly higher levels of cerebrospinal fluid SNAP-25 fragments in Alzheimer’s disease, even in the very early stages, in three separate cohorts. Cerebrospinal fluid SNAP-25 differentiated Alzheimer’s disease from controls with area under the curve of 0.901 (P < 0.0001).
We developed a sensitive method to analyze SNAP-25 levels in individual CSF samples that to our knowledge was not possible previously. Our results support the notion that synaptic biomarkers may be important tools for early diagnosis, assessment of disease progression, and to monitor drug effects in treatment trials.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1750-1326-9-53) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4253625  PMID: 25418885
Alzheimer’s disease; Biomarker; Cerebrospinal fluid; SNAP-25; SNARE proteins; Mass spectrometry; Immunopurification; Selected reaction monitoring
10.  Tau pathogenesis is promoted by Aβ1-42 but not Aβ1-40 
The relationship between the pathogenic amyloid β-peptide species Aβ1–42 and tau pathology has been well studied and suggests that Aβ1–42 can accelerate tau pathology in vitro and in vivo. The manners if any in which Aβ1–40 interacts with tau remains poorly understood. In order to answer this question, we used cell-based system, transgenic fly and transgenic mice as models to study the interaction between Aβ1–42 and Aβ1–40.
In our established cellular model, live cell imaging (using confocal microscopy) combined with biochemical data showed that exposure to Aβ1–42 induced cleavage, phosphorylation and aggregation of wild-type/full length tau while exposure to Aβ1–40 didn’t. Functional studies with Aβ1–40 were carried out in tau-GFP transgenic flies and showed that Aβ1–42, as previously reported, disrupted cytoskeletal structure while Aβ1–40 had no effect at same dose. To further explore how Aβ1–40 affects tau pathology in vivo, P301S mice (tau transgenic mice) were injected intracerebrally with either Aβ1–42 or Aβ1–40. We found that treatment with Aβ1–42 induced tau phosphorylation, cleavage and aggregation of tau in P301S mice. By contrast, Aβ1–40 injection didn’t alter total tau, phospho-tau (recognized by PHF-1) or cleavage of tau, but interestingly, phosphorylation at Ser262 was shown to be significantly decreased after direct inject of Aβ1–40 into the entorhinal cortex of P301S mice.
These results demonstrate that Aβ1–40 plays different role in tau pathogenesis compared to Aβ1–42. Aβ1–40 may have a protective role in tau pathogenesis by reducing phosphorylation at Ser262, which has been shown to be neurotoxic.
PMCID: PMC4277831  PMID: 25417177
Aβ1–42; Aβ1–40; tau; Alzheimer’s disease; Aggregation; Phosphorylation; Cleavage
11.  Models of β-amyloid induced Tau-pathology: the long and “folded” road to understand the mechanism 
The amyloid cascade hypothesis has been the prevailing hypothesis in Alzheimer’s Disease research, although the final and most wanted proof i.e. fully successful anti-amyloid clinical trials in patients, is still lacking. This may require a better in depth understanding of the cascade. Particularly, the exact toxic forms of Aβ and Tau, the molecular link between them and their respective contributions to the disease process need to be identified in detail. Although the lack of final proof has raised substantial criticism on the hypothesis per se, accumulating experimental evidence in in vitro models, in vivo models and from biomarkers analysis in patients supports the amyloid cascade and particularly Aβ-induced Tau-pathology, which is the focus of this review. We here discuss available models that recapitulate Aβ-induced Tau-pathology and review some potential underlying mechanisms. The availability and diversity of these models that mimic the amyloid cascade partially or more complete, provide tools to study remaining questions, which are crucial for development of therapeutic strategies for Alzheimer’s Disease.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1750-1326-9-51) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4255655  PMID: 25407337
Amyloid; Tau; Alzheimer’s disease; Animal models; Amyloid cascade hypothesis; Synaptic dysfunction; Inflammation; Prion
12.  The impact of human and mouse differences in NOS2 gene expression on the brain’s redox and immune environment 
Mouse models are used in the study of human disease. Despite well-known homologies, the difference in immune response between mice and humans impacts the application of data derived from mice to human disease outcomes. Nitric oxide synthase-2 (NOS2) is a key gene that displays species-specific outcomes via altered regulation of the gene promoter and via post-transcriptional mechanisms in humans that are not found in mice. The resulting levels of NO produced by activation of human NOS2 are different from the levels of NO produced by mouse Nos2. Since both tissue redox environment and immune responsiveness are regulated by the level of NO and its interactions, we investigated the significance of mouse and human differences on brain oxidative stress and on immune activation in HuNOS2tg/mNos2-/- mice that express the entire human NOS2 gene and that lack a functional mNos2 compared to wild type (WT) mice that express normal mNos2.
Similarly to human, brain tissue from HuNOS2tg/mNos2-/- mice showed the presence of a NOS2 gene 3′UTR binding site. We also identified miRNA-939, the binding partner for this site, in mouse brain lysates and further demonstrated reduced levels of nitric oxide (NO) typical of the human immune response on injection with lipopolysaccharide (LPS). HuNOS2tg/mNos2-/- brain samples were probed for characteristic differences in redox and immune gene profiles compared to WT mice using gene arrays. Selected genes were also compared against mNos2-/- brain lysates. Reconstitution of the human NOS2 gene significantly altered genes that encode multiple anti-oxidant proteins, oxidases, DNA repair, mitochondrial proteins and redox regulated immune proteins. Expression levels of typical pro-inflammatory, anti-inflammatory and chemokine genes were not significantly different with the exception of increased TNFα and Ccr1 mRNA expression in the HuNOS2tg/mNos2-/- mice compared to WT or mNos2-/- mice.
NO is a principle factor in establishing the tissue redox environment and changes in NO levels impact oxidative stress and immunity, both of which are primary characteristics of neurodegenerative diseases. The HuNOS2tg/mNos2-/- mice provide a potentially useful mechanism to address critical species- specific immune differences that can impact the study of human diseases.
PMCID: PMC4247207  PMID: 25403885
NOS2; Mouse models; Neurodegeneration; Redox; Inflammation; Nitric oxide
13.  Increase of angiotensin II type 1 receptor auto-antibodies in Huntington’s disease 
In the recent years, a role of the immune system in Huntington’s disease (HD) is increasingly recognized. Here we investigate the presence of T cell activating auto-antibodies against angiotensin II type 1 receptors (AT1R) in all stages of the disease as compared to healthy controls and patients suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS) as a prototype neurologic autoimmune disease.
As compared to controls, MS patients show higher titers of anti-AT1R antibodies, especially in individuals with active disease. In HD, anti-AT1R antibodies are more frequent than in healthy controls or even MS and occur in 37.9% of patients with relevant titers ≥ 20 U/ml. In a correlation analysis with clinical parameters, the presence of AT1R antibodies in the sera of HD individuals inversely correlated with the age of onset and positively with the disease burden score as well as with smoking and infection.
These data suggest a dysfunction of the adaptive immune system in HD which may be triggered by different stimuli including autoimmune responses, infection and possibly also smoking.
PMCID: PMC4246494  PMID: 25398321
Angiotensin II type I receptor; Huntington’s disease; Multiple sclerosis; Neurodenegeration; Neuroinflammation
14.  Oligomeric Aβ-induced synaptic dysfunction in Alzheimer’s disease 
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a devastating disease characterized by synaptic and neuronal loss in the elderly. Compelling evidence suggests that soluble amyloid-β peptide (Aβ) oligomers induce synaptic loss in AD. Aβ-induced synaptic dysfunction is dependent on overstimulation of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors (NMDARs) resulting in aberrant activation of redox-mediated events as well as elevation of cytoplasmic Ca2+, which in turn triggers downstream pathways involving phospho-tau (p-tau), caspases, Cdk5/dynamin-related protein 1 (Drp1), calcineurin/PP2B, PP2A, Gsk-3β, Fyn, cofilin, and CaMKII and causes endocytosis of AMPA receptors (AMPARs) as well as NMDARs. Dysfunction in these pathways leads to mitochondrial dysfunction, bioenergetic compromise and consequent synaptic dysfunction and loss, impaired long-term potentiation (LTP), and cognitive decline. Evidence also suggests that Aβ may, at least in part, mediate these events by causing an aberrant rise in extrasynaptic glutamate levels by inhibiting glutamate uptake or triggering glutamate release from glial cells. Consequent extrasynaptic NMDAR (eNMDAR) overstimulation then results in synaptic dysfunction via the aforementioned pathways. Consistent with this model of Aβ-induced synaptic loss, Aβ synaptic toxicity can be partially ameliorated by the NMDAR antagonists (such as memantine and NitroMemantine). PSD-95, an important scaffolding protein that regulates synaptic distribution and activity of both NMDA and AMPA receptors, is also functionally disrupted by Aβ. PSD-95 dysregulation is likely an important intermediate step in the pathological cascade of events caused by Aβ. In summary, Aβ-induced synaptic dysfunction is a complicated process involving multiple pathways, components and biological events, and their underlying mechanisms, albeit as yet incompletely understood, may offer hope for new therapeutic avenues.
PMCID: PMC4237769  PMID: 25394486
Alzheimer’s disease; Synaptic loss; Aβ oligomers; Cognitive decline; Calcium; NMDA receptors; PSD-95; Mitochondrial dysfunction; Tau hyperphosphorylation; Aberrant neuronal network activity
15.  The role of the LRRK2 gene in Parkinsonism 
Parkinson’s disease (PD), like many common age-related conditions, has been recognized to have a substantial genetic component. Multiple lines of evidence suggest that Leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2) is a crucial factor to understanding the etiology of PD. LRRK2 is a large, widely expressed, multi-domain and multifunctional protein. LRRK2 mutations are the major cause to inherited and sporadic PD. In this review, we discuss the pathology and clinical features which show diversity and variability of LRRK2-associated PD. In addition, we do a thorough literature review and provide theoretical data for gene counseling. Further, we present the evidence linking LRRK2 to various possible pathogenic mechanism of PD such as α-synuclein, tau, inflammatory response, oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction, synaptic dysfunction as well as autophagy-lysosomal system. Based on the above work, we investigate activities both within GTPase and outside enzymatic regions in order to obtain a potential therapeutic approach to solve the LRRK2 problem.
PMCID: PMC4246469  PMID: 25391693
LRRK2; Parkinsonism; Pathology; Clinical features; Pathogenic mechanism
16.  Tau deletion impairs intracellular β-amyloid-42 clearance and leads to more extracellular plaque deposition in gene transfer models 
Tau is an axonal protein that binds to and regulates microtubule function. Hyper-phosphorylation of Tau reduces its binding to microtubules and it is associated with β-amyloid deposition in Alzheimer’s disease. Paradoxically, Tau reduction may prevent β-amyloid pathology, raising the possibility that Tau mediates intracellular Aβ clearance. The current studies investigated the role of Tau in autophagic and proteasomal intracellular Aβ1-42 clearance and the subsequent effect on plaque deposition.
Tau deletion impaired Aβ clearance via autophagy, but not the proteasome, while introduction of wild type human Tau into Tau−/− mice partially restored autophagic clearance of Aβ1-42, suggesting that exogenous Tau expression can support autophagic Aβ1-42 clearance. Tau deletion impaired autophagic flux and resulted in Aβ1-42 accumulation in pre-lysosomal autophagic vacuoles, affecting Aβ1-42 deposition into the lysosome. This autophagic defect was associated with decreased intracellular Aβ1-42 and increased plaque load in Tau−/− mice, which displayed less cell death. Nilotinib, an Abl tyrosine kinase inhibitor that promotes autophagic clearance mechanisms, reduced Aβ1-42 only when exogenous human Tau was expressed in Tau−/− mice.
These studies demonstrate that Tau deletion affects intracellular Aβ1-42 clearance, leading to extracellular plaque.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1750-1326-9-46) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4247762  PMID: 25384392
Tau; Intracellular Aβ1-42; Plaques; Autophagy; Proteasome
17.  Pathogenic polyglutamine expansion length correlates with polarity of the flanking sequences 
Polyglutamine (polyQ) repeat expansion within coding sequence of a soluble protein is responsible for eight autosomal-dominant genetic neurodegenerative disorders. These disorders affect cerebellum, striatum, basal ganglia and other brain regions. The pathogenic polyQ-expansion threshold in these proteins varies from 32Q to 54Q. Understanding the reasons for variability in pathogenic polyQ threshold may provide insights into pathogenic mechanisms responsible for development of these disorders.
Here we established a quantitative correlation between the polarity of the flanking sequences and pathogenic polyQ-expansion threshold in this protein family. We introduced an “edge polarity index” (EPI) to quantify polarity effects of the flanking regions and established a strong correlation between EPI index and critical polyQ expansion length in this protein family. Based on this analysis we subdivided polyQ-expanded proteins into 2 groups – with strong and weak dependence of polyQ threshold on EPI index. The main difference between members of the first and the second group is a polarity profile of these proteins outside of polyQ and flanking regions. PolyQ proteins are known substrates for proteasome and most likely mechanistic explanation for the observed correlation is that proteasome may have an impaired ability to process continuous non-polar regions of proteins.
The proposed hypothesis provides a quantitative explanation for variability in pathogenic threshold among polyQ-expansion disorders, which we established to correlate with polarity of flanking regions. To explain these results we propose that proteasome is not efficient in processing continuous non-polar regions of proteins, resulting in release of undigested and partially digested fragments. If supported experimentally, our hypothesis may have wide implications for further understanding the pathogensis of polyglutamine expansion disorders.
PMCID: PMC4237751  PMID: 25377768
Polyglutamine disorders; Primary sequence analysis; Proteasome; Huntingtin; Ataxin
18.  Analysis of COQ2 gene in multiple system atrophy 
Loss of function COQ2 mutations results in primary CoQ10 deficiency. Recently, recessive mutations of the COQ2 gene have been identified in two unrelated Japanese families with multiple system atrophy (MSA). It has also been proposed that specific heterozygous variants in the COQ2 gene may confer susceptibility to sporadic MSA. To assess the frequency of COQ2 variants in patients with MSA, we sequenced the entire coding region and investigated all exonic copy number variants of the COQ2 gene in 97 pathologically-confirmed and 58 clinically-diagnosed MSA patients from the United States.
We did not find any homozygous or compound heterozygous pathogenic COQ2 mutations including deletion or multiplication within our series of MSA patients. In two patients, we identified two heterozygous COQ2 variants (p.S54W and c.403 + 10G > T) of unknown significance, which were not observed in 360 control subjects. We also identified one heterozygous carrier of a known loss of function p.S146N substitution in a severe MSA-C pathologically-confirmed patient.
The COQ2 p.S146N substitution has been previously reported as a pathogenic mutation in primary CoQ10 deficiency (including infantile multisystem disorder) in a recessive manner. This variant is the third primary CoQ10 deficiency mutation observed in an MSA case (p.R387X and p.R197H). Therefore it is possible that in the heterozygous state it may increase susceptibility to MSA. Further studies, including reassessing family history in patients of primary CoQ10 deficiency for the possible occurrence of MSA, are now warranted to resolve the role of COQ2 variation in MSA.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1750-1326-9-44) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4233093  PMID: 25373618
COQ2; Multiple system atrophy; Genetics; CoQ10 deficiency
19.  Alpha-synuclein and tau: teammates in neurodegeneration? 
The accumulation of α-synuclein aggregates is the hallmark of Parkinson’s disease, and more generally of synucleinopathies. The accumulation of tau aggregates however is classically found in the brains of patients with dementia, and this type of neuropathological feature specifically defines the tauopathies. Nevertheless, in numerous cases α-synuclein positive inclusions are also described in tauopathies and vice versa, suggesting a co-existence or crosstalk of these proteinopathies. Interestingly, α-synuclein and tau share striking common characteristics suggesting that they may work in concord. Tau and α-synuclein are both partially unfolded proteins that can form toxic oligomers and abnormal intracellular aggregates under pathological conditions. Furthermore, mutations in either are responsible for severe dominant familial neurodegeneration. Moreover, tau and α-synuclein appear to promote the fibrillization and solubility of each other in vitro and in vivo. This suggests that interactions between tau and α-synuclein form a deleterious feed-forward loop essential for the development and spreading of neurodegeneration. Here, we review the recent literature with respect to elucidating the possible links between α-synuclein and tau.
PMCID: PMC4230508  PMID: 25352339
Tau; MAPT; Synuclein; SNCA; Oligomers; Tangles; Synucleinopathy; Tauopathy; Parkinson’s disease; Alzheimer’s disease
20.  Pharmacological inhibition of O-GlcNAcase (OGA) prevents cognitive decline and amyloid plaque formation in bigenic tau/APP mutant mice 
Amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs) are the defining pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Increasing the quantity of the O-linked N-acetylglucosamine (O-GlcNAc) post-translational modification of nuclear and cytoplasmic proteins slows neurodegeneration and blocks the formation of NFTs in a tauopathy mouse model. It remains unknown, however, if O-GlcNAc can influence the formation of amyloid plaques in the presence of tau pathology.
We treated double transgenic TAPP mice, which express both mutant human tau and amyloid precursor protein (APP), with a highly selective orally bioavailable inhibitor of the enzyme responsible for removing O-GlcNAc (OGA) to increase O-GlcNAc in the brain. We find that increased O-GlcNAc levels block cognitive decline in the TAPP mice and this effect parallels decreased β-amyloid peptide levels and decreased levels of amyloid plaques.
This study indicates that increased O-GlcNAc can influence β-amyloid pathology in the presence of tau pathology. The findings provide good support for OGA as a promising therapeutic target to alter disease progression in Alzheimer disease.
PMCID: PMC4232697  PMID: 25344697
tau; Amyloid precursor protein; O-GlcNAc; Thiamet-G
21.  Altered synaptic structure in the hippocampus in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease with soluble amyloid-β oligomers and no plaque pathology 
Mounting evidence suggests that soluble oligomers of amyloid-β (oAβ) represent the pertinent synaptotoxic form of Aβ in sporadic Alzheimer’s disease (AD); however, the mechanistic links between oAβ and synaptic degeneration remain elusive. Most in vivo experiments to date have been limited to examining the toxicity of oAβ in mouse models that also possess insoluble fibrillar Aβ (fAβ), and data generated from these models can lead to ambiguous interpretations. Our goal in the present study was to examine the effects of soluble oAβ on neuronal and synaptic structure in the amyloid precursor protein (APP) E693Q (“Dutch”) mouse model of AD, which develops intraneuronal accumulation of soluble oAβ with no detectable plaques in AD-relevant brain regions. We performed quantitative analyses of neuronal pathology, including dendrite morphology, spine density, and synapse ultrastructure in individual hippocampal CA1 neurons.
When assessing neuronal morphology and complexity we observed significant alterations in apical but not in basal dendritic arbor length in Dutch mice compared to wild type. Moreover, Dutch mice exhibited a significant decrease in dendritic arborization with a decrease in dendritic length and number of intersections at 120 μm and 150 μm from the soma, respectively. We next examined synaptic parameters and found that while there were no differences in overall synaptic structure, Dutch mice displayed a significant reduction in the post-synaptic density (PSD) length of synapses on mushroom spines, in comparison to wild type littermates.
The structural alterations to individual neurons in Dutch mice along with the changes in larger dendritic spines support the Aβ oligomer hypothesis, which postulates that the early cognitive impairments that occur in AD are attributed to the accumulation of soluble oAβ first affecting at the synaptic level with subsequent structural disturbances and cellular degeneration.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1750-1326-9-41) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4210526  PMID: 25312309
Alzheimer’s disease; Aβ oligomers; Neuron; APP E693Q; Synapse; Postsynaptic density; Dendrite; Spines
22.  The role of tau protein in HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders 
Given the increased life expectancy of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infected individuals treated with combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) and the ongoing inflammation observed in the brains of these patients, it is likely that premature neurodegeneration as measured by phospho-tau (p-tau) or increased total tau (t-tau) protein may become an increasing problem. This review examines the seven human studies that have occurred over the past 14 years measuring p-tau and/or t-tau in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) or via post-mortem brain immunohistochemistry. Although not all studies are in agreement as to the changes in p-and t-tau in HIV infected patients, HIV persists in the brain despite cART. Thus is it is suggested that those maintained on long-term cART may develop tau pathology beyond the extent seen in the studies reviewed herein and overtime may then reach the threshold for clinical manifestation.
PMCID: PMC4210623  PMID: 25304757
HIV; Cognitive; Tau; Neurodegeneration; Inflammation; cART
23.  Histone deacetylase 3 (HDAC3) plays an important role in retinal ganglion cell death after acute optic nerve injury 
Optic nerve damage initiates a series of early atrophic events in retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) that precede the BAX-dependent committed step of the intrinsic apoptotic program. Nuclear atrophy, including global histone deacetylation, heterochromatin formation, shrinkage and collapse of nuclear structure, and the silencing of normal gene expression, comprise an important obstacle to overcome in therapeutic approaches to preserve neuronal function. Several studies have implicated histone deacetylases (HDACs) in the early stages of neuronal cell death, including RGCs. Importantly, these neurons exhibit nuclear translocation of HDAC3 shortly after optic nerve damage. Additionally, HDAC3 activity has been reported to be selectively toxic to neurons.
RGC-specific conditional knockout of Hdac3 was achieved by transducing the RGCs of Hdac3fl/fl mice with an adeno-associated virus serotype 2 carrying CRE recombinase and GFP (AAV2-Cre/GFP). Controls included similar viral transduction of Rosa26fl/fl reporter mice. Optic nerve crush (ONC) was then performed on eyes. The ablation of Hdac3 in RGCs resulted in significant amelioration of characteristics of ONC-induced nuclear atrophy such as H4 deacetylation, heterochromatin formation, and the loss of nuclear structure. RGC death was also significantly reduced. Interestingly, loss of Hdac3 expression did not lead to protection against RGC-specific gene silencing after ONC, although this effect was achieved using the broad spectrum inhibitor, Trichostatin A.
Although other HDACs may be responsible for gene expression changes in RGCs, our results indicate a critical role for HDAC3 in nuclear atrophy in RGC apoptosis following axonal injury. This study provides a framework for studying the roles of other prevalent retinal HDACs in neuronal death as a result of axonal injury.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1750-1326-9-39) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4190472  PMID: 25261965
HDAC; Epigenetics; Retinal ganglion cell; Neuronal degeneration; Apoptosis; Chromatin remodeling; Deacetylation; Heterochromatin
24.  Molecular neurodegeneration: basic biology and disease pathways 
The field of neurodegeneration research has been advancing rapidly over the past few years, and has provided intriguing new insights into the normal physiological functions and pathogenic roles of a wide range of molecules associated with several devastating neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, frontotemporal dementia, Huntington’s disease, and Down syndrome. Recent developments have also facilitated initial efforts to translate preclinical discoveries toward novel therapeutic approaches and clinical trials in humans. These recent developments are reviewed in the current Review Series on "Molecular Neurodegeneration: Basic Biology and Disease Pathways" in a number of state-of-the-art manuscripts that cover themes presented at the Third International Conference on Molecular Neurodegeneration: "Basic biology and disease pathways" held in Cannes, France, September, 2013.
PMCID: PMC4177433  PMID: 25248568
25.  Genetic modifiers in carriers of repeat expansions in the C9ORF72 gene 
Hexanucleotide repeat expansions in chromosome 9 open reading frame 72 (C9ORF72) are causative for frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and motor neuron disease (MND). Substantial phenotypic heterogeneity has been described in patients with these expansions. We set out to identify genetic modifiers of disease risk, age at onset, and survival after onset that may contribute to this clinical variability.
We examined a cohort of 330 C9ORF72 expansion carriers and 374 controls. In these individuals, we assessed variants previously implicated in FTD and/or MND; 36 variants were included in our analysis. After adjustment for multiple testing, our analysis revealed three variants significantly associated with age at onset (rs7018487 [UBAP1; p-value = 0.003], rs6052771 [PRNP; p-value = 0.003], and rs7403881 [MT-Ie; p-value = 0.003]), and six variants significantly associated with survival after onset (rs5848 [GRN; p-value = 0.001], rs7403881 [MT-Ie; p-value = 0.001], rs13268953 [ELP3; p-value = 0.003], the epsilon 4 allele [APOE; p-value = 0.004], rs12608932 [UNC13A; p-value = 0.003], and rs1800435 [ALAD; p-value = 0.003]).
Variants identified through this study were previously reported to be involved in FTD and/or MND, but we are the first to describe their effects as potential disease modifiers in the presence of a clear pathogenic mutation (i.e. C9ORF72 repeat expansion). Although validation of our findings is necessary, these variants highlight the importance of protein degradation, antioxidant defense and RNA-processing pathways, and additionally, they are promising targets for the development of therapeutic strategies and prognostic tests.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1750-1326-9-38) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4190282  PMID: 25239657
C9ORF72; Frontotemporal dementia; Motor neuron disease; Genetic modifier; Repeat expansion

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