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1.  Dual leucine zipper kinase is required for excitotoxicity-induced neuronal degeneration 
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  2013;210(12):2553-2567.
Loss of dual leucine zipper kinase results in attenuated JNK/c-Jun stress response pathway activation and reduced neuronal degeneration after kainic acid–induced excitotoxic seizures.
Excessive glutamate signaling is thought to underlie neurodegeneration in multiple contexts, yet the pro-degenerative signaling pathways downstream of glutamate receptor activation are not well defined. We show that dual leucine zipper kinase (DLK) is essential for excitotoxicity-induced degeneration of neurons in vivo. In mature neurons, DLK is present in the synapse and interacts with multiple known postsynaptic density proteins including the scaffolding protein PSD-95. To examine DLK function in the adult, DLK-inducible knockout mice were generated through Tamoxifen-induced activation of Cre-ERT in mice containing a floxed DLK allele, which circumvents the neonatal lethality associated with germline deletion. DLK-inducible knockouts displayed a modest increase in basal synaptic transmission but had an attenuation of the JNK/c-Jun stress response pathway activation and significantly reduced neuronal degeneration after kainic acid–induced seizures. Together, these data demonstrate that DLK is a critical upstream regulator of JNK-mediated neurodegeneration downstream of glutamate receptor hyper-activation and represents an attractive target for the treatment of indications where excitotoxicity is a primary driver of neuronal loss.
PMCID: PMC3832926  PMID: 24166713
2.  Discovery of a Highly Selective, Brain-Penetrant Aminopyrazole LRRK2 Inhibitor 
The modulation of LRRK2 kinase activity by a selective small molecule inhibitor has been proposed as a potentially viable treatment for Parkinson's disease. By using aminopyrazoles as aniline bioisosteres, we discovered a novel series of LRRK2 inhibitors. Herein, we describe our optimization effort that resulted in the identification of a highly potent, brain-penetrant aminopyrazole LRRK2 inhibitor (18) that addressed the liabilities (e.g., poor solubility and metabolic soft spots) of our previously disclosed anilino-aminopyrimidine inhibitors. In in vivo rodent PKPD studies, 18 demonstrated good brain exposure and engendered significant reduction in brain pLRRK2 levels post-ip administration. The strategies of bioisosteric substitution of aminopyrazoles for anilines and attenuation of CYP1A2 inhibition described herein have potential applications to other drug discovery programs.
PMCID: PMC4027423  PMID: 24900567
LRRK2; kinase inhibitor; Parkinson’s disease; CYP1A2 inhibition
3.  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.
PMCID: PMC3724849  PMID: 23922875
4.  GluN2B Antagonism Affects Interneurons and Leads to Immediate and Persistent Changes in Synaptic Plasticity, Oscillations, and Behavior 
Neuropsychopharmacology  2013;38(7):1221-1233.
Although antagonists to GluN2B-containing N-methyl-𝒟-aspartate receptors (NMDARs) have been widely considered to be neuroprotective under certain pathological conditions, their immediate and lasting impacts on synaptic, circuit, and cognitive functions are poorly understood. In hippocampal slices, we found that the GluN2B-selective antagonist Ro25-6981 (Ro25) reduced synaptic NMDAR responses and consequently neuronal output in a subpopulation of GABAergic interneurons, but not pyramidal neurons. Consistent with these effects, Ro25 reduced GABAergic responses in pyramidal neurons and hence could affect circuit functions by altering the excitation/inhibition balance in the brain. In slices from Ts65Dn mice, a Down syndrome model with excess inhibition and cognitive impairment, acutely applied Ro25-rescued long-term potentiation (LTP) and gamma oscillation deficits, whereas prolonged dosing induced persistent rescue of LTP. In contrast, Ro25 did not impact LTP in wild-type (wt) mice but reduced gamma oscillations both acutely and following prolonged treatment. Although acute Ro25 treatment impaired memory performance in wt mice, memory deficits in Ts65Dn mice were unchanged. Thus, GluN2B–NMDARs contribute to the excitation/inhibition balance via impacts on interneurons, and blocking GluN2B–NMDARs can alter functions that depend on this balance, including synaptic plasticity, gamma oscillations, and memory. That prolonged GluN2B antagonism leads to persistent changes in synaptic and circuit functions, and that the influence of GluN2B antagonism differs between wt and disease model mice, provide critical insight into the therapeutic potential and possible liabilities of GluN2B antagonists.
PMCID: PMC3656364  PMID: 23340518
GluN2B; interneuron; oscillation; LTP; memory; Down syndrome; glutamate; neurophysiology; GABA; learning & memory; GluN2B; Down syndrome; interneuron; LTP; oscillation
5.  Kynurenine 3-monooxygenase inhibition in blood ameliorates neurodegeneration 
Cell  2011;145(6):863-874.
Metabolites in the kynurenine pathway of tryptophan degradation are thought to play an important role in neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease. Metabolites that cause glutamate receptor-mediated excitotoxicity and free radical formation are elevated in the blood and vulnerable brain regions in these diseases, while levels of the neuroprotective metabolite kynurenic acid are often decreased. Here we describe the synthesis and characterization of JM6, a novel small-molecule pro-drug inhibitor of kynurenine 3-monooxygenase (KMO). JM6 raises kynurenic acid and reduces extracellular glutamate in the brain after chronic oral administration by inhibiting KMO in blood. In a transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease, JM6 prevented spatial memory deficits, anxiety-related behavior, and synaptic loss. JM6 also extended life span, prevented synaptic loss, and decreased microglial activation in a mouse model of Huntington’s disease. These findings support a critical link between blood cells and neurodegeneration that is mediated by KMO and the kynurenine pathway.
PMCID: PMC3118409  PMID: 21640374
6.  Enkephalin Elevations Contribute to Neuronal and Behavioral Impairments in a Transgenic Mouse Model of Alzheimer’s Disease 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2008;28(19):5007-5017.
The enkephalin signaling pathway regulates various neural functions and can be altered by neurodegenerative disorders. In Alzheimer’s disease (AD), elevated enkephalin levels may reflect compensatory processes or contribute to cognitive impairments. To differentiate between these possibilities, we studied transgenic mice that express human amyloid precursor protein (hAPP) and amyloid-β (Aβ) peptides in neurons and exhibit key aspects of AD. Met-enkephalin levels in neuronal projections from the entorhinal cortex and dentate gyrus—brain regions important for memory that are affected in early stages of AD—were increased in hAPP mice, as were preproenkephalin mRNA levels. Genetic manipulations that exacerbate or prevent excitotoxicity also exacerbated or prevented the enkephalin alterations. In human AD brains, enkephalin levels in the dentate gyrus were also increased. In hAPP mice, enkephalin elevations correlated with the extent of Aβ-dependent neuronal and behavioral alterations, and memory deficits were reduced by irreversible blockade of μ-opioid receptors with the antagonist β-funaltrexamine. We conclude that enkephalin elevations may contribute to cognitive impairments in hAPP mice and possibly in humans with AD. The therapeutic potential of reducing enkephalin production or signaling merits further exploration.
PMCID: PMC3315282  PMID: 18463254
Enkephalin; mu-opioid receptor; amyloid; dentate gyrus; entorhinal cortex; spatial memory
7.  Accelerating drug discovery for Alzheimer's disease: best practices for preclinical animal studies 
Animal models have contributed significantly to our understanding of the underlying biological mechanisms of Alzheimer's disease (AD). As a result, over 300 interventions have been investigated and reported to mitigate pathological phenotypes or improve behavior in AD animal models or both. To date, however, very few of these findings have resulted in target validation in humans or successful translation to disease-modifying therapies. Challenges in translating preclinical studies to clinical trials include the inability of animal models to recapitulate the human disease, variations in breeding and colony maintenance, lack of standards in design, conduct and analysis of animal trials, and publication bias due to under-reporting of negative results in the scientific literature. The quality of animal model research on novel therapeutics can be improved by bringing the rigor of human clinical trials to animal studies. Research communities in several disease areas have developed recommendations for the conduct and reporting of preclinical studies in order to increase their validity, reproducibility, and predictive value. To address these issues in the AD community, the Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation partnered with Charles River Discovery Services (Morrisville, NC, USA) and Cerebricon Ltd. (Kuopio, Finland) to convene an expert advisory panel of academic, industry, and government scientists to make recommendations on best practices for animal studies testing investigational AD therapies. The panel produced recommendations regarding the measurement, analysis, and reporting of relevant AD targets, th choice of animal model, quality control measures for breeding and colony maintenance, and preclinical animal study design. Major considerations to incorporate into preclinical study design include a priori hypotheses, pharmacokinetics-pharmacodynamics studies prior to proof-of-concept testing, biomarker measurements, sample size determination, and power analysis. The panel also recommended distinguishing between pilot 'exploratory' animal studies and more extensive 'therapeutic' studies to guide interpretation. Finally, the panel proposed infrastructure and resource development, such as the establishment of a public data repository in which both positive animal studies and negative ones could be reported. By promoting best practices, these recommendations can improve the methodological quality and predictive value of AD animal studies and make the translation to human clinical trials more efficient and reliable.
PMCID: PMC3218805  PMID: 21943025
8.  Neprilysin Overexpression Inhibits Plaque Formation But Fails to Reduce Pathogenic Aβ Oligomers and Associated Cognitive Deficits in Human Amyloid Precursor Protein Transgenic Mice 
The accumulation of amyloid-β (Aβ) peptides in the brain of patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) may arise from an imbalance between Aβ production and clearance. Overexpression of the Aβ-degrading enzyme neprilysin in brains of human amyloid precursor protein (hAPP) transgenic mice decreases overall Aβ levels and amyloid plaque burdens. Because AD-related synaptic and cognitive deficits appear to be more closely related to Aβ oligomers than to plaques, it is important to determine if increased neprilysin activity also diminishes the levels of pathogenic Aβ oligomers and related neuronal deficits in vivo. To address this question, we crossed hAPP transgenic mice with neprilysin transgenic mice and analyzed their offspring. Neprilysin overexpression reduced soluble Aβ levels by 50% and effectively prevented early Aβ deposition in the neocortex and hippocampus. However, it did not reduce levels of Aβ trimers and Aβ*56 or improve deficits in spatial learning and memory. The differential effect of neprilysin on plaques and oligomers suggests that neprilysin-dependent degradation of Aβ affects plaques more than oligomers and that these structures may form through distinct assembly mechanisms. Neprilysin’s inability to prevent learning and memory deficits in hAPP mice may be related to its inability to reduce pathogenic Aβ oligomers. Reduction of Aβ oligomers will likely be required for anti-Aβ treatments to improve cognitive functions.
PMCID: PMC2768427  PMID: 19228952
Memory; hippocampus; amyloid; Aβ*56; water maze; premature mortality
9.  COL25A1 triggers and promotes Alzheimer’s disease-like pathology in vivo 
Neurogenetics  2009;11(1):41-52.
Collagen XXV alpha 1 (COL25A1) is a collagenous type II transmembrane protein purified from senile plaques of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) brains. COL25A1 alleles have been associated with increased risk for AD in a Swedish population. COL25A1 is specifically expressed in neurons and binds to aggregated Aβ in vitro. However, its contribution to the pathogenesis of AD and in vivo function are unknown. Here, we report that over-expression of COL25A1 in transgenic mice increases p35/p25 and β-site APP-cleaving enzyme 1 (BACE1) levels, facilitates intracellular aggregation and extracellular matrix deposits of Aβ, and causes synaptophysin loss and astrocyte activation. COL25A1 mice displayed reduced anxiety-like behavior in elevated plus maze and open field tests and significantly slower swimming speed in Morris water maze. In stable cell lines, motifs in noncollagenous domains of COL25A1 were important for the induction of BACE1 expression. These findings demonstrate that COL25A1 leads to AD-like pathology in vivo. Modulation of COL25A1 function may represent an alternative therapeutic intervention for AD.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s10048-009-0201-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC2807601  PMID: 19548013
COL25A1; Alzheimer’s disease; Amyloid β; BACE1; p25; Cdk5
11.  Phospholipase A2 reduction ameliorates cognitive deficits in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease 
Nature neuroscience  2008;11(11):1311-1318.
Neuronal expression of familial Alzheimer's disease (AD)-mutant human amyloid precursor protein (hAPP) and hAPP-derived amyloid-β (Aβ) peptides causes synaptic dysfunction, inflammation, and abnormal cerebrovascular tone in transgenic mice. Fatty acids may be involved in these processes, but their contribution to AD pathogenesis is uncertain. A lipidomics approach to broadly profile fatty acids in brain tissues of hAPP mice revealed an increase in arachidonic acid and its metabolites, suggesting increased activity of the group IV isoform of phospholipase A2 (GIVA-PLA2). Levels of activated GIVA-PLA2 in the hippocampus were increased in AD patients and hAPP mice. Aβ caused a dose-dependent increase in GIVA-PLA2 phosphorylation in neuronal cultures. Inhibition of GIVA-PLA2 diminished Aβ-induced neurotoxicity. Genetic ablation or reduction of GIVA-PLA2 protected hAPP mice against Aβ-dependent deficits in learning and memory, behavioral alterations, and premature mortality. Inhibition of GIVA-PLA2 may be of benefit in the treatment and prevention of AD.
PMCID: PMC2597064  PMID: 18931664
12.  Engineered G protein coupled receptors reveal independent regulation of internalization, desensitization and acute signaling 
BMC Biology  2005;3:3.
The physiological regulation of G protein-coupled receptors, through desensitization and internalization, modulates the length of the receptor signal and may influence the development of tolerance and dependence in response to chronic drug treatment. To explore the importance of receptor regulation, we engineered a series of Gi-coupled receptors that differ in signal length, degree of agonist-induced internalization, and ability to induce adenylyl cyclase superactivation. All of these receptors, based on the kappa opioid receptor, were modified to be receptors activated solely by synthetic ligands (RASSLs). This modification allows us to compare receptors that have the same ligands and effectors, but differ only in desensitization and internalization.
Removal of phosphorylation sites in the C-terminus of the RASSL resulted in a mutant that was resistant to internalization and less prone to desensitization. Replacement of the C-terminus of the RASSL with the corresponding portion of the mu opioid receptor eliminated the induction of AC superactivation, without disrupting agonist-induced desensitization or internalization. Surprisingly, removal of phosphorylation sites from this chimera resulted in a receptor that is constitutively internalized, even in the absence of agonist. However, the receptor still signals and desensitizes in response to agonist, indicating normal G-protein coupling and partial membrane expression.
These studies reveal that internalization, desensitization and adenylyl cyclase superactivation, all processes that decrease chronic Gi-receptor signals, are independently regulated. Furthermore, specific mutations can radically alter superactivation or internalization without affecting the efficacy of acute Gi signaling. These mutant RASSLs will be useful for further elucidating the temporal dynamics of the signaling of G protein-coupled receptors in vitro and in vivo.
PMCID: PMC551613  PMID: 15707483

Results 1-12 (12)