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2.  Isogenic Human iPSC Parkinson’s Model Shows Nitrosative Stress-Induced Dysfunction in MEF2-PGC1α Transcription 
Cell  2013;155(6):1351-1364.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is characterized by loss of A9 dopaminergic (DA) neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNpc). An association has been reported between PD and exposure to mitochondrial toxins, including environmental pesticides paraquat, maneb, and rotenone. Here, using a robust, patient-derived stem cell model of PD allowing comparison of A53T α-synuclein (α-syn) mutant cells and isogenic mutation-corrected controls, we identify mitochondrial toxin-induced perturbations in A53T α-syn A9 DA neurons (hNs). We report a pathway whereby basal and toxin-induced nitrosative/oxidative stress results in S-nitrosylation of transcription factor MEF2C in A53T hNs compared to corrected controls. This redox reaction inhibits the MEF2C-PGC1α transcriptional network, contributing to mitochondrial dysfunction and apoptotic cell death. Our data provide mechanistic insight into gene-environmental interaction (GxE) in the pathogenesis of PD. Furthermore, using small-molecule high-throughput screening, we identify the MEF2C-PGC1α pathway as a therapeutic target to combat PD.
PMCID: PMC4028128  PMID: 24290359
3.  Nrf2/ARE-Mediated Antioxidant Actions of Pro-Electrophilic Drugs 
Free radical biology & medicine  2013;65:10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2013.07.022.
Living cells maintain a balance between oxidation and reduction, and perturbations of this redox balance are thought to contribute to various diseases. Recent attempts to regulate redox state have focused on electrophiles (EPs), which activate potent cellular defense systems against oxidative stress. One example of this approach is exemplified by carnosic acid (CA) and carnosol (CS), compounds that are found in the herb rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). Importantly, CA and CS themselves are not electrophilic, but in response to oxidation, become electrophilic, and then activate the Keap1/Nrf2/ARE (antioxidant response element) transcription pathway to synthesize endogenous anti-oxidant ‘phase 2’ enzymes. As a result of our efforts to develop these compounds as therapeutics for brain health, we have formulated two innovative criteria for drug development: the first concept is the use of Pro-Electrophilic Drugs (PEDs) that are innocuous in and of themselves; and the second concept involves the use of compounds that are Pathologically-Activated Therapeutics (PATs), i.e., these small molecules are chemically converted to their active form by the very oxidative stress that they are designed to then combat. The chemical basis for PED and PAT drugs is embodied in the ortho- and para-hydroquinone electrophilic cores of the molecules, which are oxidized by the Cu2+/Cu+ cycling system (or potentially by other transition metals). Importantly, this cycling pathway is under stringent regulation by the cell redox state. We propose that redox-dependent quinone-formation is the predominant mechanism for formation of PED and PAT drugs from their precursor compounds. In fact, redox-dependent generation of the active form of drug from the “pro-form” distinguishes this therapeutic approach from traditional EPs such as curcumin, and results in a decrease in clinical side effects at therapeutic concentrations, e.g., lack of reaction with other thiols such as glutathione (GSH), which can result in lowering GSH and inducing oxidative stress in normal cells. We consider this pro-drug quality of PED/PAT compounds to be a key factor for generating drugs to be used to combat neurodegenerative diseases that will be clinically tolerated. Given the contribution of oxidative stress to the pathology of multiple neurodegenerative diseases, the Keap1/Nrf2/ARE pathway represents a promising drug target for these PED/PAT agents.
PMCID: PMC3859717  PMID: 23892355
Glutathione; Electrophile; Keap1; Pathologically-Activated Therapeutic; Electrophilic Counterattack
4.  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
5.  S-Nitrosylation of Dynamin-Related Protein 1 Mediates Mutant Huntingtin-Induced Mitochondrial Fragmentation and Neuronal Injury in Huntington's Disease 
Antioxidants & Redox Signaling  2013;19(11):1173-1184.
Aims: Dynamin-related protein1 (Drp1) is a large GTPase that mediates mitochondrial fission. We recently reported in Alzheimer's disease (AD) that S-nitrosylation of Drp1 (forming S-nitroso [SNO]-Drp1) results in GTPase hyperactivity and mitochondrial fragmentation, thus impairing bioenergetics and inducing synaptic damage and neuronal loss. Here, since aberrant mitochondrial dynamics are also key features of Huntington's disease (HD), we investigated whether formation of SNO-Drp1 contributes to the pathogenesis of HD in cell-based and animal models. Results: We found that expression of mutant huntingtin (mutHTT) protein in primary cultured neurons triggers significant production of nitric oxide (NO). Consistent with this result, increased levels of SNO-Drp1 were found in the striatum of a transgenic mouse model of HD as well as in human postmortem brains from HD patients. Using specific fluorescence markers, we found that formation of SNO-Drp1 induced excessive mitochondrial fragmentation followed by loss of dendritic spines, signifying synaptic damage. These neurotoxic events were significantly abrogated after transfection with non-nitrosylatable mutant Drp1(C644A), or by the blocking of NO production using an nitric oxide synthase inhibitor. These findings suggest that SNO-Drp1 is a key mediator of mutHTT toxicity, and, thus, may represent a novel drug target for HD. Innovation and Conclusion: Our findings indicate that aberrant S-nitrosylation of Drp1 is a prominent pathological feature of neurodegenerative diseases such as AD and HD. Moreover, the SNO-Drp1 signaling pathway links mutHTT neurotoxicity to a malfunction in mitochondrial dynamics, resulting in neuronal synaptic damage in HD. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 19, 1173–1184.
PMCID: PMC3785802  PMID: 23641925
6.  Differential Effects of Synaptic and Extrasynaptic NMDA Receptors on Aβ-Induced Nitric Oxide Production in Cerebrocortical Neurons 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2014;34(14):5023-5028.
Oligomerized amyloid-β (Aβ) peptide is thought to contribute to synaptic damage, resulting in dysfunctional neuronal networks in patients with Alzheimer's disease. It has been previously suggested that Aβ may be detrimental to neuronal health, at least in part, by triggering oxidative/nitrosative stress. However, the mechanisms underlying this process remain to be elucidated. Here, using rat primary cerebrocortical cultures, we demonstrate that Aβ1–42 oligomers trigger a dramatic increase in intracellular nitric oxide (NO) concentration via a process mediated by activation of NMDA-type glutamate receptors (NMDARs). Considering that synaptic NMDARs and extrasynaptic NMDARs (eNMDARs) can have opposite effects on neuronal viability, we explored their respective roles in Aβ-induced increases in NO levels. Surprisingly, after pharmacological isolation of eNMDARs, we discovered that eNMDARs are primarily responsible for the increase in neuronal NO triggered by Aβ oligomers. Moreover, we found that the eNMDAR-mediated increase in NO can produce S-nitrosylation of Drp1 (dynamin-related protein 1) and Cdk5 (cyclin-dependent kinase 5), targets known to contribute to Aβ-induced synaptic damage. These results suggest that pharmacological intervention specifically aimed at eNMDARs may decrease Aβ-induced nitrosative stress and thus ameliorate neurotoxic damage to synapses.
PMCID: PMC3972726  PMID: 24695719
amyloid-β; extrasynaptic; nitric oxide; NMDA receptor; synaptic
7.  ATM-Dependent Phosphorylation of MEF2D Promotes Neuronal Survival after DNA Damage 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2014;34(13):4640-4653.
Mutations in the ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM) gene, which encodes a kinase critical for the normal DNA damage response, cause the neurodegenerative disorder ataxia-telangiectasia (AT). The substrates of ATM in the brain are poorly understood. Here we demonstrate that ATM phosphorylates and activates the transcription factor myocyte enhancer factor 2D (MEF2D), which plays a critical role in promoting survival of cerebellar granule cells. ATM associates with MEF2D after DNA damage and phosphorylates the transcription factor at four ATM consensus sites. Knockdown of endogenous MEF2D with a short-hairpin RNA (shRNA) increases sensitivity to etoposide-induced DNA damage and neuronal cell death. Interestingly, substitution of endogenous MEF2D with an shRNA-resistant phosphomimetic MEF2D mutant protects cerebellar granule cells from cell death after DNA damage, whereas an shRNA-resistant nonphosphorylatable MEF2D mutant does not. In vivo, cerebella in Mef2d knock-out mice manifest increased susceptibility to DNA damage. Together, our results show that MEF2D is a substrate for phosphorylation by ATM, thus promoting survival in response to DNA damage. Moreover, dysregulation of the ATM–MEF2D pathway may contribute to neurodegeneration in AT.
PMCID: PMC3965787  PMID: 24672010
ataxia telangiectasia; ATM; DNA damage; MEF2D; neuronal survival; phosphorylation
8.  Aberrant Protein S-Nitrosylation in Neurodegenerative Diseases 
Neuron  2013;78(4):596-614.
S-Nitrosylation is a redox-mediated posttranslational modification that regulates protein function via covalent reaction of nitric oxide (NO)-related species with a cysteine thiol group on the target protein. Under physiological conditions, S-nitrosylation can be an important modulator of signal transduction pathways, akin to phosphorylation. However, with aging or environmental toxins that generate excessive NO, aberrant S-nitrosylation reactions can occur and affect protein misfolding, mitochondrial fragmentation, synaptic function, apoptosis or autophagy. Here, we discuss how aberrantly S-nitrosylated proteins (SNO-proteins) play a crucial role in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Insight into the pathophysiological role of aberrant S-nitrosylation pathways will enhance our understanding of molecular mechanisms leading to neurodegenerative diseases and point to potential therapeutic interventions.
PMCID: PMC3712898  PMID: 23719160
S-Nitrosylation; Nitric oxide; Alzheimer’s disease; Parkinson’s disease; Neurodegeneration; Oxidative stress
9.  Synaptic Protein α1-Takusan Mitigates Amyloid-β-Induced Synaptic Loss via Interaction with Tau and Postsynaptic Density-95 at Postsynaptic Sites 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2013;33(35):14170-14183.
The synaptic toxicity of soluble amyloid-β (Aβ) oligomers plays a critical role in the pathophysiology of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Here we report that overexpressed α1-takusan, which we previously identified as a protein that enhances synaptic activity via interaction with PSD-95, mitigates oligomeric Aβ-induced synaptic loss. In contrast, takusan knockdown results in enhanced synaptic damage. α1-Takusan interacts with tau either directly or indirectly, and prevents Aβ-induced tau hyperphosphorylation and mitochondrial fragmentation. Deletion analysis identified the second domain (D2) within the takusan protein that is required for PSD-95 clustering and synaptic protection from Aβ. A 51 aa sequence linking D2 to the PDZ-binding C terminus was found to be as effective as full-length takusan in protecting synapses from Aβ-induced damage. Moreover, a sequence containing the D2 from the human protein discs large homolog 5, when linked to a C-terminal PDZ-binding motif, can also increase the clustering of PSD-95 in cortical dendrites. In summary, α1-takusan protects synapses from Aβ-induced insult via interaction with PSD-95 and tau. Thus, takusan-based protein sequences from either mouse or human may be of potential therapeutic benefit in AD.
PMCID: PMC3756761  PMID: 23986251
10.  Suppressing aberrant GluN3A expression rescues NMDA receptor dysfunction, synapse loss and motor and cognitive decline in Huntington's disease models 
Nature medicine  2013;19(8):1030-1038.
Huntington's disease is caused by an expanded polyglutamine repeat in huntingtin (Htt), but the pathophysiological sequence of events that trigger synaptic failure and neuronal loss are not fully understood. Alterations in NMDA-type glutamate receptors (NMDARs) have been implicated, yet it remains unclear how the Htt mutation impacts NMDAR function and direct evidence for a causative role is missing. Here we show that mutant Htt re-directs an intracellular store of juvenile NMDARs to the surface of striatal neurons by sequestering and disrupting the subcellular localization of the GluN3A subunit-specific endocytic adaptor PACSIN1. Overexpressing GluN3A in wild-type striatum mimicked the synapse loss observed in Huntington's disease mouse models, whereas genetic deletion of GluN3A prevented synapse degeneration, ameliorated motor and cognitive decline, and reduced striatal atrophy and neuronal loss in the YAC128 model. Furthermore, GluN3A deletion corrected the abnormally enhanced NMDAR currents, which have been linked to cell death in Huntington's disease and other neurodegenerative conditions. Our findings reveal an early pathogenic role of GluN3A dysregulation in Huntington's disease, and suggest that therapies targeting GluN3A or pathogenic Htt-PACSIN1 interactions might prevent or delay disease progression.
PMCID: PMC3936794  PMID: 23852340
11.  Dysfunctional Mitochondrial Dynamics in the Pathophysiology of Neurodegenerative Diseases 
Journal of cell death  2013;6:27-35.
Mitochondrial dysfunction occurs in neurodegenerative diseases, however molecular mechanisms underlying this process remain elusive. Emerging evidence suggests that nitrosative stress, mediated by reactive nitrogen species (RNS), may play a role in mitochondrial pathology. Here, we review findings that highlight the abnormal mitochondrial morphology observed in many neurode-generative disorders including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s diseases. One mechanism whereby RNS can affect mitochondrial function and thus neuronal survival occurs via protein S-nitrosylation, representing chemical reaction of a nitric oxide (NO) group with a critical cysteine thiol. In this review, we focus on the signaling pathway whereby S-nitrosylation of the mitochondrial fission protein Drp1 (dynamin-related protein 1; forming S-nitrosothiol (SNO)-Drp1) precipitates excessive mitochondrial fission or fragmentation and consequent bioenergetic compromise. Subsequently, the formation of SNO-Drp1 leads to synaptic damage and neuronal death. Thus, intervention in the SNO-Drp1 pathway may provide therapeutic benefit in neurodegenerative diseases.
PMCID: PMC3935363  PMID: 24587691
S-nitrosothiol; neurodegeneration; dendritic spine loss; GTPase; reactive nitrogen species; mitochondrial dysfunction
12.  Loss of sorting nexin 27 contributes to excitatory synaptic dysfunction via modulation of glutamate receptor recycling in Down syndrome 
Nature medicine  2013;19(4):473-480.
Sorting nexin 27 (SNX27), a brain-enriched PDZ domain protein, regulates endocytic sorting and trafficking. Here, we show that Snx27−/− mice exhibit severe neuronal deficits in the hippocampus and cortex. While Snx27+/− mice exhibit grossly normal neuroanatomy, we find defects in synaptic function, learning and memory, and a reduction in ionotropic glutamate receptors (NMDARs and AMPARs). SNX27 interacts with these receptors through its PDZ domain, regulating their recycling to the plasma membrane. We demonstrate a concomitant reduction of SNX27 and C/EBPβ in Down syndrome brains and identify C/EBPβ as a transcription factor for SNX27. Down syndrome causes over-expression of miR-155, a chromosome 21-encoded microRNA that negatively regulates C/EBPβ, thereby reducing SNX27 and resulting in synaptic dysfunction. Up-regulating SNX27 in the hippocampus of Down syndrome mice rescues synaptic and cognitive deficits. Our identification of the role of SNX27 in synaptic function establishes a novel molecular mechanism of Down syndrome pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3911880  PMID: 23524343
13.  Emerging Role of Protein-Protein Transnitrosylation in Cell Signaling Pathways 
Antioxidants & Redox Signaling  2013;18(3):239-249.
Significance: Protein S-nitrosylation, a covalent reaction of a nitric oxide (NO) group with a critical protein thiol (or more properly thiolate anion), mediates an important form of redox-related signaling as well as aberrant signaling in disease states. Recent Advances: A growing literature suggests that over 3000 proteins are S-nitrosylated in cell systems. Our laboratory and several others have demonstrated that protein S-nitrosylation can regulate protein function by directly inhibiting catalytically active cysteines, by reacting with allosteric sites, or via influencing protein-protein interaction. For example, S-nitrosylation of critical cysteine thiols in protein-disulfide isomerase and in parkin alters their activity, thus contributing to protein misfolding in Parkinson's disease. Critical Issues: However, the mechanism by which specific protein S-nitrosylation occurs in cell signaling pathways is less well investigated. Interestingly, the recent discovery of protein-protein transnitrosylation reactions (transfer of an NO group from one protein to another) has revealed a unique mechanism whereby NO can S-nitrosylate a particular set of protein thiols, and represents a major class of nitrosylating/denitrosylating enzymes in mammalian systems. In this review, we will discuss recent evidence for transnitrosylation reactions between (i) hemoglobin/anion exchanger 1, (ii) thioredoxin/caspase-3, (iii) X-linked inhibitor of apoptosis/caspase-3, (iv) GAPDH-HDAC2/SIRT1/DNA-PK, and (v) Cdk5/dynamin related protein 1 (Drp1). This review also discusses experimental techniques useful in characterizing protein-protein transnitrosylations. Future Directions: Elucidation of additional transnitrosylation cascades will further our understanding of the enzymes that catalyze nitrosation, thereby contributing to NO-mediated signaling pathways. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 18, 239–249.
PMCID: PMC3518546  PMID: 22657837
14.  Redox regulation of protein misfolding, mitochondrial dysfunction, synaptic damage, and cell death in neurodegenerative diseases 
Experimental neurology  2012;238(1):12-21.
The loss or injury of neurons associated with oxidative and nitrosative redox stress plays an important role in the onset of various neurodegenerative diseases. Specifically, nitric oxide (NO), can affect neuronal survival through a process called S-nitrosylation, by which the NO group undergoes a redox reaction with specific protein thiols. This in turn can lead to the accumulation of misfolded proteins, which generally form aggregates in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases. Evidence suggests that S-nitrosylation can also impair mitochondrial function and lead to excessive fission of mitochondria and consequent bioenergetic compromise via effects on the activity of the fission protein dynamin-related protein 1 (Drp1). This insult leads to synaptic dysfunction and loss. Additionally, high levels of NO can S-nitrosylate a number of aberrant targets involved in neuronal survival pathways, including the antiapoptotic protein XIAP, inhibiting its ability to prevent apoptosis.
PMCID: PMC3645978  PMID: 22771760
16.  S-nitrosylation of Cdk5 
Prion  2012;6(4):364-370.
Aberrant activation of Cdk5 has been implicated in the process of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease (AD). We recently reported that S-nitrosylation of Cdk5 (forming SNO-Cdk5) at specific cysteine residues results in excessive activation of Cdk5, contributing to mitochondrial dysfunction, synaptic damage, and neuronal cell death in models of AD. Furthermore, SNO-Cdk5 acts as a nascent S-nitrosylase, transnitrosylating the mitochondrial fission protein Drp1 and enhancing excessive mitochondrial fission in dendritic spines. However, a molecular mechanism that leads to the formation of SNO-Cdk5 in neuronal cells remained obscure. Here, we demonstrate that neuronal nitric oxide synthase (NOS1) interacts with Cdk5 and that the close proximity of the two proteins facilitates the formation of SNO-Cdk5. Interestingly, as a negative feedback mechanism, Cdk5 phosphorylates and suppresses NOS1 activity. Thus, together with our previous report, these findings delineate an S-nitrosylation pathway wherein Cdk5/NOS1 interaction enhances SNO-Cdk5 formation, mediating mitochondrial dysfunction and synaptic loss during the etiology of AD.
PMCID: PMC3609065  PMID: 22874667
nitrosative stress; Cyclin-dependent kinase 5; nitric oxide; neuronal NO synthase; transnitrosylation
17.  S-Nitrosylation of parkin as a novel regulator of p53-mediated neuronal cell death in sporadic Parkinson’s disease 
Mutations in the gene encoding parkin, a neuroprotective protein with dual functions as an E3 ubiquitin ligase and transcriptional repressor of p53, are linked to familial forms of Parkinson’s disease (PD). We hypothesized that oxidative posttranslational modification of parkin by environmental toxins may contribute to sporadic PD.
We first demonstrated that S-nitrosylation of parkin decreased its activity as a repressor of p53 gene expression, leading to upregulation of p53. Chromatin immunoprecipitation as well as gel-shift assays showed that parkin bound to the p53 promoter, and this binding was inhibited by S-nitrosylation of parkin. Additionally, nitrosative stress induced apoptosis in cells expressing parkin, and this death was, at least in part, dependent upon p53. In primary mesencephalic cultures, pesticide-induced apoptosis was prevented by inhibition of nitric oxide synthase (NOS). In a mouse model of pesticide-induced PD, both S-nitrosylated (SNO-)parkin and p53 protein levels were increased, while administration of a NOS inhibitor mitigated neuronal death in these mice. Moreover, the levels of SNO-parkin and p53 were simultaneously elevated in postmortem human PD brain compared to controls.
Taken together, our data indicate that S-nitrosylation of parkin, leading to p53-mediated neuronal cell death, contributes to the pathophysiology of sporadic PD.
PMCID: PMC3765907  PMID: 23985028
Nitric oxide (NO); S-nitrosylation; Parkin; p53; Nitrosative stress; Parkinson’s disease
18.  Erythropoietin Plus Insulin-like Growth Factor-I Protects against Neuronal Damage in a Murine Model of Human Immunodeficiency Virus-Associated Neurocognitive Disorders 
Annals of neurology  2010;68(3):342-352.
Prolonged human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1) infection leads to neurological debilitation, including motor dysfunction and frank dementia. Although pharmacological control of HIV infection is now possible, HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) remain intractable. Here, we report that chronic treatment with erythropoietin (EPO) and insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) protects against HIV/gp120-mediated neuronal damage in culture and in vivo.
Initially, we tested the neuroprotective effects of various concentrations of EPO, IGF-I, or EPO+IGF-I from gp120-induced damage in vitro. To assess the chronic effects of EPO+IGF-I administration in vivo, we treated HIV/gp120-transgenic or wild-type mice transnasally once a week for 4 months and subsequently conducted immunohistochemical analyses.
Low concentrations of EPO+IGF-I provided neuroprotection from gp120 in vitro in a synergistic fashion. In vivo, EPO+IGF-I treatment prevented gp120-mediated neuronal loss, but did not alter microgliosis or astrocytosis. Strikingly, in the brains of both humans with HAND and gp120-transgenic mice, we found evidence for hyperphosphorylated tau protein (paired helical filament-I tau), which has been associated with neuronal damage and loss. In the mouse brain following transnasal treatment with EPO+IGF-I, in addition to neuroprotection we observed increased phosphorylation/activation of Akt (protein kinase B) and increased phosphorylation/inhibition of glycogen synthase kinase (GSK)-3β, dramatically decreasing downstream hyperphosphorylation of tau. These results indicate that the peptides affected their cognate signaling pathways within the brain parenchyma.
Our findings suggest that chronic combination therapy with EPO+IGF-I provides neuroprotection in a mouse model of HAND, in part, through cooperative activation of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/Akt/GSK-3β signaling. This combination peptide therapy should therefore be tested in humans with HAND.
PMCID: PMC3733362  PMID: 20818790
19.  Isobaric tagging-based quantification by mass spectrometry of differentially regulated proteins in synaptosomes of HIV/gp120 transgenic mice: Implications for HIV-associated neurodegeneration 
Experimental Neurology  2012;236(2):298-306.
HIV/gp120 transgenic mice manifest neuropathological features similar to HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) in humans, including astrogliosis, microglia activation, and decreased neuronal synapses. Here, proteomic screening of synaptosomes from HIV/gp120 transgenic mice was conducted to determine potential neuronal markers and drug targets associated with HAND. Synaptosomes from 13 month-old wild-type (wt) and HIV/gp120 transgenic mouse cortex were subjected to tandem mass tag (TMT) labeling and subsequent analysis using an LTQ-Orbitrap mass spectrometer in pulsed-Q dissociation (PQD) mode for tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS). A total of 1301 proteins were identified in both wt and HIV/gp120 transgenic mice. Three of the most differentially-regulated proteins were validated by immunoblotting. To elucidate putative pathways associated with the proteomic profile, 107 proteins manifesting a ≥1.5 fold change in expression were analyzed using a bioinformatics pathway analysis tool. This analysis revealed direct or indirect involvement of the phosphotidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/protein kinase B (Akt) pathway, a well-known neuronal survival pathway. Immunoblots confirmed a lower phospho (p)Akt/Akt ratio in synaptosomes from HIV/gp120 transgenic animals compared to wt, suggesting that this neuroprotective pathway was inactivated in the HIV/gp120 transgenic brain. Based on this information, we then compared immunoblots of pAkt/Akt in the forebrains of these mice as well as in human postmortem brain. We observed a significant decrease in the pAkt/Akt ratio in synaptosomes and forebrain of HIV/gp120 transgenic compared to wt mice, and a similar decrease in human forebrain from HAND patients compared to neurologically unimpaired HIV+ and HIV- controls. Moreover, mechanistic insight into an additional pathway for decreased Akt activity in HIV/gp120 mouse brains and human HAND brains was shown to occur via S-nitrosylation of Akt protein, a posttranslational modification known to inhibit Akt activity and contribute to neuronal cell injury and death. Thus, MS proteomic profiling in the HIV/gp120 transgenic mouse predicted dysregulation of the PI3K/Akt pathway observed in human brains with HAND, providing evidence that this mouse is a useful disease model and that the Akt pathway may provide multiple drug targets for the treatment of HIV-related dementias.
PMCID: PMC3392539  PMID: 22575597
Proteomics; gp120; HIV-1; Akt; synaptosomes; tandem mass tag labeling for Mass Spectrometry; S-nitrosylation
20.  Dysfunctional Mitochondrial Dynamics in the Pathophysiology of Neurodegenerative Diseases 
Journal of Cell Death  2013;6:27-35.
Mitochondrial dysfunction occurs in neurodegenerative diseases, however molecular mechanisms underlying this process remain elusive. Emerging evidence suggests that nitrosative stress, mediated by reactive nitrogen species (RNS), may play a role in mitochondrial pathology. Here, we review findings that highlight the abnormal mitochondrial morphology observed in many neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s diseases. One mechanism whereby RNS can affect mitochondrial function and thus neuronal survival occurs via protein S-nitrosylation, representing chemical reaction of a nitric oxide (NO) group with a critical cysteine thiol. In this review, we focus on the signaling pathway whereby S-nitrosylation of the mitochondrial fission protein Drp1 (dynamin-related protein 1; forming S-nitrosothiol (SNO)-Drp1) precipitates excessive mitochondrial fission or fragmentation and consequent bioenergetic compromise. Subsequently, the formation of SNO-Drp1 leads to synaptic damage and neuronal death. Thus, intervention in the SNO-Drp1 pathway may provide therapeutic benefit in neurodegenerative diseases.
PMCID: PMC3935363  PMID: 24587691
S-nitrosothiol; neurodegeneration; dendritic spine loss; GTPase; reactive nitrogen species; mitochondrial dysfunction
21.  Protective Effect of Carnosic Acid, a Pro-Electrophilic Compound, in Models of Oxidative Stress and Light-Induced Retinal Degeneration 
The herb rosemary has been reported to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. We have previously shown that carnosic acid (CA), present in rosemary extract, crosses the blood–brain barrier to exert neuroprotective effects by upregulating endogenous antioxidant enzymes via the Nrf2 transcriptional pathway. Here we investigated the antioxidant and neuroprotective activity of CA in retinal cell lines exposed to oxidative stress and in a rat model of light-induced retinal degeneration (LIRD).
Retina-derived cell lines ARPE-19 and 661W treated with hydrogen peroxide were used as in vitro models for testing the protective activity of CA. For in vivo testing, dark-adapted rats were given intraperitoneal injections of CA prior to exposure to white light to assess protection of the photoreceptor cells. Retinal damage was assessed by measuring outer nuclear layer thickness and by electroretinogram (ERG).
In vitro, CA significantly protected retina-derived cell lines (ARPE-19 and 661W) against H2O2-induced toxicity. CA induced antioxidant phase 2 enzymes and reduced formation of hyperoxidized peroxiredoxin (Prx)2. Similarly, we found that CA protected retinas in vivo from LIRD, producing significant improvement in outer nuclear layer thickness and ERG activity.
These findings suggest that CA may potentially have clinical application to diseases affecting the outer retina, including age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa, in which oxidative stress is thought to contribute to disease progression.
Carnosic acid (CA) upregulates antioxidant enzymes via the Nrf2 transcriptional pathway. We show CA treatment protected retinal-derived cell lines against H2O2-induced toxicity, promoted survival of photoreceptor cells and preserved electroretinogram activity in rats subjected to light damage.
PMCID: PMC3508754  PMID: 23081978
22.  Nr3a-containing NMDA receptors promote neurotransmitter release and spike timing-dependent plasticity 
Nature neuroscience  2011;14(3):338-344.
Recent evidence suggests that presynaptic-acting NMDA receptors (preNMDARs) are important for neocortical synaptic transmission and plasticity. We found that unique properties of the Nr3a subunit enable preNMDARs to enhance spontaneous and evoked glutamate release and that Nr3a is required for spike timing–dependent long-term depression in the juvenile mouse visual cortex. In the mature cortex, Nr2b-containing preNMDARs enhanced neurotransmission in the absence of magnesium, indicating that presynaptic NMDARs may function under depolarizing conditions throughout life. Our findings indicate that Nr3a relieves preNMDARs from the dual-activation requirement of ligand-binding and depolarization; the developmental removal of Nr3a limits preNMDAR functionality by restoring this associative property.
PMCID: PMC3474337  PMID: 21297630
23.  Redox Regulation of Protein Function via Cysteine S-Nitrosylation and Its Relevance to Neurodegenerative Diseases 
Debilitating neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease (AD) and Parkinson's disease (PD), can be attributed to neuronal cell damage in specific brain regions. An important hallmark of these diseases is increased oxidative and nitrosative stress that occurs via overproduction of highly reactive free radicals known as reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS). These molecules are normally removed by cellular antioxidant systems. Under physiological conditions, ROS/RNS are present at low levels, mediating several neurotrophic and neuroprotective signaling pathways. In contrast, under pathological conditions, there is a pronounced increase in ROS/RNS generation, impairing normal neurological function. Nitric oxide (NO) is one such molecule that functions as a signaling agent under physiological conditions but causes nitrosative stress under pathological conditions due to its enhanced production. As first reported by our group and colleagues, the toxic effects of NO can be in part attributed to thiol S-nitrosylation, a posttranslational modification of cysteine residues on specific proteins. Here, we review several reports appearing over the past decade showing that S-nitrosylation of an increasing number of proteins compromises important cellular functions, including mitochondrial dynamics, endoplasmic reticulum (ER) protein folding, and signal transduction, thereby promoting synaptic damage, cell death, and neurodegeneration.
PMCID: PMC3431077  PMID: 22956959
24.  Genetic Deletion of NR3A Accelerates Glutamatergic Synapse Maturation 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e42327.
Glutamatergic synapse maturation is critically dependent upon activation of NMDA-type glutamate receptors (NMDARs); however, the contributions of NR3A subunit-containing NMDARs to this process have only begun to be considered. Here we characterized the expression of NR3A in the developing mouse forebrain and examined the consequences of NR3A deletion on excitatory synapse maturation. We found that NR3A is expressed in many subcellular compartments, and during early development, NR3A subunits are particularly concentrated in the postsynaptic density (PSD). NR3A levels dramatically decline with age and are no longer enriched at PSDs in juveniles and adults. Genetic deletion of NR3A accelerates glutamatergic synaptic transmission, as measured by AMPAR-mediated postsynaptic currents recorded in hippocampal CA1. Consistent with the functional observations, we observed that the deletion of NR3A accelerated the expression of the glutamate receptor subunits NR1, NR2A, and GluR1 in the PSD in postnatal day (P) 8 mice. These data support the idea that glutamate receptors concentrate at synapses earlier in NR3A-knockout (NR3A-KO) mice. The precocious maturation of both AMPAR function and glutamate receptor expression are transient in NR3A-KO mice, as AMPAR currents and glutamate receptor protein levels are similar in NR3A-KO and wildtype mice by P16, an age when endogenous NR3A levels are normally declining. Taken together, our data support a model whereby NR3A negatively regulates the developmental stabilization of glutamate receptors involved in excitatory neurotransmission, synaptogenesis, and spine growth.
PMCID: PMC3411625  PMID: 22870318
25.  S-Nitrosylation of Critical Protein Thiols Mediates Protein Misfolding and Mitochondrial Dysfunction in Neurodegenerative Diseases 
Antioxidants & Redox Signaling  2011;14(8):1479-1492.
Excessive nitrosative and oxidative stress is thought to trigger cellular signaling pathways leading to neurodegenerative conditions. Such redox dysregulation can result from many cellular events, including hyperactivation of the N-methyl-d-aspartate-type glutamate receptor, mitochondrial dysfunction, and cellular aging. Recently, we and our colleagues have shown that excessive generation of free radicals and related molecules, in particular nitric oxide species (NO), can trigger pathological production of misfolded proteins, abnormal mitochondrial dynamics (comprised of mitochondrial fission and fusion events), and apoptotic pathways in neuronal cells. Emerging evidence suggests that excessive NO production can contribute to these pathological processes, specifically by S-nitrosylation of specific target proteins. Here, we highlight examples of S-nitrosylated proteins that regulate misfolded protein accumulation and mitochondrial dynamics. For instance, in models of Parkinson's disease, these S-nitrosylation targets include parkin, a ubiquitin E3 ligase and neuroprotective molecule, and protein-disulfide isomerase, a chaperone enzyme for nascent protein folding. S-Nitrosylation of protein-disulfide isomerase may also be associated with mutant Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase toxicity in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Additionally, in models of Alzheimer's disease, excessive NO generation leads to the formation of S-nitrosylated dynamin-related protein 1 (forming SNO-Drp1), which contributes to abnormal mitochondrial fragmentation and resultant synaptic damage. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 14, 1479–1492.
PMCID: PMC3061195  PMID: 20812868

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