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1.  A Pharmacological Screening Approach for Discovery of Neuroprotective Compounds in Ischemic Stroke 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e69233.
With the availability and ease of small molecule production and design continuing to improve, robust, high-throughput methods for screening are increasingly necessary to find pharmacologically relevant compounds amongst the masses of potential candidates. Here, we demonstrate that a primary oxygen glucose deprivation assay in primary cortical neurons followed by secondary assays (i.e. post-treatment protocol in organotypic hippocampal slice cultures and cortical neurons) can be used as a robust screen to identify neuroprotective compounds with potential therapeutic efficacy. In our screen about 50% of the compounds in a library of pharmacologically active compounds displayed some degree of neuroprotective activity if tested in a pre-treatment toxicity assay but just a few of these compounds, including Carbenoxolone, remained active when tested in a post-treatment protocol. When further examined, Carbenoxolone also led to a significant reduction in infarction size and neuronal damage in the ischemic penumbra when administered six hours post middle cerebral artery occlusion in rats. Pharmacological testing of Carbenoxolone-related compounds, acting by inhibition of 11-β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase-1 (11β-HSD1), gave rise to similarly potent in vivo neuroprotection. This indicates that the increase of intracellular glucocorticoid levels mediated by 11β-HSD1 may be involved in the mechanism that exacerbates ischemic neuronal cell death, and inhibiting this enzyme could have potential therapeutic value for neuroprotective therapies in ischemic stroke and other neurodegenerative disorders associated with neuronal injury.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069233
PMCID: PMC3715457  PMID: 23874920
2.  Npas4: A Neuronal Transcription Factor with a Key Role in Social and Cognitive Functions Relevant to Developmental Disorders 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e46604.
Npas4 is a transcription factor, which is highly expressed in the brain and regulates the formation and maintenance of inhibitory synapses in response to excitatory synaptic activity. A deregulation of the inhibitory-excitatory balance has been associated with a variety of human developmental disorders such as schizophrenia and autism. However, not much is known about the role played by inhibitory synapses and inhibitory pathways in the development of nervous system disorders. We hypothesized that alterations in the inhibitory pathways induced by the absence of Npas4 play a major role in the expression of the symptoms observed in psychiatric disorders. To test this hypothesis we tested mice lacking the transcription factor (Npas4 knock-out mice (Npas4-KO)) in a battery of behavioral assays focusing on general activity, social behaviors, and cognitive functions. Npas4-KO mice are hyperactive in a novel environment, spend less time exploring an unfamiliar ovariectomized female, spend more time avoiding an unfamiliar male during a first encounter, show higher social dominance than their WT littermates, and display pre-pulse inhibition, working memory, long-term memory, and cognitive flexibility deficits. These behavioral deficits may replicate schizophrenia-related symptomatology such as social anxiety, hyperactivity, and cognitive and sensorimotor gating deficits. Immunohistochemistry analyses revealed that Npas4 expression is induced in the hippocampus after a social encounter and that Npas4 regulates the expression of c-Fos in the CA1 and CA3 regions of the hippocampus after a cognitive task. Our results suggest that Npas4 may play a major role in the regulation of cognitive and social functions in the brain with possible implications for developmental disorders such as schizophrenia and autism.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0046604
PMCID: PMC3460929  PMID: 23029555
3.  Thy1-hAPPLond/Swe+ mouse model of Alzheimer's disease displays broad behavioral deficits in sensorimotor, cognitive and social function 
Brain and Behavior  2012;2(2):142-154.
Alzheimer's disease (AD), the most common form of dementia, is an age-dependent progressive neurodegenerative disorder. β-amyloid, a metabolic product of the amyloid precursor protein (APP), plays an important role in the pathogenesis of AD. The Thy1-hAPPLond/Swe+ (line 41) transgenic mouse overexpresses human APP751 and contains the London (V717I) and Swedish (K670M/N671L) mutations. Here, we used a battery of behavioral tests to evaluate general activity, cognition, and social behavior in six-month-old male Thy1-hAPPLond/Swe+ mice. We found hyperactivity in a novel environment as well as significant deficits in spontaneous alternation behavior. In fear conditioning (FC), Thy1-hAPPLond/Swe+ mice did not display deficits in acquisition or in memory retrieval in novel context of tone-cued FC, but they showed significant memory retrieval impairment during contextual testing in an identical environment. Surprisingly, in a standard hidden platform water maze, no significant deficit was detected in mutant mice. However, a delayed-matching-to-place paradigm revealed a significant deficit in Thy1-hAPPLond/Swe+ mice. Lastly, in the social novelty session of a three-chamber test, Thy1-hAPPLond/Swe+ mice exhibited a significantly decreased interest in a novel versus a familiar stranger compared to control mice. This could possibly be explained by decreased social memory or discrimination and may parallel disturbances in social functioning in human AD patients. In conclusion, the Thy1-hAPPLond/Swe+ mouse model of AD displayed a behavioral phenotype that resembles, in part, the cognitive and psychiatric symptoms experienced in AD patients.
doi:10.1002/brb3.41
PMCID: PMC3345358  PMID: 22574282
Alzheimer's disease; amyloid precursor protein; behavior; learning and memory; neurodegenerative disorder; social interaction
4.  An Ancient Duplication of Exon 5 in the Snap25 Gene Is Required for Complex Neuronal Development/Function 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(11):e1000278.
Alternative splicing is an evolutionary innovation to create functionally diverse proteins from a limited number of genes. SNAP-25 plays a central role in neuroexocytosis by bridging synaptic vesicles to the plasma membrane during regulated exocytosis. The SNAP-25 polypeptide is encoded by a single copy gene, but in higher vertebrates a duplication of exon 5 has resulted in two mutually exclusive splice variants, SNAP-25a and SNAP-25b. To address a potential physiological difference between the two SNAP-25 proteins, we generated gene targeted SNAP-25b deficient mouse mutants by replacing the SNAP-25b specific exon with a second SNAP-25a equivalent. Elimination of SNAP-25b expression resulted in developmental defects, spontaneous seizures, and impaired short-term synaptic plasticity. In adult mutants, morphological changes in hippocampus and drastically altered neuropeptide expression were accompanied by severe impairment of spatial learning. We conclude that the ancient exon duplication in the Snap25 gene provides additional SNAP-25-function required for complex neuronal processes in higher eukaryotes.
Author Summary
In evolution, duplication of genes or gene segments appears to be an efficient way to add diverse functions in more complex organisms. The SNAP-25 protein plays an important role in mediating the release of neurotransmitters and hormones. SNAP-25 exists as two variants: SNAP-25a, which is present in early development, and SNAP-25b, which is most abundant from early adulthood and onwards. We have developed mouse mutants that only express SNAP-25a, but retain normal SNAP-25 levels by replacing the SNAP-25b segment in the Snap25 gene with an additional SNAP-25a copy. We show that SNAP-25b is required for early postnatal development and that a balanced expression of the two proteins is a prerequisite for maintaining an operational neuronal network during adulthood. Mice that only have SNAP-25a develop seizures, and show learning deficits and anxiety. Synaptic plasticity is impaired, and structural changes are observed in areas that are connected to such behavioral functions. In man, SNAP-25 function has been linked to behavioral and neuropsychiatric disorders, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD. Our present findings using genetic elimination of SNAP-25b suggest that even small alterations in the regulation of the Snap25 gene, resulting in a disturbed balance between SNAP-25a and SNAP-25b, lead to nervous system dysfunction.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1000278
PMCID: PMC2581893  PMID: 19043548

Results 1-4 (4)