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1.  Harmine, A Natural Beta-Carboline Alkaloid, Upregulates Astroglial Glutamate Transporter Expression 
Neuropharmacology  2010;60(7-8):1168-1175.
Glutamate is the predominant excitatory amino acid neurotransmitter in the mammalian central nervous system (CNS). Glutamate transporter EAAT2 /GLT-1 is the physiologically dominant astroglial protein that inactivates synaptic glutamate. Previous studies have shown that EAAT2 dysfunction leads to excessive extracellular glutamate and may contribute to various neurological disorders including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The recent discovery of the neuroprotective properties of ceftriaxone, a beta lactam antibiotic, suggested that increasing EAAT2 /GLT-1 gene expression might be beneficial in ALS and other neurological/psychiatric disorders by augmenting astrocytic glutamate uptake. Here we report our efforts to develop a new screening assay for identifying compounds that activate EAAT2 gene expression. We generated fetal derived-human immortalized astroglial cells that are stably expressing a firefly luciferase reporter under the control of the human EAAT2 promoter. When screening a library of 1040 FDA approved compounds and natural products, we identified harmine, a naturally occurring beta-carboline alkaloid, as one of the top hits for activating the EAAT2 promoter. We further tested harmine in our in vitro cell culture systems and confirmed its ability to increase EAAT2/GLT1 gene expression and functional glutamate uptake activity. We next tested its efficacy in both wild type animals and in an ALS animal model of disease and demonstrated that harmine effectively increased GLT-1 protein and glutamate transporter activity in vivo. Our studies provide potential novel neurotherapeutics by modulating the activity of glutamate transporters via gene activation.
PMCID: PMC3220934  PMID: 21034752
harmine; GLT-1; EAAT2; glutamate transporter; astroglia; ALS
2.  Epigenetic Regulation of Neuron-Dependent Induction of Astroglial Synaptic Protein GLT1 
Glia  2010;58(3):277-286.
Astroglial glutamate transporter EAAT2/GLT1 prevents glutamate-induced excitotoxicity in the central nervous system. Expression of EAAT2/GLT1 is dynamically regulated by neurons. The pathogenesis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) involves astroglial dysfunction, including dramatic loss of EAAT2/GLT1. DNA methylation of gene promoters represents one of the most important epigenetic mechanisms in regulating gene expression. The involvement of DNA methylation in the regulation of astroglial EAAT2/GLT1 expression in different conditions, especially in ALS has not been explored. In this study, we established a procedure to selectively isolate a pure astrocyte population in vitro and in vivo from BAC GLT1 eGFP mice using an eGFP-based fluorescence-activated cell sorting approach. Astrocytes isolated from this procedure are GFAP+ and GLT1+ and respond to neuronal stimulation, enabling direct methylation analysis of GLT1 promoter in these astrocytes. To investigate the role of DNA methylation in physiological and pathological EAAT2/GLT1 expression, methylation status of the EAAT2/GLT1 promoter was analyzed in astrocytes from in vitro and in vivo paradigms or postmortem ALS motor cortex by bisulfite sequencing method. DNA demethylation on selective CpG sites of the GLT1 promoter was highly correlated to increased GLT1 mRNA levels in astrocytes in response to neuronal stimulation; however, low level of methylation was found on CpG sites of EAAT2 promoter from postmortem motor cortex of human amyotrophic lateral sclerosis patients. In summary, hypermethylation on selective CpG sites of the GLT1 promoter is involved in repression of GLT1 promoter activation, but this regulation does not play a role in astroglial dysfunction of EAAT2 expression in patients with ALS.
PMCID: PMC2794958  PMID: 19672971
epigenetic; astrocyte; GLT1
3.  New Treatments in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis 
Neuropsychopharmacology  2010;36(1):370-372.
PMCID: PMC3055527  PMID: 21116264
4.  NG2+ CNS glial progenitors remain committed to the oligodendrocyte lineage in postnatal life and following neurodegeneration 
Neuron  2010;68(4):668-681.
The mammalian CNS contains a ubiquitous population of glial progenitors known as NG2+ cells that have the ability to develop into oligodendrocytes and undergo dramatic changes in response to injury and demyelination. Although it has been reported that NG2+ cells are multipotent, their fate in health and disease remains controversial. Here, we generated PDGFαR-CreER transgenic mice and followed their fate in vivo in the developing and adult CNS. These studies revealed that NG2+ cells in the postnatal CNS generate myelinating oligodendrocytes, but not astrocytes or neurons. In regions of neurodegeneration in the spinal cord of ALS mice, NG2+ cells exhibited enhanced proliferation and accelerated differentiation into oligodendrocytes, but remained committed to the oligodendrocyte lineage. These results indicate that NG2+ cells in the normal CNS are oligodendrocyte precursors with restricted lineage potential, and that cell loss and gliosis are not sufficient to alter the lineage potential of these progenitors in ALS mice.
PMCID: PMC2989827  PMID: 21092857
5.  Zones of Enhanced Glutamate Release from Climbing Fibers in the Mammalian Cerebellum 
Purkinje cells in the mammalian cerebellum are remarkably homogeneous in shape and orientation, yet they exhibit regional differences in gene expression. Purkinje cells that express high levels of zebrin II (aldolase C) and the glutamate transporter EAAT4, cluster in parasagittal zones that receive input from distinct groups of climbing fibers (CFs); however, the physiological properties of CFs that target these molecularly distinct Purkinje cells have not been determined. Here we report that CFs that innervate Purkinje cells in zebrin II immunoreactive (Z+) zones release more glutamate per action potential than CFs in Z− zones. CF terminals in Z+ zones had larger pools of release-ready vesicles, exhibited enhanced multivesicular release, and produced larger glutamate transients. As a result, CF-mediated excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) in Purkinje cells decayed more slowly in Z+ zones, which triggered longer duration complex spikes containing a greater number of spikelets. The differences in the duration of CF EPSCs between Z+ and Z− zones persisted in EAAT4 knockout mice, indicating that EAAT4 is not required for maintaining this aspect of CF function. These results indicate that the organization of the cerebellum into discrete longitudinal zones is defined not only by molecular phenotype of Purkinje cells within zones, but also by the physiological properties of CFs that project to these distinct regions. The enhanced release of glutamate from CFs in Z+ zones may alter the threshold for synaptic plasticity and prolong inhibition of cerebellar output neurons in deep cerebellar nuclei.
PMCID: PMC2894469  PMID: 20505095
6.  Loss of β-III spectrin leads to Purkinje cell dysfunction recapitulating the behaviour and neuropathology of SCA5 in humans 
Mutations in SPTBN2, the gene encoding β-III spectrin, cause spinocerebellar ataxia type 5 in humans (SCA5), a neurodegenerative disorder resulting in loss of motor coordination. How these mutations give rise to progressive ataxia and what the precise role β-III spectrin plays in normal cerebellar physiology are unknown. We developed a mouse lacking full length β-III spectrin and found that homozygous mice reproduced features of SCA5 including gait abnormalities, tremor, deteriorating motor coordination, Purkinje cell loss and cerebellar atrophy (molecular layer thinning). In vivo analysis reveals an age-related reduction in simple spike firing rate in surviving β-III−/− Purkinje cells while in vitro studies show these neurons to have reduced spontaneous firing, smaller sodium currents and dysregulation of glutamatergic neurotransmission. Our data suggest an early loss of EAAT4- (protein interactor of β-III spectrin) and subsequent loss of GLAST-mediated uptake may play a role in neuronal pathology. These findings implicate a loss of β-III spectrin function in SCA5 pathogenesis and indicate there are at least two physiological effects of β-III spectrin loss that underpin a progressive loss of inhibitory cerebellar output, namely an intrinsic Purkinje cell membrane defect due to reduced sodium currents and alterations in glutamate signaling.
PMCID: PMC2857506  PMID: 20371805
ataxia; cerebellum; motor coordination; glutamate transporters; excitotoxicity; neurodegeneration
7.  GLT-1 Promoter Activity in Astrocytes and Neurons of Mouse Hippocampus and Somatic Sensory Cortex 
GLT-1 eGFP BAC reporter transgenic adult mice were used to detect GLT-1 gene expression in individual cells of CA1, CA3 and SI, and eGFP fluorescence was measured to analyze quantitatively GLT-1 promoter activity in different cells of neocortex and hippocampus. Virtually all GFAP+ astrocytes were eGFP+; we also found that about 80% of neurons in CA3 pyramidal layer, 10–70% of neurons in I-VI layers of SI and rare neurons in all strata of CA1 and in strata oriens and radiatum of CA3 were eGFP+. Analysis of eGFP intensity showed that astrocytes had a higher GLT-1 promoter activity in SI than in CA1 and CA3, and that neurons had the highest levels of GLT-1 promoter activity in CA3 stratum pyramidale and in layer VI of SI. Finally, we observed that the intensity of GLT-1 promoter activity in neurons is 1–20% of that measured in astrocytes. These results showed that in the hippocampus and neocortex GLT-1 promoter activity is observed in astrocytes and neurons, detailed the distribution of GLT-1 expressing neurons, and indicated that GLT-1 promoter activity in both astrocytes and neurons varies in different brain regions.
PMCID: PMC2813724  PMID: 20161698
glutamate transporters; GLT-1/EAAT2; neurons; astrocytes; hippocampus; neocortex

Results 1-7 (7)