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      Correlations of Behavioral Deficits with Brain Pathology Assessed through Longitudinal MRI and Histopathology in the R6/2 Mouse Model of HD

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          Abstract

          Huntington’s disease (HD) is caused by the expansion of a CAG repeat in the huntingtin ( HTT) gene. The R6/2 mouse model of HD expresses a mutant version of exon 1 HTT and develops motor and cognitive impairments, a widespread huntingtin (HTT) aggregate pathology and brain atrophy. Despite the vast number of studies that have been performed on this model, the association between the molecular and cellular neuropathology with brain atrophy, and with the development of behavioral phenotypes remains poorly understood. In an attempt to link these factors, we have performed longitudinal assessments of behavior (rotarod, open field, passive avoidance) and of regional brain abnormalities determined through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) (whole brain, striatum, cortex, hippocampus, corpus callosum), as well as an end-stage histological assessment. Detailed correlative analyses of these three measures were then performed. We found a gender-dependent emergence of motor impairments that was associated with an age-related loss of regional brain volumes. MRI measurements further indicated that there was no striatal atrophy, but rather a lack of striatal growth beyond 8 weeks of age. T2 relaxivity further indicated tissue-level changes within brain regions. Despite these dramatic motor and neuroanatomical abnormalities, R6/2 mice did not exhibit neuronal loss in the striatum or motor cortex, although there was a significant increase in neuronal density due to tissue atrophy. The deposition of the mutant HTT (mHTT) protein, the hallmark of HD molecular pathology, was widely distributed throughout the brain. End-stage histopathological assessments were not found to be as robustly correlated with the longitudinal measures of brain atrophy or motor impairments. In conclusion, modeling pre-manifest and early progression of the disease in more slowly progressing animal models will be key to establishing which changes are causally related.

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          Most cited references 34

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          Full-length human mutant huntingtin with a stable polyglutamine repeat can elicit progressive and selective neuropathogenesis in BACHD mice.

          To elucidate the pathogenic mechanisms in Huntington's disease (HD) elicited by expression of full-length human mutant huntingtin (fl-mhtt), a bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC)-mediated transgenic mouse model (BACHD) was developed expressing fl-mhtt with 97 glutamine repeats under the control of endogenous htt regulatory machinery on the BAC. BACHD mice exhibit progressive motor deficits, neuronal synaptic dysfunction, and late-onset selective neuropathology, which includes significant cortical and striatal atrophy and striatal dark neuron degeneration. Power analyses reveal the robustness of the behavioral and neuropathological phenotypes, suggesting BACHD as a suitable fl-mhtt mouse model for preclinical studies. Additional analyses of BACHD mice provide novel insights into how mhtt may elicit neuropathogenesis. First, unlike previous fl-mhtt mouse models, BACHD mice reveal that the slowly progressive and selective pathogenic process in HD mouse brains can occur without early and diffuse nuclear accumulation of aggregated mhtt (i.e., as detected by immunostaining with the EM48 antibody). Instead, a relatively steady-state level of predominantly full-length mhtt and a small amount of mhtt N-terminal fragments are sufficient to elicit the disease process. Second, the polyglutamine repeat within fl-mhtt in BACHD mice is encoded by a mixed CAA-CAG repeat, which is stable in both the germline and somatic tissues including the cortex and striatum at the onset of neuropathology. Therefore, our results suggest that somatic repeat instability does not play a necessary role in selective neuropathogenesis in BACHD mice. In summary, the BACHD model constitutes a novel and robust in vivo paradigm for the investigation of HD pathogenesis and treatment.
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            Characterization of progressive motor deficits in mice transgenic for the human Huntington's disease mutation.

            Transgenic mice expressing exon 1 of the human Huntington's disease (HD) gene carrying a 141-157 CAG repeat (line R6/2) develop a progressive neurological phenotype with motor symptoms resembling those seen in HD. We have characterized the motor deficits in R6/2 mice using a battery of behavioral tests selected to measure motor aspects of swimming, fore- and hindlimb coordination, balance, and sensorimotor gating [swimming tank, rotarod, raised beam, fore- and hindpaw footprinting, and acoustic startle/prepulse inhibition (PPI)]. Behavioral testing was performed on female hemizygotic R6/2 transgenic mice (n = 9) and female wild-type littermates (n = 22) between 5 and 14 weeks of age. Transgenic mice did not show an overt behavioral phenotype until around 8 weeks of age. However, as early as 5-6 weeks of age they had significant difficulty swimming, traversing the narrowest square (5 mm) raised beam, and maintaining balance on the rotarod at rotation speeds of 33-44 rpm. Furthermore, they showed significant impairment in prepulse inhibition (an impairment also seen in patients with HD). Between 8 and 15 weeks, R6/2 transgenic mice showed a progressive deterioration in performance on all of the motor tests. Thus R6/2 mice show measurable deficits in motor behavior that begin subtly and increase progressively until death. Our data support the use of R6/2 mice as a model of HD and indicate that they may be useful for evaluating therapeutic strategies for HD, particularly those aimed at reducing the severity of motor symptoms or slowing the course of the disease.
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              Nuclear and neuropil aggregates in Huntington's disease: relationship to neuropathology.

              The data we report in this study concern the types, location, numbers, forms, and composition of microscopic huntingtin aggregates in brain tissues from humans with different grades of Huntington's disease (HD). We have developed a fusion protein antibody against the first 256 amino acids that preferentially recognizes aggregated huntingtin and labels many more aggregates in neuronal nuclei, perikarya, and processes in human brain than have been described previously. Using this antibody and human brain tissue ranging from presymptomatic to grade 4, we have compared the numbers and locations of nuclear and neuropil aggregates with the known patterns of neuronal death in HD. We show that neuropil aggregates are much more common than nuclear aggregates and can be present in large numbers before the onset of clinical symptoms. There are also many more aggregates in cortex than in striatum, where they are actually uncommon. Although the striatum is the most affected region in HD, only 1-4% of striatal neurons in all grades of HD have nuclear aggregates. Neuropil aggregates, which we have identified by electron microscopy to occur in dendrites and dendritic spines, could play a role in the known dendritic pathology that occurs in HD. Aggregates increase in size in advanced grades, suggesting that they may persist in neurons that are more likely to survive. Ubiquitination is apparent in only a subset of aggregates, suggesting that ubiquitin-mediated proteolysis of aggregates may be late or variable.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Role: Editor
                Journal
                PLoS One
                PLoS ONE
                plos
                plosone
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                1932-6203
                2013
                4 April 2013
                : 8
                : 4
                Affiliations
                [1 ]King’s College London, Institute of Psychiatry, Department of Neuroscience, London, United Kingdom
                [2 ]King’s College London, Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics, London, United Kingdom
                [3 ]University of Pittsburgh, Department of Radiology, McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States of America
                Centre Hospitalier de l’Université Laval, Canada
                Author notes

                Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

                Conceived and designed the experiments: IR RG GB MM. Performed the experiments: IR ES RG KM. Analyzed the data: IR ES RG KM GB MM. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: IR RG GP MM. Wrote the paper: IR GB MM.

                Article
                PONE-D-13-01622
                10.1371/journal.pone.0060012
                3617160
                23593159

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

                Page count
                Pages: 15
                Funding
                This work was supported by grants from the Medical Research Council (G0800846) and CHDI Foundation. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
                Categories
                Research Article
                Medicine
                Clinical Genetics
                Autosomal Dominant
                Huntington Disease
                Clinical Research Design
                Animal Models of Disease
                Diagnostic Medicine
                Pathology
                Anatomical Pathology
                Histopathology
                Neuropathology
                Neurology
                Huntington Disease
                Neurodegenerative Diseases
                Neuroimaging

                Uncategorized

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