Nuclear accumulation of AMPK-α1 induces brain atrophy, neuronal loss, and formation of Htt aggregates in a Huntington’s disease model.
Adenosine monophosphate–activated protein kinase (AMPK) is a major energy sensor that maintains cellular energy homeostasis. Huntington’s disease (HD) is a neurodegenerative disorder caused by the expansion of CAG repeats in the huntingtin ( Htt) gene. In this paper, we report that activation of the α1 isoform of AMPK (AMPK-α1) occurred in striatal neurons of humans and mice with HD. Overactivation of AMPK in the striatum caused brain atrophy, facilitated neuronal loss, and increased formation of Htt aggregates in a transgenic mouse model (R6/2) of HD. Such nuclear accumulation of AMPK-α1 was activity dependent. Prevention of nuclear translocation or inactivation of AMPK-α1 ameliorated cell death and down-regulation of Bcl2 caused by mutant Htt (mHtt). Conversely, enhanced expression of Bcl2 protected striatal cells from the toxicity evoked by mHtt and AMPK overactivation. These data demonstrate that aberrant activation of AMPK-α1 in the nuclei of striatal cells represents a new toxic pathway induced by mHtt.