Diana Duarte Lobo 1 , Rui Jorge Nobre 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , Catarina Oliveira Miranda 1 , 2 , 3 , Dina Pereira 1 , 2 , João Castelhano 5 , José Sereno 5 , 6 , Arnulf Koeppen 7 , 8 , Miguel Castelo-Branco 5 , 6 , Luís Pereira de Almeida , 1 , 2 , 4 , 9
31 August 2020
Blood-brain barrier (BBB) disruption is a common feature in neurodegenerative diseases. However, BBB integrity has not been assessed in spinocerebellar ataxias (SCAs) such as Machado-Joseph disease/SCA type 3 (MJD/SCA3), a genetic disorder, triggered by polyglutamine-expanded ataxin-3. To investigate that, BBB integrity was evaluated in a transgenic mouse model of MJD and in human post-mortem brain tissues.
Firstly, we investigated the BBB permeability in MJD mice by: i) assessing the extravasation of the Evans blue (EB) dye and blood-borne proteins (e.g fibrinogen) in the cerebellum by immunofluorescence, and ii) in vivo Dynamic Contrast Enhanced-Magnetic Resonance Imaging (DCE-MRI). The presence of ataxin-3 aggregates in brain blood vessels and the levels of tight junction (TJ)-associated proteins were also explored by immunofluorescence and western blotting. Human brain samples were used to confirm BBB permeability by evaluating fibrinogen extravasation, co-localization of ataxin-3 aggregates with brain blood vessels and neuroinflammation.
In the cerebellum of the mouse model of MJD, there was a 5-fold increase in EB accumulation when compared to age-matched controls. Moreover, vascular permeability displayed a 13-fold increase demonstrated by DCE-MRI. These results were validated by the 2-fold increase in fibrinogen extravasation in transgenic animals comparing to controls. Interestingly, mutant ataxin-3 aggregates were detected in cerebellar blood vessels of transgenic mice, accompanied by alterations of TJ-associated proteins in cerebellar endothelial cells, namely a 29% decrease in claudin-5 oligomers and a 10-fold increase in an occludin cleavage fragment. These results were validated in post-mortem brain samples from MJD patients as we detected fibrinogen extravasation across BBB, the presence of ataxin-3 aggregates in blood vessels and associated microgliosis.
Altogether, our results prove BBB impairment in MJD/SCA3. These findings contribute for a better understanding of the disease mechanisms and opens the opportunity to treat MJD with medicinal products that in normal conditions would not cross the BBB.