Huntington's disease (HD) is a fatal autosomal dominant neurodegenerative disorder caused by an expansion of the polyglutamine (polyQ) repeat in exon-1 in the Huntingtin gene (HTT). This results in misfolding and accumulation of the huntingtin (htt) protein, forming nuclear and cytoplasmic inclusions. HD is associated with dysregulation of gene expression as well as mitochondrial dysfunction. We hypothesized that by improving transcriptional regulation of genes necessary for energy metabolism, the HD motor phenotype would also improve. We therefore examined the protective effects of nicotinamide (NAM), a well-characterized water-soluble B vitamin that is an inhibitor of sirtuin1/class III NAD(+)-dependent histone deacetylase (HDAC). In this study, both mini-osmotic pumps and drinking water deliveries were tested at 250 mg NAM/kg/day, using the B6.HDR6/1 transgenic mouse model. Results were similar for both modes of delivery, and there was no evidence of toxicity. We found that NAM treatment increased mRNA levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma coactivator 1-alpha (PGC-1α), the master regulator of mitochondrial biogenesis. Protein levels of BDNF were also significantly increased. In addition, NAM treatment increased PGC-1α activation in HD mice, pointing to a possible mode of action as a therapeutic. Critically, NAM treatment was able to improve motor deficits associated with the HD phenotype, tested as time courses of open field, rotarod, and balance beam activities. These improvements were substantial, despite the fact that NAM did not appear to reduce htt aggregation, or to prevent late-stage weight loss. Our study therefore concludes that NAM or similar drugs may be beneficial in clinical treatment of the motor dysfunctions of HD, while additional therapeutic approaches must be added to combat the aggregation phenotype and overall physiological decline.
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