Many patients with Huntington's disease (HD) exhibit disturbances in their daily cycle of sleep and wake as part of their symptoms. These patients have difficulty sleeping at night and staying awake during the day, which has a profound impact on the quality of life of the patients and their care-givers. In the present study, we examined diurnal and circadian rhythms of four models of HD including the BACHD, CAG 140 knock-in and R6/2 CAG 140 and R6/2 CAG 250 lines of mice. The BACHD and both R6/2 lines showed profound circadian phenotypes as measured by wheel-running activity. Focusing on the BACHD line for further analysis, the amplitude of the rhythms in the BACHD mice declined progressively with age. In addition, the circadian regulation of heart rate and body temperature in freely behaving BACHD mice were also disrupted. Furthermore, the distribution of sleep as well as the autonomic regulation of heart rate was disrupted in this HD model. To better understand the mechanistic underpinnings of the circadian disruption, we used electrophysiological tools to record from neurons within the central clock in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The BACHD mice exhibit reduced rhythms in spontaneous electrical activity in SCN neurons. Interestingly, the expression of the clock gene PERIOD2 was not altered in the SCN of the BACHD line. Together, this data is consistent with the hypothesis that the HD mutations interfere with the expression of robust circadian rhythms in behavior and physiology. The data raise the possibility that the electrical activity within the central clock itself may be altered in this disease.
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