Background: Whereas many causes and mechanisms of neurodegenerative diseases have been identified, very few therapeutic strategies have emerged in parallel. One possible explanation is that successful treatment strategy may require simultaneous targeting of more than one molecule of pathway. A new therapeutic approach to have emerged recently is the engagement of microRNAs (miRNAs), which affords the opportunity to target multiple cellular pathways simultaneously using a single sequence.
Methodology/principal findings: We identified miR-22 as a potentially neuroprotective miRNA based on its predicted regulation of several targets implicated in Huntington's disease (histone deacetylase 4 (HDAC4), REST corepresor 1 (Rcor1) and regulator of G-protein signaling 2 (Rgs2)) and its diminished expression in Huntington's and Alzheimer's disease brains. We then tested the hypothesis that increasing cellular levels of miRNA-22 would achieve neuroprotection in in vitro models of neurodegeneration. As predicted, overexpression of miR-22 inhibited neurodegeneration in primary striatal and cortical cultures exposed to a mutated human huntingtin fragment (Htt171-82Q). Overexpression of miR-22 also decreased neurodegeneration in primary neuronal cultures exposed to 3-nitropropionic acid (3-NP), a mitochondrial complex II/III inhibitor. In addition, miR-22 improved neuronal viability in an in vitro model of brain aging. The mechanisms underlying the effects of miR-22 included a reduction in caspase activation, consistent with miR-22's targeting the pro-apoptotic activities of mitogen-activated protein kinase 14/p38 (MAPK14/p38) and tumor protein p53-inducible nuclear protein 1 (Tp53inp1). Moreover, HD-specific effects comprised not only targeting HDAC4, Rcor1 and Rgs2 mRNAs, but also decreasing focal accumulation of mutant Htt-positive foci, which occurred via an unknown mechanism.
Conclusions: These data show that miR-22 has multipartite anti-neurodegenerative activities including the inhibition of apoptosis and the targeting of mRNAs implicated in the etiology of HD. These results motivate additional studies to evaluate the feasibility and therapeutic efficacy of manipulating miR-22 in vivo.