Motor slowing, forebrain white matter loss, and striatal shrinkage have been reported in premanifest Huntington's disease (HD) prior to overt striatal neuron loss. We carried out detailed LM and EM studies in a genetically precise HD mimic, heterozygous Q140 HD knock-in mice, to examine the possibility that loss of corticostriatal and thalamostriatal terminals prior to striatal neuron loss underlies these premanifest HD abnormalities. In our studies, we used VGLUT1 and VGLUT2 immunolabeling to detect corticostriatal and thalamostriatal (respectively) terminals in dorsolateral (motor) striatum over the first year of life, prior to striatal projection neuron pathology. VGLUT1+ axospinous corticostriatal terminals represented about 55% of all excitatory terminals in striatum, and VGLUT2+ axospinous thalamostriatal terminals represented about 35%, with VGLUT1+ and VGLUT2+ axodendritic terminals accounting for the remainder. In Q140 mice, a significant 40% shortfall in VGLUT2+ axodendritic thalamostriatal terminals and a 20% shortfall in axospinous thalamostriatal terminals were already observed at 1 month of age, but VGLUT1+ terminals were normal in abundance. The 20% deficiency in VGLUT2+ thalamostriatal axospinous terminals persisted at 4 and 12 months in Q140 mice, and an additional 30% loss of VGLUT1+ corticostriatal terminals was observed at 12 months. The early and persistent deficiency in thalamostriatal axospinous terminals in Q140 mice may reflect a development defect, and the impoverishment of this excitatory drive to striatum may help explain early motor defects in Q140 mice and in premanifest HD. The loss of corticostriatal terminals at 1 year in Q140 mice is consistent with prior evidence from other mouse models of corticostriatal disconnection early during progression, and can explain both the measurable bradykinesia and striatal white matter loss in late premanifest HD.
Keywords: Corticostriatal; Huntington's disease; Pathology; Premanifest; Thalamostriatal.