Increased Body Weight of the BAC HD Transgenic Mouse Model of Huntington's Disease Accounts for Some but Not All of the Observed HD-like Motor Deficits

PLoS Curr. 2013 Jul 30;5:ecurrents.hd.0ab4f3645aff523c56ecc8ccbe41a198. doi: 10.1371/currents.hd.0ab4f3645aff523c56ecc8ccbe41a198.


The genome of the Bacterial Artificial Chromosome (BAC) transgenic mouse model of Huntington's Disease (BAC HD) contains the 170 kb human HTT locus modified by the addition of exon 1 with 97 mixed CAA-CAG repeats. BAC HD mice present robust behavioral deficits in both the open field and the accelerating rotarod tests, two standard behavioral assays of motor function. BAC HD mice, however, also typically present significantly increased body weights relative to wildtype littermate controls (WT) which potentially confounds the interpretation of any motor deficits associated directly with the effects of mutant huntingtin. In order to evaluate this possible confound of body weight, we directly compared the performance of BAC HD and WT female mice under food restricted versus free feeding conditions in both the open field and rotarod tasks to test the hypothesis that some of the motor deficits observed in this HTT-transgenic mouse line results solely from increased body weight. Our results suggest that the rotarod deficit exhibited by BAC HD mice is modulated by both body weight and non-body weight factors resulting from overexpression of full length mutant Htt. When body weights of WT and BAC HD transgenic mice were normalized using restricted feeding, the deficits exhibited by BAC HD mice on the rotarod task were less marked, but were still significant. Since the rotarod deficit between WT and BAC HD mice is attenuated when body weight is normalized by food restriction, utilization of this task in BAC HD mice during pre-clinical evaluation must be powered accordingly and results carefully considered as therapeutic benefit can result from decreased overall body weight and or motoric improvement that may not be related to body mass. Furthermore, after controlling for body weight differences, the hypoactive phenotype displayed by ad libitum fed BAC HD mice in the open field assay was not observed in the BAC HD mice undergoing food restriction. These findings suggest that assessment of spontaneous locomotor activity, as measured in the open field test, may not be the appropriate behavioral endpoint to evaluate the BAC HD mouse during preclinical evaluation since it appears that the apparent hypoactive phenotype in this model is driven primarily by body weight differences.

Grant support

This work was supported by the CHDI Foundation. CHDI Foundation is a not-for-profit biomedical research organization exclusively dedicated to discovering and developing therapeutics that slow the progression of Huntington’s disease. CHDI Foundation conducts research in a number of different ways; for the purposes of this manuscript, all research was conceptualized, planned, and directed by all authors listed and conducted at PsychoGenics, Inc., a contract research organization. CHDI Foundation provides financial support for PLoS Currents: Huntington Disease. Editorial responsibility for all content remains entirely within the remit of the Public Library of Science, the Editors, and Board of Reviewers. At the time the study was conducted, Kudwa AE, Oakeshott S, Murphy C, Mushlin R, Fitzpatrick J, Miller S, McConnell K, Port R, Torello J, Ramboz S, Brunner D and Menalled L were employees of PsychoGenics, Inc., a for-profit institution. The authors have declared that no further competing interests exist.