A long-term goal of modeling Huntington's disease (HD) is to recapitulate the cardinal features of the disease in mice that express both mutant and wild-type (WT) huntingtin (Htt), as HD commonly manifests as a heterozygous condition in humans, and loss of WT Htt is associated with loss-of-function. In a new heterozygous Q175 knock-in (KI) mouse model, we performed an extensive evaluation of motor and cognitive functional deficits, neuropathological and biochemical changes and levels of proteins involved in synaptic function, the cytoskeleton and axonal transport, at 1-16 months of age. Motor deficits were apparent at 6 months of age in Q175 KI mice and at that time, postmortem striatal gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels were elevated and mutant Htt inclusions were present throughout the brain. From 6 months of age, levels of proteins associated with synaptic function, including SNAP-25, Rab3A and PSD-95, and with axonal transport and microtubules, including KIF3A, dynein and dynactin, were altered in the striatum, motor cortex, prefrontal cortex and hippocampus of Q175 KI mice, compared with WT levels. At 12-16 months of age, Q175 KI mice displayed motor and cognitive deficits, which were paralleled at postmortem by striatal atrophy, cortical thinning, degeneration of medium spiny neurons, dense mutant Htt inclusion formation, decreased striatal dopamine levels and loss of striatal brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Data from this study indicate that the heterozygous Q175 KI mouse represents a realistic model for HD and also provides new insights into the specific and progressive synaptic, cytoskeletal and axonal transport protein abnormalities that may accompany the disease.
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