Trehalose rescues glial cell dysfunction in striatal cultures from HD R6/1 mice at early postnatal development

Mol Cell Neurosci. 2016 Jul:74:128-45. doi: 10.1016/j.mcn.2016.05.002. Epub 2016 May 26.


The pathological hallmark of Huntington disease (HD) is the intracellular aggregation of mutant huntingtin (mHTT) in striatal neurons and glia associated with the selective loss of striatal medium-sized spiny neurons. Up to the present, the role of glia in HD is poorly understood and has been classically considered secondary to neuronal disorder. Trehalose is a disaccharide known to possess many pharmacological properties, acting as an antioxidant, a chemical chaperone, and an inducer of autophagy. In this study, we analyzed at an early postnatal development stage the abnormalities observed in striatal glial cell cultures of postnatal R6/1 mice (HD glia), under baseline and stressing conditions and the protective effects of trehalose. Our data demonstrate that glial HD alterations already occur at early stages of postnatal development. After 20 postnatal days in vitro, striatal HD glia cultures showed more reactive astrocytes with increased expression of glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) but with less replication capacity, less A2B5(+) glial progenitors and more microglia than wild-type (WT) cultures. HD glia had lower levels of intracellular glutathione (GSH) and was more susceptible to H2O2 and epoxomicin insults. The amount of expressed GDNF and secreted mature-BDNF by HD astrocytes were much lower than by WT astrocytes. In addition, HD glial cultures showed a deregulation of the major proteolytic systems, the ubiquitin-proteasomal system (UPS), and the autophagic pathway. This produces a defective protein quality control, indicated by the elevated levels of ubiquitination and p62 protein. Interestingly, we show that trehalose, through its capacity to induce autophagy, inhibited p62/SQSTM1 accumulation and facilitated the degradation of cytoplasmic aggregates from mHTT and α-synuclein proteins. Trehalose also reduced microglia activation and reversed the disrupted cytoskeleton of astrocytes accompanied with an increase in the replication capacity. In addition, trehalose up-regulated mature-BDNF neurotrophic factor expression and secretion, probably mediating cytoskeletal organization and helping in vesicular BDNF transport. Together, these findings indicate that glia suffers functional early changes in the disease process, changes that may contribute to HD neurodegeneration. Trehalose could be a very promising compound for treatment of HD and other diseases with abnormal protein aggregates. Furthermore our study identifies glial cells as a novel target for trehalose to induce neurotrophic and neuroprotective actions in HD.

Keywords: Autophagy; Glial pathology; Huntington disease; Trehalose; Ubiquitin–proteasome system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / genetics
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Corpus Striatum / cytology*
  • Corpus Striatum / growth & development
  • Cytoskeleton / drug effects
  • Cytoskeleton / metabolism
  • Female
  • Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / genetics
  • Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism
  • Gliosis / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Huntingtin Protein / genetics
  • Huntington Disease / genetics
  • Huntington Disease / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neuroglia / drug effects*
  • Neuroglia / metabolism
  • Neuroprotective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Protein Transport
  • Trehalose / pharmacology*
  • alpha-Synuclein / genetics
  • alpha-Synuclein / metabolism


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • HTT protein, human
  • Huntingtin Protein
  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • alpha-Synuclein
  • Trehalose