Exosomes and Homeostatic Synaptic Plasticity Are Linked to Each other and to Huntington's, Parkinson's, and Other Neurodegenerative Diseases by Database-Enabled Analyses of Comprehensively Curated Datasets

Front Neurosci. 2017 Mar 31;11:149. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2017.00149. eCollection 2017.


Huntington's disease (HD) is a progressive and autosomal dominant neurodegeneration caused by CAG expansion in the huntingtin gene (HTT), but the pathophysiological mechanism of mutant HTT (mHTT) remains unclear. To study HD using systems biological methodologies on all published data, we undertook the first comprehensive curation of two key PubMed HD datasets: perturbation genes that impact mHTT-driven endpoints and therefore are putatively linked causally to pathogenic mechanisms, and the protein interactome of HTT that reflects its biology. We perused PubMed articles containing co-citation of gene IDs and MeSH terms of interest to generate mechanistic gene sets for iterative enrichment analyses and rank ordering. The HD Perturbation database of 1,218 genes highly overlaps the HTT Interactome of 1,619 genes, suggesting links between normal HTT biology and mHTT pathology. These two HD datasets are enriched for protein networks of key genes underlying two mechanisms not previously implicated in HD nor in each other: exosome synaptic functions and homeostatic synaptic plasticity. Moreover, proteins, possibly including HTT, and miRNA detected in exosomes from a wide variety of sources also highly overlap the HD datasets, suggesting both mechanistic and biomarker links. Finally, the HTT Interactome highly intersects protein networks of pathogenic genes underlying Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and eight non-HD polyglutamine diseases, ALS, and spinal muscular atrophy. These protein networks in turn highly overlap the exosome and homeostatic synaptic plasticity gene sets. Thus, we hypothesize that HTT and other neurodegeneration pathogenic genes form a large interlocking protein network involved in exosome and homeostatic synaptic functions, particularly where the two mechanisms intersect. Mutant pathogenic proteins cause dysfunctions at distinct points in this network, each altering the two mechanisms in specific fashion that contributes to distinct disease pathologies, depending on the gene mutation and the cellular and biological context. This protein network is rich with drug targets, and exosomes may provide disease biomarkers, thus enabling drug discovery. All the curated datasets are made available for other investigators. Elucidating the roles of pathogenic neurodegeneration genes in exosome and homeostatic synaptic functions may provide a unifying framework for the age-dependent, progressive and tissue selective nature of multiple neurodegenerative diseases.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease (AD); amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); extracellular vesicles; polyglutamine; spinal muscular atrophy (SMA); synaptic plasticity; synaptic scaling; systems biology.