Connecting Neuronal Cell Protective Pathways and Drug Combinations in a Huntington's Disease Model through the Application of Quantitative Systems Pharmacology

Sci Rep. 2017 Dec 19;7(1):17803. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-17378-y.


Quantitative Systems Pharmacology (QSP) is a drug discovery approach that integrates computational and experimental methods in an iterative way to gain a comprehensive, unbiased understanding of disease processes to inform effective therapeutic strategies. We report the implementation of QSP to Huntington's Disease, with the application of a chemogenomics platform to identify strategies to protect neuronal cells from mutant huntingtin induced death. Using the STHdh Q111 cell model, we investigated the protective effects of small molecule probes having diverse canonical modes-of-action to infer pathways of neuronal cell protection connected to drug mechanism. Several mechanistically diverse protective probes were identified, most of which showed less than 50% efficacy. Specific combinations of these probes were synergistic in enhancing efficacy. Computational analysis of these probes revealed a convergence of pathways indicating activation of PKA. Analysis of phospho-PKA levels showed lower cytoplasmic levels in STHdh Q111 cells compared to wild type STHdh Q7 cells, and these levels were increased by several of the protective compounds. Pharmacological inhibition of PKA activity reduced protection supporting the hypothesis that protection may be working, in part, through activation of the PKA network. The systems-level studies described here can be broadly applied to any discovery strategy involving small molecule modulation of disease phenotype.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cyclic AMP-Dependent Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Drug Combinations
  • Huntingtin Protein / metabolism
  • Huntington Disease / drug therapy*
  • Huntington Disease / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mutation / drug effects
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Phenotype
  • Protective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Small Molecule Libraries / pharmacology


  • Drug Combinations
  • Huntingtin Protein
  • Protective Agents
  • Small Molecule Libraries
  • Cyclic AMP-Dependent Protein Kinases