Background: Successful disease-modifying therapy for Huntington's disease (HD) will require therapeutic intervention early in the pathogenic process. Achieving this goal requires identifying phenotypes that are proximal to the HTT CAG repeat expansion.
Objective: To use Htt CAG knock-in mice, precise genetic replicas of the HTT mutation in patients, as models to study proximal disease events.
Methods: Using cohorts of B6J.HttQ111/+ mice from 2 to 18 months of age, we analyzed pathological markers, including immunohistochemistry, brain regional volumes and cortical thickness, CAG instability, electron microscopy of striatal synapses, and acute slice electrophysiology to record glutamatergic transmission at striatal synapses. We also incorporated a diet perturbation paradigm for some of these analyses.
Results: B6J.HttQ111/+ mice did not exhibit significant neurodegeneration or gliosis but revealed decreased striatal DARPP-32 as well as subtle but regional-specific changes in brain volumes and cortical thickness that parallel those in HD patients. Ultrastructural analyses of the striatum showed reduced synapse density, increased postsynaptic density thickness and increased synaptic cleft width. Acute slice electrophysiology showed alterations in spontaneous AMPA receptor-mediated postsynaptic currents, evoked NMDA receptor-mediated excitatory postsynaptic currents, and elevated extrasynaptic NMDA currents. Diet influenced cortical thickness, but did not impact somatic CAG expansion, nor did it show any significant interaction with genotype on immunohistochemical, brain volume or cortical thickness measures.
Conclusions: These data show that a single HttQ111 allele is sufficient to elicit brain region-specific morphological changes and early neuronal dysfunction, highlighting an insidious disease process already apparent in the first few months of life.
Keywords: Huntington’s disease; diet; electron microscopy; electrophysiology; immunohistochemistry; mice; mutation; phenotypes; striatal synapses.