Background: Huntington Disease (HD) is an incurable autosomal dominant neurodegenerative disorder driven by an expansion repeat giving rise to the mutant huntingtin protein (mHtt), which is known to disrupt a multitude of transcriptional pathways. Pridopidine, a small molecule in development for treatment of HD, has been shown to improve motor symptoms in HD patients. In HD animal models, pridopidine exerts neuroprotective effects and improves behavioral and motor functions. Pridopidine binds primarily to the sigma-1 receptor, (IC50 ~ 100 nM), which mediates its neuroprotective properties, such as rescue of spine density and aberrant calcium signaling in HD neuronal cultures. Pridopidine enhances brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) secretion, which is blocked by putative sigma-1 receptor antagonist NE-100, and was shown to upregulate transcription of genes in the BDNF, glucocorticoid receptor (GR), and dopamine D1 receptor (D1R) pathways in the rat striatum. The impact of different doses of pridopidine on gene expression and transcript splicing in HD across relevant brain regions was explored, utilizing the YAC128 HD mouse model, which carries the entire human mHtt gene containing 128 CAG repeats.
Methods: RNAseq was analyzed from striatum, cortex, and hippocampus of wild-type and YAC128 mice treated with vehicle, 10 mg/kg or 30 mg/kg pridopidine from the presymptomatic stage (1.5 months of age) until 11.5 months of age in which mice exhibit progressive disease phenotypes.
Results: The most pronounced transcriptional effect of pridopidine at both doses was observed in the striatum with minimal effects in other regions. In addition, for the first time pridopidine was found to have a dose-dependent impact on alternative exon and junction usage, a regulatory mechanism known to be impaired in HD. In the striatum of YAC128 HD mice, pridopidine treatment initiation prior to symptomatic manifestation rescues the impaired expression of the BDNF, GR, D1R and cAMP pathways.
Conclusions: Pridopidine has broad effects on restoring transcriptomic disturbances in the striatum, particularly involving synaptic transmission and activating neuroprotective pathways that are disturbed in HD. Benefits of treatment initiation at early disease stages track with trends observed in the clinic.
Keywords: Huntington disease; Movement disorders; Neurodegeneration.