Pridopidine stabilizes mushroom spines in mouse models of Alzheimer's disease by acting on the sigma-1 receptor

Neurobiol Dis. 2019 Apr;124:489-504. doi: 10.1016/j.nbd.2018.12.022. Epub 2018 Dec 27.


There is evidence that cognitive decline in Alzheimer's disease (AD) results from deficiencies in synaptic communication (e.g., loss of mushroom-shaped 'memory spines') and neurodegenerative processes. This might be treated with sigma-1 receptor (S1R) agonists, which are broadly neuroprotective and modulate synaptic plasticity. For example, we previously found that the mixed muscarinic/S1R agonist AF710B prevents mushroom spine loss in hippocampal cultures from APP knock-in (APP-KI) and presenilin-1-M146 V knock-in (PS1-KI) mice. We also found that the "dopaminergic stabilizer" pridopidine (structurally similar to the S1R agonist R(+)-3-PPP), is a high-affinity S1R agonist and is synaptoprotective in a mouse model of Huntington disease. Here we tested whether pridopidine and R(+)-3-PPP are synaptoprotective in models of AD and whether this requires S1R. We also examined the effects of pridopidine on long-term potentiation (LTP), endoplasmic reticulum calcium and neuronal store-operated calcium entry (nSOC) in spines, all of which are dysregulated in AD, contributing to synaptic pathology. We report here that pridopidine and 3-PPP protect mushroom spines from Aβ42 oligomer toxicity in primary WT hippocampal cultures from mice. Pridopidine also reversed LTP defects in hippocampal slices resulting from application of Aβ42 oligomers. Pridopidine and 3-PPP rescued mushroom spines in hippocampal cultures from APP-KI and PS1-KI mice. S1R knockdown from lenti-viral shRNA expression destabilized WT mushroom spines and prevented the synaptoprotective effects of pridopidine in PS1-KI cultures. Knockout of PS1/2 destabilized mushroom spines and pridopidine was unable to prevent this. Pridopidine lowered endoplasmic reticulum calcium levels in WT, PS1-KO, PS1-KI and PS2 KO neurons, but not in PS1/2 KO neurons. S1R was required for pridopidine to enhance spine nSOC in PS1-KI neurons. Pridopidine was unable to rescue PS1-KI mushroom spines during pharmacological or genetic inhibition of nSOC. Oral pridopidine treatment rescued mushroom spines in vivo in aged PS1-KI-GFP mice. Pridopidine stabilizes mushroom spines in mouse models of AD and this requires S1R, endoplasmic reticulum calcium leakage through PS1/2 and nSOC. Thus, pridopidine may be useful to explore for the treatment of AD.

Keywords: 3-PPP; APP knock-in mice; Alzheimer's disease; Calcium dysregulation; Mushroom spines; Presenilin-1-M146 V knock-in mice; Pridopidine; Sigma-1 receptor; Synaptic instability; Synaptoprotection.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology*
  • Animals
  • Dendritic Spines / drug effects*
  • Dendritic Spines / pathology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / drug effects
  • Hippocampus / drug effects
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neuroprotective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Piperidines / pharmacology*
  • Receptors, sigma / agonists*
  • Synapses / drug effects
  • Synapses / pathology


  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • Piperidines
  • Receptors, sigma
  • sigma-1 receptor
  • pridopidine