Huntington disease (HD) is an inherited neurodegenerative disorder caused by a mutation in the huntingtin gene. The onset of symptoms is preceded by synaptic dysfunction. Homeostatic synaptic plasticity (HSP) refers to processes that maintain the stability of networks of neurons, thought to be required to enable new learning and cognitive flexibility. One type of HSP is synaptic scaling, in which the strength of all of the synapses onto a cell increases or decreases following changes in the cell's level of activity. Several pathways implicated in synaptic scaling are dysregulated in HD, including brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and calcium signaling. Here, we investigated whether HSP is disrupted in cortical neurons from an HD mouse model. We treated cultured cortical neurons from wild-type (WT) FVB/N or YAC128 HD mice with tetrodotoxin (TTX) for 48 h to silence action potentials and then recorded miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents. In WT cultures, these increased in both amplitude and frequency after TTX treatment, and further experiments showed that this was a result of insertion of AMPA receptors and formation of new synapses, respectively. Manipulation of BDNF concentration in the culture medium revealed that BDNF signaling contributed to these changes. In contrast to WT cortical neurons, YAC128 cultures showed no response to action potential silencing. Strikingly, we were able to restore the TTX-induced changes in YAC128 cultures by treating them with pridopidine, a drug which enhances BDNF signaling through stimulation of the sigma-1 receptor (S1R), and with the S1R agonist 3-PPP. These data provide evidence for disruption of HSP in cortical neurons from an HD mouse model that is restored by stimulation of S1R. Our results suggest a potential new direction for developing therapy to mitigate cognitive deficits in HD.
Keywords: BDNF; Huntington disease; calcium; homeostatic; plasticity; pridopidine; synaptic.