Basal forebrain cholinergic neurons (BFCNs) are critical for learning and memory and degenerate early in Alzheimer's disease (AD). BFCNs depend for their survival and function on nerve growth factor (NGF) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which are retrogradely transported from BFCN targets. Age is the greatest risk factor for developing AD, yet the influence of age on BFCN axonal transport is poorly understood. To model aging, embryonic rat basal forebrain or cortical neurons were cultured in microfluidic chambers. Senescence-associated beta-galactosidase staining indicated an aging phenotype only in BFCNs cultured for 18+ days in vitro. BDNF axonal transport impairments were observed exclusivley in aged BFCNs. BFCNs displayed robust proNGF transport, which also diminished with in vitro age. The expression of NGF receptor tropomyosin-related kinase-A and BDNF receptor tropomyosin-related kinase-B also decreased significantly with in vitro age in BFCNs only. These results suggest a unique vulnerability of BFCNs to age-induced transport deficits. These deficits, coupled with the reliance of BFCNs on neurotrophin transport, may explain their vulnerability to age-related neurodegenerative disorders like AD.
Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; Axonal transport; Basal forebrain; Neurodegeneration; Neurotrophins; Trk receptors.
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