Synaptic Dysfunction in Huntington's Disease: Lessons from Genetic Animal Models

Neuroscientist. 2022 Feb;28(1):20-40. doi: 10.1177/1073858420972662. Epub 2020 Nov 16.


The understanding of the functional and structural changes occurring in the cerebral cortex and basal ganglia in Huntington's disease (HD) has benefited considerably from the generation of genetic animal models. Most studies of synaptic alterations in HD models have focused on the striatum, but a more complete picture of synaptic dysfunction in the cortico-basal ganglia-cortical loop is emerging. Here, we provide a review and analysis of current developments in the study of synaptic alterations in these areas using HD rodent models. Recent evidence indicates that cortical maldevelopment plays a role in synaptic dysfunction along the corticostriatal pathway that may have its roots in the way mutant huntingtin interacts with synaptic proteins. Furthermore, a progressive disconnection in the corticostriatal pathway leads to abnormal function engaging extrasynaptic N-methyl-D-aspartate glutamate receptors that contribute to eventual cell degeneration. In addition, biphasic increases followed by decreases in glutamate and dopamine release in the striatum could explain contrasting symptomatology in early and late stages of the disease. Changes in striatal output regions also are beginning to be examined. Finally, we highlight some therapeutic avenues aimed at rescuing synaptic dysfunction.

Keywords: Huntington’s disease; basal ganglia; dopamine; genetic models; glutamate; striatum; synaptic activity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Huntington Disease* / genetics
  • Huntington Disease* / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Models, Animal


  • Glutamic Acid