Chronic mitochondrial energy impairment produces selective striatal degeneration and abnormal choreiform movements in primates

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1995 Jul 18;92(15):7105-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.92.15.7105.


Although the gene defect responsible for Huntington disease (HD) has recently been identified, the pathogenesis of the disease remains obscure. One potential mechanism is that the gene defect may lead to an impairment of energy metabolism followed by slow excitotoxic neuronal injury. In the present study we examined whether chronic administration of 3-nitropropionic acid (3-NP), an irreversible inhibitor of succinate dehydrogenase, can replicate the neuropathologic and clinical features of HD in nonhuman primates. After 3-6 weeks of 3-NP administration, apomorphine treatment induced a significant increase in motor activity as compared with saline-treated controls. Animals showed both choreiform movements, as well as foot and limb dystonia, which are characteristic of HD. More prolonged 3-NP treatment in two additional primates resulted in spontaneous dystonia and dyskinesia accompanied by lesions in the caudate and putamen seen by magnetic resonance imaging. Histologic evaluation showed that there was a depletion of calbindin neurons, astrogliosis, sparing of NADPH-diaphorase neurons, and growth-related proliferative changes in dendrites of spiny neurons similar to changes in HD. The striosomal organization of the striatum and the nucleus accumbens were spared. These findings show that chronic administration of 3-NP to nonhuman primates can replicate many of the characteristic motor and histologic features of HD, further strengthening the possibility that a subtle impairment of energy metabolism may play a role in its pathogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Chorea / chemically induced
  • Chorea / etiology*
  • Corpus Striatum / diagnostic imaging
  • Corpus Striatum / drug effects
  • Corpus Striatum / pathology*
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Histocytochemistry
  • Huntington Disease / etiology*
  • Macaca nemestrina
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Mitochondria / enzymology
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Neurons / pathology
  • Nitro Compounds
  • Papio
  • Propionates / pharmacology
  • Radiography
  • Succinate Dehydrogenase / antagonists & inhibitors


  • Nitro Compounds
  • Propionates
  • Succinate Dehydrogenase
  • 3-nitropropionic acid