Huntington's disease (HD) is a dominant genetic disorder arising from expansions of the polyglutamine domain in the huntingtin gene (htt), affecting some 35,000 people in the US alone. The normal functions of htt remain largely unknown, with disease mechanism(s) involving presumptive gains-of-function from the mutant protein as well as potential loss of function/interference with the normal htt allele. Critically, the lack of clinically validated targets for HD places an urgent need on identifying and understanding the mechanisms of action of potentially beneficial drug targets, and, importantly, on demonstrating that such targets can be addressed using therapeutic candidate molecules with good, drug-like properties. The present proposal focuses on the potential intersection between two such candidate targets/pathways that have increasingly been implicated in HD: the adenosine 2A receptor (A2AR) and the TrkB receptor. Recent evidence suggests that significant aspects of A2AR downstream signaling may actually be mediated through its cross-activation of the TrkB receptor in a manner that is independent of TrkB ligands such as BDNF, whose normal provision to the striatum by the cortex is compromised during HD pathogenesis. If so, such a mechanism, if operant in the context of HD, could present a therapeutic opportunity to use A2AR ligands to provide trophic support to degenerating striatal neurons via their cross-activation of TrkB. Moreover, if this mechanism is supported, BBB-penetrant A2AR ligands in late-stage clinical testing are already available for evaluation in HD models for potential repurposing for clinical use in treating HD. Thus, the goal of this R21 proposal is to provide proof-of-principle for the core hypothesis that A2AR modulation can provide benefit to striatal neurons undergoing neurodegeneration in the context of HD through cross-activation of the TrkB receptor. For these studies, we will use a brain slice-based assay model for HD that, critically, retains the local tissue environment of the striatum and cortex in order to be maximally predictive for the in vivo setting while providing the experimental access of an in vitro/ex vivo preparation. If supportive, these findings in a brain slice-based HD assay should provide the necessary foundation for a full R01 application to examine this mechanism and therapeutic opportunity in whole-animal models of HD using both neurobehavioral as well as neuropathological outcome measures.

Public Health Relevance

Huntington's disease (HD) is a fatal, dominant genetic disorder arising from expansions of the polyglutamine domain in the huntingtin gene (htt), affecting some 35,000 people in the US alone. Currently, no cures are known for this devastating disease, with palliative treatments available that are only partially effective in treating the neuropsychiatric symptoms and motor disabilities that develop over the course of HD. This lack of clinically validated targets for HD places an urgent need on identifying and understanding the mechanisms of action of potentially beneficial drug targets, and, importantly, on demonstrating that such targets can be addressed using therapeutic candidate molecules with good, drug-like properties. The present proposal will test the proposition that existing small molecule drugs targeting the adenosine 2A receptor could be used to tap into a "neurotrophic" or health-sustaining pathway, the BDNF-TrkB pathway, that becomes deficient in HD and contributes to the degeneration of vital parts of the brain, notably the striatum. To date, the use of the BDNF protein itself has proven to be highly problematic in clinical trials, so activation of its receptor, TrkB, by alternative means provides a potential end run by which drug candidates with much better pharmaceutical properties could be used to supply the critical neurotrophic support to the striatum that is compromised in HD.

Agency
National Institute of Health (NIH)
Institute
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Type
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
Project #
5R21NS074379-02
Application #
8223154
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-MDCN-B (91))
Program Officer
Sutherland, Margaret L
Project Start
2011-02-15
Project End
2014-01-31
Budget Start
2012-02-01
Budget End
2014-01-31
Support Year
2
Fiscal Year
2012
Total Cost
$196,250
Indirect Cost
$71,250
Name
Duke University
Department
Biology
Type
Schools of Medicine
DUNS #
044387793
City
Durham
State
NC
Country
United States
Zip Code
27705
Calamini, Barbara; Lo, Donald C; Kaltenbach, Linda S (2013) Experimental models for identifying modifiers of polyglutamine-induced aggregation and neurodegeneration. Neurotherapeutics 10:400-15