Huntington's disease (HD) is a genetic autosomal neurodegenerative disorder that is always fatal and for which there are no effective treatments or cures. Patients carrying the mutation display motor dysfunction, cognitive impairment and psychiatric disturbances. Neuropathologically, HD is characterized by neuronal loss in the striatum and cortex and a progressive disconnection between cortex and striatum, interrupting the flow of information from the cortex to the basal ganglia. We have shown that imbalances in synaptic activity in the direct and indirect striatal output pathways differ during early and late stages of the disease and contribute to motor symptoms in two full-length transgenic mouse models of HD. In early stage HD, there is increased glutamate and GABA release onto direct pathway medium-sized spiny neurons (MSNs) while GABA release is increased in the late stage but only onto indirect pathway MSNs. Changes in synaptic activity are associated with increased repetitive behaviors in early stage HD mice and with decreased locomotion in late stage mice. Early stage changes may be mediated by elevated striatal dopamine (DA), because depletion of endogenous DA reduced repetitive behaviors and reversed some of the electrophysiological alterations. In contrast, decreased locomotion in late stage HD might be mediated by decreased DA function. The goal of this application is to employ novel optogenetic approaches, using light stimulation to activate and/or inhibit DA terminals in a mouse model of HD, to better understand the electrophysiological and behavioral dysfunctions.
In Aim 1 we will selectively inhibit DA release in the striatum in early stage HD, using optogenetics by expressing halorhodopsin (which inhibits firing when activated by yellow light) in DA neurons.
In Aim 2 we will selectively increase DA release in the striatum in late stage HD using optogenetics by expressing channel rhodopsin (which increases firing when activated with blue light). We hypothesize that reducing striatal DA release in early stage HD will restore synaptic activity of MSNs and will have beneficial effects on abnormal repetitive movements. In late stage HD, increasing DA release will restore some of the balance in MSN activity and will alleviate motor symptoms.

Public Health Relevance

In Huntington's disease, abnormal striatal dopamine transmission induces time-dependent alterations in excitatory and inhibitory synaptic transmission that contribute to imbalances in activity of the direct and indirect striatal output pathways leading to motor and cognitive disturbances. In order to modify the differential symptoms in early and late stages of Huntington's disease, this application will alter dopamine release using novel optogenetic approaches to uncover new targets to alleviate symptoms and slow the progression of this devastating genetic disorder.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Cell Death in Neurodegeneration Study Section (CDIN)
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Sutherland, Margaret L
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University of California Los Angeles
Schools of Medicine
Los Angeles
United States
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Cepeda, Carlos; Murphy, Kerry P S; Parent, Martin et al. (2014) The role of dopamine in Huntington's disease. Prog Brain Res 211:235-54