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Concept: Neurodegeneration


Signalling through the PERK/eIF2α-P branch of the unfolded protein response plays a critical role in controlling protein synthesis rates in cells. This pathway is overactivated in brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders and has recently emerged as a promising therapeutic target for these currently untreatable conditions. Thus, in mouse models of neurodegenerative disease, prolonged overactivation of PERK/eIF2α-P signalling causes sustained attenuation of protein synthesis, leading to memory impairment and neuronal loss. Re-establishing translation rates by inhibition of eIF2α-P activity, genetically or pharmacologically, restores memory and prevents neurodegeneration and extends survival. However, the experimental compounds used preclinically are unsuitable for use in humans, due to associated toxicity or poor pharmacokinetic properties. To discover compounds that have anti-eIF2α-P activity suitable for clinical use, we performed phenotypic screens on a NINDS small molecule library of 1040 drugs. We identified two compounds, trazodone hydrochloride and dibenzoylmethane, which reversed eIF2α-P-mediated translational attenuation in vitro and in vivo. Both drugs were markedly neuroprotective in two mouse models of neurodegeneration, using clinically relevant doses over a prolonged period of time, without systemic toxicity. Thus, in prion-diseased mice, both trazodone and dibenzoylmethane treatment restored memory deficits, abrogated development of neurological signs, prevented neurodegeneration and significantly prolonged survival. In tauopathy-frontotemporal dementia mice, both drugs were neuroprotective, rescued memory deficits and reduced hippocampal atrophy. Further, trazodone reduced p-tau burden. These compounds therefore represent potential new disease-modifying treatments for dementia. Trazodone in particular, a licensed drug, should now be tested in clinical trials in patients.

Concepts: Neurodegeneration, Neuroscience, Protein, Neurodegenerative disorders, Pharmacology, Gene, Neurology, Alzheimer's disease


Uncontrolled misfolding of proteins leading to the formation of amyloid deposits is associated with more than 40 types of diseases, such as neurodegenerative diseases and type-2 diabetes. These irreversible amyloid fibrils typically assemble in distinct stages. Transitions among the various intermediate stages are the subject of many studies but are not yet fully elucidated. Here, we combine high-resolution atomic force microscopy and quantitative nanomechanical mapping to determine the self-assembled structures of the decapeptide hIAPP(20-29), which is considered to be the fibrillating core fragment of the human islet amyloid polypeptide (hIAPP) involved in type-2 diabetes. We successfully follow the evolution of hIAPP(20-29) nanostructures over time, calculate the average thickening speed of small ribbon-like structures, and provide evidence of the coexistence of ribbon and helical fibrils, highlighting a key step within the self-assembly model. In addition, the mutations of individual side chains of wide-type hIAPP(20-29) shift this balance and destabilize the helical fibrils sufficiently relative to the twisted ribbons to lead to their complete elimination. We combine atomic force microscopy structures, mechanical properties, and solid-state NMR structural information to build a molecular model containing β sheets in cross-β motifs as the basis of self-assembled amyloids.

Concepts: Ribbon, Neurodegeneration, Prion, Peptide, Diabetes, Protein, Amylin, Amyloid


We describe a novel approach to produce conformational monoclonal antibodies selected to specifically react with the β-sheet secondary structure of pathological oligomeric conformers, characteristic of many neurodegenerative diseases. Contrary to past and current efforts, we utilize a mammalian non-self-antigen as an immunogen. The small, non-self peptide selected was covalently polymerized with glutaraldehyde until it reached a high β-sheet secondary structure content, and species between 10-100kDa that are immunogenic, stable and soluble (p13Bri). Inoculation of p13Bri in mice elicited antibodies to the peptide and the β-sheet secondary structure conformation. Hybridomas were produced and clones selected for their reactivity with at least two different oligomeric conformers from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson and/or Prion diseases. The resulting conformational monoclonals are able to detect pathological oligomeric forms in different human neurodegenerative diseases by ELISA, immunohistochemistry and immunoblots. This technological approach may be useful to develop tools for detection, monitoring and treatment of multiple misfolding disorders.

Concepts: Neurodegeneration, Immune system, Immunohistochemistry, Neurodegenerative disorders, Antibody, Monoclonal antibodies, Immunology, Protein


Metabolites of the kynurenine pathway (KP) of tryptophan (TRP) degradation have been closely linked to the pathogenesis of several neurodegenerative disorders. Recent work has highlighted the therapeutic potential of inhibiting two critical regulatory enzymes in this pathway-kynurenine-3-monooxygenase (KMO) and tryptophan-2,3-dioxygenase (TDO). Much evidence indicates that the efficacy of KMO inhibition arises from normalizing an imbalance between neurotoxic [3-hydroxykynurenine (3-HK); quinolinic acid (QUIN)] and neuroprotective [kynurenic acid (KYNA)] KP metabolites. However, it is not clear if TDO inhibition is protective via a similar mechanism or if this is instead due to increased levels of TRP-the substrate of TDO. Here, we find that increased levels of KYNA relative to 3-HK are likely central to the protection conferred by TDO inhibition in a fruit fly model of Huntington’s disease and that TRP treatment strongly reduces neurodegeneration by shifting KP flux toward KYNA synthesis. In fly models of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, we provide genetic evidence that inhibition of TDO or KMO improves locomotor performance and ameliorates shortened life span, as well as reducing neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s model flies. Critically, we find that treatment with a chemical TDO inhibitor is robustly protective in these models. Consequently, our work strongly supports targeting of the KP as a potential treatment strategy for several major neurodegenerative disorders and suggests that alterations in the levels of neuroactive KP metabolites could underlie several therapeutic benefits.

Concepts: Dementia, Inhibitor, Neurodegeneration, Neuroscience, Kynurenine, Kynurenic acid, Neurodegenerative disorders, Neurology


Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic neurodegenerative disease of the CNS. Recently a controversial vascular hypothesis for MS, termed chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI), has been advanced. The objective of this study was to evaluate the relative prevalence of the venous abnormalities that define CCSVI.

Concepts: Case-control study, Neurodegeneration, Neurodegenerative disorders, Chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency, Multiple sclerosis, Epidemiology


Synucleinophaties are progressive neurodegenerative disorders with no cure to date. An attractive strategy to tackle this problem is repurposing already tested safe drugs against novel targets. In this way, doxycycline prevents neurodegeneration in Parkinson models by modulating neuroinflammation. However, anti-inflammatory therapy per se is insufficient to account for neuroprotection. Herein we characterise novel targets of doxycycline describing the structural background supporting its effectiveness as a neuroprotector at subantibiotic doses. Our results show that doxycycline reshapes α-synuclein oligomers into off-pathway, high-molecular-weight species that do not evolve into fibrils. Off-pathway species present less hydrophobic surface than on-pathway oligomers and display different β-sheet structural arrangement. These structural changes affect the α-synuclein ability to destabilize biological membranes, cell viability, and formation of additional toxic species. Altogether, these mechanisms could act synergically giving novel targets for repurposing this drug.

Concepts: Drug, Cell membrane, DNA, Neuroscience, Neurodegenerative diseases, Neurodegeneration, Neurodegenerative disorders, Neurology


Genetic variations in the myeloid immune receptor TREM2 are linked to several neurodegenerative diseases. To determine how TREM2 variants contribute to these diseases, we performed structural and functional studies of wild-type and variant proteins. Our 3.1 Å TREM2 crystal structure revealed that mutations found in Nasu-Hakola disease are buried whereas Alzheimer’s disease risk variants are found on the surface, suggesting that these mutations have distinct effects on TREM2 function. Biophysical and cellular methods indicate that Nasu-Hakola mutations impact protein stability and decrease folded TREM2 surface expression, whereas Alzheimer’s risk variants impact binding to a TREM2 ligand. Additionally, the Alzheimer’s risk variants appear to epitope map a functional surface on TREM2 that is unique within the larger TREM family. These findings provide a guide to structural and functional differences among genetic variants of TREM2, indicating that therapies targeting the TREM2 pathway should be tailored to these genetic and functional differences with patient-specific medicine approaches for neurodegenerative disorders.

Concepts: Neuroscience, Neurodegenerative diseases, Neurodegeneration, Cancer, Genetic disorder, Immune system, Neurodegenerative disorders, Neurology


The mechanisms of neuronal death in protein misfolding neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and prion diseases are poorly understood. We used a highly toxic misfolded prion protein (TPrP) model to understand neurotoxicity induced by prion protein misfolding. We show that abnormal autophagy activation and neuronal demise is due to severe, neuron-specific, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD(+)) depletion. Toxic prion protein-exposed neuronal cells exhibit dramatic reductions of intracellular NAD(+) followed by decreased ATP production, and are completely rescued by treatment with NAD(+) or its precursor nicotinamide because of restoration of physiological NAD(+) levels. Toxic prion protein-induced NAD(+) depletion results from PARP1-independent excessive protein ADP-ribosylations. In vivo, toxic prion protein-induced degeneration of hippocampal neurons is prevented dose-dependently by intracerebral injection of NAD(+). Intranasal NAD(+) treatment of prion-infected sick mice significantly improves activity and delays motor impairment. Our study reveals NAD(+) starvation as a novel mechanism of autophagy activation and neurodegeneration induced by a misfolded amyloidogenic protein. We propose the development of NAD(+) replenishment strategies for neuroprotection in prion diseases and possibly other protein misfolding neurodegenerative diseases.

Concepts: Neurodegeneration, Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, Prion, Neuron, Adenosine triphosphate, Neurology, Neurodegenerative disorders


Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a slowly progressing neurodegenerative disease with early manifestation of motor signs. Objective measurements of motor signs are of vital importance for diagnosing, monitoring and developing disease modifying therapies, particularly for the early stages of the disease when putative neuroprotective treatments could stop neurodegeneration. Current medical practice has limited tools to routinely monitor PD motor signs with enough frequency and without undue burden for patients and the healthcare system. In this paper, we present data indicating that the routine interaction with computer keyboards can be used to detect motor signs in the early stages of PD. We explore a solution that measures the key hold times (the time required to press and release a key) during the normal use of a computer without any change in hardware and converts it to a PD motor index. This is achieved by the automatic discovery of patterns in the time series of key hold times using an ensemble regression algorithm. This new approach discriminated early PD groups from controls with an AUC = 0.81 (n = 42/43; mean age = 59.0/60.1; women = 43%/60%;PD/controls). The performance was comparable or better than two other quantitative motor performance tests used clinically: alternating finger tapping (AUC = 0.75) and single key tapping (AUC = 0.61).

Concepts: Time, Neurodegenerative diseases, Keyboard instrument, Neurodegeneration, Keyboard, Neurology, Neurodegenerative disorders, Medicine


Nrf2, a transcriptional activator of cell protection genes, is an attractive therapeutic target for the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Current Nrf2 activators, however, may exert toxicity and pathway over-activation can induce detrimental effects. An understanding of the mechanisms mediating Nrf2 inhibition in neurodegenerative conditions may therefore direct the design of drugs targeted for the prevention of these diseases with minimal side-effects. Our study provides the first in vivo evidence that specific inhibition of Keap1, a negative regulator of Nrf2, can prevent neuronal toxicity in response to the AD-initiating Aβ42 peptide, in correlation with Nrf2 activation. Comparatively, lithium, an inhibitor of the Nrf2 suppressor GSK-3, prevented Aβ42 toxicity by mechanisms independent of Nrf2. A new direct inhibitor of the Keap1-Nrf2 binding domain also prevented synaptotoxicity mediated by naturally-derived Aβ oligomers in mouse cortical neurons. Overall, our findings highlight Keap1 specifically as an efficient target for the re-activation of Nrf2 in AD, and support the further investigation of direct Keap1 inhibitors for the prevention of neurodegeneration in vivo.

Concepts: Neurodegeneration, Transcription, Neuroscience, Neuron, Gene expression, Alzheimer's disease, Neurodegenerative disorders, Neurology