An expanded CAG repeat is the underlying genetic defect in Huntington disease, a disorder characterized by motor, psychiatric and cognitive deficits and striatal atrophy associated with neuronal loss. An accurate animal model of this disease is crucial for elucidation of the underlying natural history of the illness and also for testing experimental therapeutics. We established a new yeast artificial chromosome (YAC) mouse model of HD with the entire human HD gene containing 128 CAG repeats (YAC128) which develops motor abnormalities and age-dependent brain atrophy including cortical and striatal atrophy associated with striatal neuronal loss. YAC128 mice exhibit initial hyperactivity, followed by the onset of a motor deficit and finally hypokinesis. The motor deficit in the YAC128 mice is highly correlated with striatal neuronal loss, providing a structural correlate for the behavioral changes. The natural history of HD-related changes in the YAC128 mice has been defined, demonstrating the presence of huntingtin inclusions after the onset of behavior and neuropathological changes. The HD-related phenotypes of the YAC128 mice show phenotypic uniformity with low inter-animal variability present, which together with the age-dependent striatal neurodegeneration make it an ideal mouse model for the assessment of neuroprotective and other therapeutic interventions.
The oxidative stress theory of aging postulates that aging results from the accumulation of molecular damage caused by reactive oxygen species (ROS) generated during normal metabolism. Superoxide dismutases (SODs) counteract this process by detoxifying superoxide. It has previously been shown that elimination of either cytoplasmic or mitochondrial SOD in yeast, flies, and mice results in decreased lifespan. In this experiment, we examine the effect of eliminating each of the five individual sod genes present in Caenorhabditis elegans. In contrast to what is observed in other model organisms, none of the sod deletion mutants shows decreased lifespan compared to wild-type worms, despite a clear increase in sensitivity to paraquat- and juglone-induced oxidative stress. In fact, even mutants lacking combinations of two or three sod genes survive at least as long as wild-type worms. Examination of gene expression in these mutants reveals mild compensatory up-regulation of other sod genes. Interestingly, we find that sod-2 mutants are long-lived despite a significant increase in oxidatively damaged proteins. Testing the effect of sod-2 deletion on known pathways of lifespan extension reveals a clear interaction with genes that affect mitochondrial function: sod-2 deletion markedly increases lifespan in clk-1 worms while clearly decreasing the lifespan of isp-1 worms. Combined with the mitochondrial localization of SOD-2 and the fact that sod-2 mutant worms exhibit phenotypes that are characteristic of long-lived mitochondrial mutants—including slow development, low brood size, and slow defecation—this suggests that deletion of sod-2 extends lifespan through a similar mechanism. This conclusion is supported by our demonstration of decreased oxygen consumption in sod-2 mutant worms. Overall, we show that increased oxidative stress caused by deletion of sod genes does not result in decreased lifespan in C. elegans and that deletion of sod-2 extends worm lifespan by altering mitochondrial function.
Huntington's disease (HD) results from polyglutamine expansion in huntingtin (htt), a protein with several consensus caspase cleavage sites. Despite the identification of htt fragments in the brain, it has not been shown conclusively that htt is cleaved by caspases in vivo. Furthermore, no study has addressed when htt cleavage occurs with respect to the onset of neurodegeneration. Using antibodies that detect only caspase-cleaved htt, we demonstrate that htt is cleaved in vivo specifically at the caspase consensus site at amino acid 552. We detect caspase-cleaved htt in control human brain as well as in HD brains with early grade neuropathology, including one homozygote. Cleaved htt is also seen in wild-type and HD transgenic mouse brains before the onset of neurodegeneration. These results suggest that caspase cleavage of htt may be a normal physiological event. However, in HD, cleavage of mutant htt would release N-terminal fragments with the potential for increased toxicity and accumulation caused by the presence of the expanded polyglutamine tract. Furthermore, htt fragments were detected most abundantly in cortical projection neurons, suggesting that accumulation of expanded htt fragments in these neurons may lead to corticostriatal dysfunction as an early event in the pathogenesis of HD.
Huntington's disease (HD) is an adult-onset neurodegenerative disorder involving motor dysfunction, cognitive deficits, and psychiatric disturbances that result from underlying striatal and cortical dysfunction and neuropathology. The YAC128 mouse model of HD reproduces both the motor deficits and selective degeneration observed in the human disease. However, the presence of cognitive impairment in this model has not been determined. Here, we report mild cognitive deficits in YAC128 mice that precede motor onset and progressively worsen with age. Rotarod testing revealed a motor learning deficit at 2 months of age that progresses such that by 12 months of age, untrained YAC128 mice are unable to learn the rotarod task. Additional support for cognitive dysfunction is evident in a simple swimming test in which YAC128 mice take longer to find the platform than wild-type (WT) controls beginning at 8 months of age. YAC128 mice also have deficits in open-field habituation and in a swimming T-maze test at this age. Strikingly, in the reversal phase of the swimming T-maze test, YAC128 mice take twice as long as WT mice to locate the platform, indicating a difficulty in changing strategy. At 12 months of age, YAC128 mice show decreased prepulse inhibition and habituation to acoustic startle. The clear pattern of cognitive dysfunction in YAC128 mice is similar to the symptoms and progression of cognitive deficits in human HD and provides both the opportunity to examine the relationship between cognitive dysfunction, motor impairment, and neuropathology in HD and to assess whether potential therapies for HD can restore cognitive function.
Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are toxic oxygen-containing molecules that can damage multiple components of the cell and have been proposed to be the primary cause of aging. The antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD) is the only eukaryotic enzyme capable of detoxifying superoxide, one type of ROS. The fact that SOD is present in all aerobic organisms raises the question as to whether SOD is absolutely required for animal life and whether the loss of SOD activity will result in decreased lifespan. Here we use the genetic model organism Caenorhabditis elegans to generate an animal that completely lacks SOD activity ( sod-12345 worms). We show that sod-12345 worms are viable and exhibit a normal lifespan, despite markedly increased sensitivity to multiple stresses. This is in stark contrast to what is observed in other genetic model organisms where the loss of a single sod gene can result in severely decreased survival. Investigating the mechanism underlying the normal lifespan of sod-12345 worms reveals that their longevity results from a balance between the prosurvival signaling and the toxicity of superoxide. Overall, our results demonstrate that SOD activity is dispensable for normal animal lifespan but is required to survive acute stresses. Moreover, our findings indicate that maintaining normal stress resistance is not crucial to the rate of aging.
Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are highly reactive, oxygen-containing molecules that can cause molecular damage within the cell. While the accumulation of ROS-mediated damage is widely believed to be one of the main causes of aging, ROS also act in signaling pathways. Recent work has demonstrated that increasing levels of superoxide, one form of ROS, through treatment with paraquat, results in increased lifespan. Interestingly, treatment with paraquat robustly increases the already long lifespan of the clk-1 mitochondrial mutant, but not other long-lived mitochondrial mutants such as isp-1 or nuo-6. To genetically dissect the subcellular compartment in which elevated ROS act to increase lifespan, we deleted individual superoxide dismutase (sod) genes in clk-1 mutants, which are sensitized to ROS. We find that only deletion of the primary mitochondrial sod gene, sod-2 results in increased lifespan in clk-1 worms. In contrast, deletion of either of the two cytoplasmic sod genes, sod-1 or sod-5, significantly decreases the lifespan of clk-1 worms. Further, we show that increasing mitochondrial superoxide levels through deletion of sod-2 or treatment with paraquat can still increase lifespan in clk-1;sod-1 double mutants, which live shorter than clk-1 worms. The fact that mitochondrial superoxide can increase lifespan in worms with a detrimental level of cytoplasmic superoxide demonstrates that ROS have a compartment specific effect on lifespan – elevated ROS in the mitochondria acts to increase lifespan, while elevated ROS in the cytoplasm decreases lifespan. This work also suggests that both ROS-dependent and ROS-independent mechanisms contribute to the longevity of clk-1 worms.
BackgroundThe mitochondrial unfolded protein response (mitoUPR) is a stress response pathway activated by disruption of proteostasis in the mitochondria. This pathway has been proposed to influence lifespan, with studies suggesting that mitoUPR activation has complex effects on longevity.ResultsHere, we examined the contribution of the mitoUPR to the survival and lifespan of three long-lived mitochondrial mutants in Caenorhabditis elegans by modulating the levels of ATFS-1, the central transcription factor that mediates the mitoUPR. We found that clk-1, isp-1, and nuo-6 worms all exhibit an ATFS-1-dependent activation of the mitoUPR. While loss of atfs-1 during adulthood does not affect lifespan in any of these strains, absence of atfs-1 during development prevents clk-1 and isp-1 worms from reaching adulthood and reduces the lifespan of nuo-6 mutants. Examining the mechanism by which deletion of atfs-1 reverts nuo-6 lifespan to wild-type, we find that many of the transcriptional changes present in nuo-6 worms are mediated by ATFS-1. Genes exhibiting an ATFS-1-dependent upregulation in nuo-6 worms are enriched for transcripts that function in stress response and metabolism. Consistent, with this finding, loss of atfs-1 abolishes the enhanced stress resistance observed in nuo-6 mutants and prevents upregulation of multiple stress response pathways including the HIF-1-mediated hypoxia response, SKN-1-mediated oxidative stress response and DAF-16-mediated stress response.ConclusionsOur results suggest that in the long-lived mitochondrial mutant nuo-6 activation of the mitoUPR causes atfs-1-dependent changes in the expression of genes involved in stress response and metabolism, which contributes to the extended longevity observed in this mutant. This work demonstrates that the mitoUPR can modulate multiple stress response pathways and suggests that it is crucial for the development and lifespan of long-lived mitochondrial mutants.Electronic supplementary materialThe online version of this article (10.1186/s12915-018-0615-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
The free radical theory of aging proposes a causal relationship between reactive oxygen species (ROS) and aging. While it is clear that oxidative damage increases with age, its role in the aging process is uncertain. Testing the free radical theory of aging requires experimentally manipulating ROS production or detoxification and examining the resulting effects on lifespan. In this review, we examine the relationship between ROS and aging in the genetic model organism Caenorhabditis elegans, summarizing experiments using long-lived mutants, mutants with altered mitochondrial function, mutants with decreased antioxidant defenses, worms treated with antioxidant compounds, and worms exposed to different environmental conditions. While there is frequently a negative correlation between oxidative damage and lifespan, there are many examples in which they are uncoupled. Neither is resistance to oxidative stress sufficient for a long life nor are all long-lived mutants more resistant to oxidative stress. Similarly, sensitivity to oxidative stress does not necessarily shorten lifespan and is in fact compatible with long life. Overall, the data in C. elegans indicate that oxidative damage can be dissociated from aging in experimental situations.
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