UCLA study discovers potassium boost improves walking in mouse model
Tweaking a specific cell type's ability to absorb potassium in the brain improved walking and prolonged survival in a mouse model of Huntington's disease, reports a UCLA study published March 30 in the online edition of Nature Neuroscience. The discovery could point to new drug targets for treating the devastating disease, which strikes one in every 20,000 Americans.
Huntington's disease is passed from parent to child through a mutation in the huntingtin gene. By killing brain cells called neurons, the progressive disorder gradually deprives patients of their ability to walk, speak, swallow, breathe and think clearly. No cure exists, and patients with aggressive cases can die in as little as 10 years.
The laboratories of Baljit Khakh, a professor of physiology and neurobiology, and Michael Sofroniew, a professor of neurobiology, teamed up at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA to unravel the role played in Huntington's by astrocytes--large, star-shaped cells found in the brain and spinal cord.
"Astrocytes appear in the brain in equal numbers to neurons, yet haven't been closely studied. They enable neurons to signal each other by maintaining an optimal chemical environment outside the cells," explained Khakh, who, with Sofroniew, is a member of the UCLA Brain Research Institute. "We used two mouse models to explore whether astrocytes behave differently during Huntington's disease."
The first model mimicked aggressive, early-onset of the disorder, while the second imitated a slow-developing version.
Khakh and Sofroniew examined how the huntingtin mutation influenced astrocytes in the brain. In particular, they looked at astrocytes' interaction with a type of neuron that plays a central role in coordinating movement.
One key finding stood out from the data.
In both models, astrocytes with the mutant gene showed a measurable drop in Kir4.1, a protein that allows the astrocyte to take in potassium through the cell membrane. This left too much potassium outside the cell, disrupting the chemical balance and increasing the nearby neurons' excitability–or capacity to fire.
"We suspect that the gene mutation contributes to Huntington's disease by reducing Kir4.1 levels in the astrocytes," said Sofroniew. "This, in turn, reduces the cell's uptake of potassium.
"When excess potassium pools around neurons, they grow oversensitive and fire too easily, disrupting nerve-cell function and ultimately the body's ability to move properly. This may contribute to the jerky motions common to Huntington's disease," he added.
To test their hypothesis, the scientists explored what would happen if they artificially increased Kir4.1 levels inside the astrocytes. In one example, the results proved striking.
"Boosting Kir4.1 in the astrocytes improved the mice's ability to walk properly. We were surprised to see the length and width of the mouse's stride return to more normal levels," said Khakh. "This was an unexpected discovery."
"Our work breaks new ground by showing that disrupting astrocyte function leads to the disruption of neuron function in a mouse model of Huntington's disease," said Sofroniew. "Our findings suggest that therapeutic targets exist for the disorder beyond neurons."
While the results shed important light on one of the mechanisms behind Huntington's disease, the findings also offer more general implications, according to the authors
"We're really excited that astrocytes can potentially be exploited for new drug treatments," said Khakh. "Astrocyte dysfunction also may be involved in other neurological diseases beyond Huntington's."
The UCLA team's next step will be to tease out the mechanism that reduces Kir4.1 levels and illuminate how this alters neuronal networks.
The study was supported by the CHDI Foundation, the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Khakh and Sofroniew's coauthors included Xiaoping Tong, Yan Ao, Guido Faas, Ji Xu, Martin Haustein, Mark Anderson and Istvan Mody from UCLA; and Sinifunanya Nwaobi and Michelle Olsen from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Elaine Schmidt | EurekAlert!
A promising target for kidney fibrosis
21.04.2017 | Brigham and Women's Hospital
Stem cell transplants: activating signal paths may protect from graft-versus-host disease
20.04.2017 | Technische Universität München
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
03.04.2017 | Event News
25.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
25.04.2017 | Materials Sciences
25.04.2017 | Life Sciences