Correlations of Behavioral Deficits with Brain Pathology Assessed through Longitudinal MRI and Histopathology in the R6/2 Mouse Model of HD

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Abstract

Huntington’s disease (HD) is caused by the expansion of a CAG repeat in the huntingtin (HTT) gene. The R6/2 mouse model of HD expresses a mutant version of exon 1 HTT and develops motor and cognitive impairments, a widespread huntingtin (HTT) aggregate pathology and brain atrophy. Despite the vast number of studies that have been performed on this model, the association between the molecular and cellular neuropathology with brain atrophy, and with the development of behavioral phenotypes remains poorly understood. In an attempt to link these factors, we have performed longitudinal assessments of behavior (rotarod, open field, passive avoidance) and of regional brain abnormalities determined through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) (whole brain, striatum, cortex, hippocampus, corpus callosum), as well as an end-stage histological assessment. Detailed correlative analyses of these three measures were then performed. We found a gender-dependent emergence of motor impairments that was associated with an age-related loss of regional brain volumes. MRI measurements further indicated that there was no striatal atrophy, but rather a lack of striatal growth beyond 8 weeks of age. T2 relaxivity further indicated tissue-level changes within brain regions. Despite these dramatic motor and neuroanatomical abnormalities, R6/2 mice did not exhibit neuronal loss in the striatum or motor cortex, although there was a significant increase in neuronal density due to tissue atrophy. The deposition of the mutant HTT (mHTT) protein, the hallmark of HD molecular pathology, was widely distributed throughout the brain. End-stage histopathological assessments were not found to be as robustly correlated with the longitudinal measures of brain atrophy or motor impairments. In conclusion, modeling pre-manifest and early progression of the disease in more slowly progressing animal models will be key to establishing which changes are causally related.

 

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