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Characterization of a rat model of Huntington's disease based on targeted expression of mutant huntingtin in the forebrain using adeno-associated viral vectors

Gabery S, Sajjad MU, Hult S, Soylu R, Kirik D and Petersén Å.

Translational Neuroendocrine Research Unit, Department of Experimental Medical Sciences, Lund University, Lund, Sweden.
Brain Repair and Imaging in Neural Systems (B.R.A.I.N.S.) Unit, Department of Experimental Medical Sciences, Lund University, Lund, Sweden.

European Journal of Neuroscience 36(6):2789-800 (2012)


Huntington's disease (HD) is a fatal neurodegenerative disorder caused by an expanded CAG repeat in the huntingtin (htt) gene. Neuropathology is most severe in the striatum and cerebral cortex. As mutant htt is ubiquitously expressed, it has not been possible to establish clear structure-to-function relationships for the clinical aspects. In the present study, we have injected recombinant adeno-associated viral vectors of serotype 5 (rAAV5) expressing an 853-amino-acid fragment of htt with either 79 (mutant) or 18 (wild-type) glutamines (Q) in the dorsal striatum of neonatal rats to achieve expression of htt in the forebrain. Rats were followed for 6 months and compared with control rats. Neuropathological assessment showed long-term expression of the green fluorescent protein (GFP) transgene (used as a marker protein) and accumulation of htt inclusions in the cerebral cortex with the rAAV5-htt-79Q vectors. We estimated that around 10% of NeuN-positive cells in the cerebral cortex and 2% of DARPP-32 neurons in the striatum were targeted with the GFP-expressing vector. Formation of intracellular htt inclusions was not associated with neuronal loss, gliosis or microglia activation and did not lead to altered motor activity or changes in body weight. However, the same mutant htt vector caused orexin loss in the hypothalamus - another area known to be affected in HD. In conclusion, our results demonstrate that widespread forebrain expression of mutant htt can be achieved using rAAV5-vectors and suggest that this technique can be further explored to study region-specific effects of mutant htt or other disease-causing genes in the brain.