Pramipexole reduces soluble mutant huntingtin and protects striatal neurons through dopamine D3 receptors in a genetic model of Huntington's disease
Huntington's disease (HD) is a neurodegenerative disorder caused by abnormal expansion of the polyglutamine tract in the huntingtin protein (HTT). The toxicity of mutant HTT (mHTT) is associated with intermediate mHTT soluble oligomers that subsequently form intranuclear inclusions. Thus, interventions promoting the clearance of soluble mHTT are regarded as neuroprotective. Striatal neurons are particularly vulnerable in HD. Their degeneration underlies motor symptoms and striatal atrophy, the anatomical hallmark of HD. Recent studies indicate that autophagy may be activated by dopamine D2 and D3 receptor (D2R/D3R) agonists. Since autophagy plays a central role in the degradation of misfolded proteins, and striatal neurons express D2R and D3R, D2R/D3R agonists may promote the clearance of mHTT in striatal neurons. Here, this hypothesis was tested by treating 8-week old R6/1 mice with the D2R/D3R agonist pramipexole for 4 weeks. Pramipexole reduced striatal levels of soluble mHTT and increased the size of intranuclear inclusions in R6/1 mice. Furthermore, striatal DARPP-32 levels and motor functions were recovered. These effects were accompanied by an increase in LC3-II and a decrease in p62 in the striatum. Tollip, a selective adaptor of ubiquitinated polyQ proteins to LC3, was also reduced in the striata of R6/1mice but not in their wild-type littermates. No changes were detected in the cerebral cortex where D3R expression is very low, and behavioral and biochemical effects in the striatum were prevented by a D3R antagonist. The findings indicate that PPX protects striatal neurons by promoting the clearance of soluble mHTT through a D3R-mediated mechanism. The evidence of autophagy markers suggests that autophagy is activated, although it is not efficient at removing all mHTT recruited by the autophagic machinery as indicated by the increase in the size of intranuclear inclusions.