The impact of developmental stress on the functioning and vulnerability of CNS neurons

Pienaar, Ilse-Sanet (Stellenbosch : Stellenbosch University, 2008-12)

Thesis (PhD (Biomedical Sciences. Medical Physiology))--Stellenbosch University, 2008.


The overall objective of this thesis is to provide additional data to assist clinicians and experimental neurologists alike in the quest for better understanding, more accurately diagnosing and more successfully treating patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease (PD). The general theme of the thesis is the interaction between certain environmental stimuli, including the exposure to adverse events during early central nervous system (CNS) development and the manifestation of elements of neurodegeneration, whether by means of neurochemical changes or expressed as a dysfunctional voluntary motor system. The first chapter provides a general introduction to the research theme of the thesis. This includes, in particular, a discussion on current understanding concerning the etiology and clinical profile of PD, the relative contribution made by genetic factors compared to environmental ones, and current treatment strategies for treating the disease. Mention is also made of the failure of these therapeutic applications for reversing or protecting against the disease, due to the side-effects associated with them. The material covered in chapter 1 provides the basis for the more complete discussion concerning these various aspects, contained in the chapters to follow. The overall aim was also to characterise the effects of commonly used toxin-induced animal models of PD, and the extent of vulnerability that the CNS displays towards them. The destruction of dopaminergic neurons following the administration of 6-OHDA at targeted points along the nigrostriatal tract is used extensively to model PD pathology in rats and is an established animal model of the disease. However, mature or even aged animals are mainly used in these studies, while the effects that the toxin might have on the developing CNS remain unclear. The study reported in chapter 4 aimed to elucidate some of 6-OHDA’s actions on the young adolescent (35 days-old) CNS by comparing the motor and biochemical effects of a unilateral infusion of the toxin into two anatomically distinct basal ganglia loci: The medial forebrain bundle (MFB) and the striatum. Animals were randomly assigned to receive either a direct delivery of 6-OHDA (12μg/4μl) into the MFB or an indirect injection, into the striatum. Although both lesion types were used, the MFB model is considered a more accurate portrayal of end-stage PD, while the striatum-model better reflects the long-term progressive pathology of the disease. The different lesions’ effects on motor function were determined by observing animal’s asymmetrical forelimb use to correct for weigh shifting during the vertical exploration of a cylindrical enclosure. Following the final behavioral assessment, the concentration of dopamine (DA) and DA metabolites remaining in the post-mortem brains were determined using 4 HPLC electrochemistry (HPLC-EC) and the levels compared between the two groups. The HPLC-EC results revealed a compensatory effect for DA production and DA turnover on the lesioned hemisphere side of the toxin-infused animal group. Thus, following 6-OHDA treatment, there appears to be extensive adaptive mechanisms in place within the remaining dopaminergic terminals that may be sufficient for maintaining relatively high extracellular and synaptic concentrations of DA. However, since substantial changes in motor-function were observed, it is suggested that the capacity of the remaining dopaminergic neurons to respond to increased functional demands may be limited. In addition, the behavioral results indicate that the distinct indices relating to different functional deficits depend on the lesioning of anatomically distinct structures along the nigrostrial tract. It has long been known that far fewer women are diagnosed with PD than men are. This seeming protection offered to females against degenerative disease of the CNS may relate to estrogen, although the hormone’s mechanism of action on the dopaminergic system is poorly defined. With an estimated 10-15 million women using oral contraceptives (OCs) in the United States alone, the aim of chapter 2 was to examine the evidence for a possible relationship between PD and the female reproductive hormone estrogen. A review of the current literature available on the topic was performed by consulting Medline, and by performing a search of the case-reports contained within the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Drug Monitoring database, for possible PD-related symptoms that may arise from estrogen replacement therapy (ERT). The results, whilst conflicting, seem to suggest that estrogen protects women from obtaining the disease, or at least some features of it. Intensive research efforts are called for, with sufficient power to establish the relationship between ERT and the onset and development of parkinsonism. Chapter 3 reports on the results obtained from an experiment that subjected young Sprague-Dawley rats, 35 days of age, to a lower and a higher dose of 6-OHDA delivered to the MFB. Control rats received equivalent saline infusions. At 14 days post-surgery, the rats were evaluated for forelimb akinesia. For the higher dose of 6- OHDA the female rats were less impaired than males in making adjustment steps in response to a weight shift and in the vibrissae-evoked forelimb placing test. In addition, Tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) immunoreactivity was significantly higher for the female rats. Early gender differences in cell survival factors and/or other promoters of neuroplasticity may have contributed to the beneficial outcome seen in the females. For example, nerve growth factor (NGF) was found to be higher in the female rats following administration of the DA neurotoxin. It is unclear whether gonadal steroids are involved, and, if so, whether female hormones are protective or whether male hormones are prodegenerative. Determining the mechanisms for the improved outcome seen in the young female rats may lead to potential treatment strategies against PD. 5 Many studies have shown that early life stress may lead to impaired brain development, and may be a risk factor for developing psychiatric diseases, including clinical depression. However, few studies have investigated the impact that early stress may have on the onset and development of neurodegenerative disorders such as PD. The study reported on in chapter 5 conjointly subjected rat pups to a maternal separation (MS) paradigm that is a well characterised model of adverse early life events, and a unilateral, intrastriatal injection of 6- OHDA. The combined effects of these models on motor deficits and brain protein levels were investigated. Specifically, the animals were assessed for behavioral changes at 28 days postlesion with a battery of tests that are sensitive to the degree of DA loss sustained. The results show that animals that had been subjected to MS display poorer performance in the vibrissae and single-limb akinesia test compared to non-MS control animals (that had also been subjected to the toxin exposure). In addition, there was a significant increase in the loss of TH staining in MS rats compared to non-MS ones. The results from this study therefore suggest that exposure to adverse experiences during the early stages of life may contribute towards making dopaminergic neurons more susceptible to subsequent insults to the CNS occurring during mature stages of life. Therefore, taken together, early exposure to stress may predispose an individual towards the onset and development of neurodegenerative disease, which especially becomes a threat during the later stages of adult life. Moreover, within the framework of these characteristics, the capacity of a widely-used pharmacological agent (statins) was tested for possible future therapeutic application in PD (chapter 7). Although the precise cause of sporadic PD remains an enigma, evidence suggests that it may associate with defective activity of complex I of the mitochondrial electron transport chain. Mitochondrial DNA transmit and express this defect in host cells, resulting in increased oxygen free radical production, depressed antioxidant enzyme activities, and greater susceptibility to apoptotic cell death. Simvastatin is a member of the 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A (HMG-CoA) reductase inhibitors (statins) group of drugs that are widely used for lowering cholesterol levels in patients who display elevated concentrations of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. The study aimed to investigate the effects that statin-treatment have on motor-function and at the mitochondrial-protein level, using rotenone, a mitochondrial complex I inhibitor, as a rat-model of PD. Adult male Sprague-Dawley rats were treated either with simvastatin (6mg/day for 14 days) or with a placebo. Two different tests to assess motor function were used: The apomorphine-rotation test, and the vibrissae-elicited forelimb placement test. Following the drug administration protocol, the nigrostriatal tract was unilaterally lesioned with either rotenone (3 μg/4 μl) or, for the controls, were sham-operated by infusing the vehicle (DMSO:PEG) only. Five days later the rats were killed and a highly purified concentration of isolated mitochondria was prepared from the substantia nigra (SN) sections. 2- 6 Dimensional electrophoresis (2-DE) with subsequent identification of the spots using electronspray ionization quadruple time-of-flight mass spectrometrical (ESI-Q-TOF MS) was performed and the results BLAST-searched using bio-informatics tools for naming the identified peptides. The motor test results indicate that while unilateral rotenone causes behavioral asymmetries, treatment with simvastatin improved motor function relative to the rotenoneinduced ones. Mass Spectroscopy identified 23 mitochondrial proteins that differ significantly in protein expression (p < 0.05) following simvastatin treatment. The altered proteins were broadly classified according to their cellular function into 6 categories, with the majority involved in energy metabolism. This study effectively illustrated how neuroproteomics, with its sophisticated techniques and non-biased ability to quantify proteins, provides a methodology with which to study the changes in neurons associated with neurodegeneration. As an emerging tool for establishing disease-associated protein profiles, it also generates a greater understanding as to how these proteins interact and undergo post-translational modifications. Furthermore, due to the advances made in bioInformatics, insight is created concerning their functional characteristics. Chapter 4 summarises the most prominent proteomics techniques and discuss major advances made in the fast-growing field of neuroproteomics in PD. Ultimately, it is hoped that the application of this technology will lead towards a presymptomatic diagnosis of PD, and the identification of risk factors and new therapeutic targets at which pharmacological intervention can be aimed. The final chapter (chapter 8) provides a retrospective look at the academic work that had been performed for the purpose of this thesis, recaps on the main findings, and also highlights certain aspects of the project and provides relevant suggestions for future research. Lastly, the appendix provides a detailed overview of the methods followed for the experiments described in this thesis. It provides not only a comprehensive description of the techniques that had been followed, but provides information concerning the care taken with the animals (i.e. post-surgery) in order to control for the potential influence of experimental variables on the results.

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