Experimental neurology

The influence of the HPG axis on stress response and depressive-like behaviour in a transgenic mouse model of Huntington's disease.

PMID 25246229


Huntington's disease (HD) is an autosomal dominant, neurodegenerative disease caused by a CAG tandem repeat mutation encoding a polyglutamine tract expansion in the huntingtin protein. Depression is among the most common affective symptoms in HD but the pathophysiology is unclear. We have previously discovered sexually dimorphic depressive-like behaviours in the R6/1 transgenic mouse model of HD at a pre-motor symptomatic age. Interestingly, only female R6/1 mice display this phenotype. Sexual dimorphism has not been explored in the human HD population despite the well-established knowledge that the clinical depression rate in females is almost twice that of males. Female susceptibility suggests a role of sex hormones, which have been shown to modulate stress response. There is evidence suggesting that the gonads are adversely affected in HD patients, which could alter sex hormone levels. The present study examined the role sex hormones play on stress response in the R6/1 mouse model of HD, in particular, its modulatory effect on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and depression-like behaviour. We found that the gonads of female R6/1 mice show atrophy at an early age. Expression levels of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) were decreased in the hypothalamus of female HD mice, relative to wild-type female littermates, as were serum testosterone levels. Female serum estradiol levels were not significantly changed. Gonadectomy surgery reduced HPA-axis activity in female mice but had no effect on behavioural phenotypes. Furthermore, expression of the oestrogen receptor (ER) α gene was found to be higher in the adrenal cells of female HD mice. Finally, administration of an ERβ agonist diarylpropionitrile (DPN) rescued depressive-like behaviour in the female HD mice. Our findings provide new insight into the pathogenesis of sexually dimorphic neuroendocrine, physiological and behavioural endophenotypes in HD, and suggest a new avenue for therapeutic intervention.