Neurobiology of disease

Chronic administration of cholesterol oximes in mice increases transcription of cytoprotective genes and improves transcriptome alterations induced by alpha-synuclein overexpression in nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons.

PMID 24844147


Cholesterol-oximes TRO19622 and TRO40303 target outer mitochondrial membrane proteins and have beneficial effects in preclinical models of neurodegenerative diseases leading to their advancement to clinical trials. Dopaminergic neurons degenerate in Parkinson's disease (PD) and are prone to oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction. In order to provide insights into the neuroprotective potential of TRO19622 and TRO40303 for dopaminergic neurons in vivo, we assessed their effects on gene expression in laser captured nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons of wildtype mice and of mice that over-express alpha-synuclein, a protein involved in both familial and sporadic forms of PD (Thy1-aSyn mice). Young mice were fed the drugs in food pellets or a control diet from 1 to 4months of age, approximately 10months before the appearance of striatal dopamine loss in this model. Unbiased weighted gene co-expression network analysis (WGCNA) of transcriptional changes revealed effects of cholesterol oximes on transcripts related to mitochondria, cytoprotection and anti-oxidant response in wild-type and transgenic mice, including increased transcription of stress defense (e.g. Prdx1, Prdx2, Glrx2, Hspa9, Pink1, Drp1, Trak1) and dopamine-related (Th, Ddc, Gch1, Dat, Vmat2, Drd2, Chnr6a) genes. Even at this young age transgenic mice showed alterations in transcripts implicated in mitochondrial function and oxidative stress (e.g. Bcl-2, Bax, Casp3, Nos2), and both drugs normalized about 20% of these alterations. Young Thy1-aSyn mice exhibit motor deficits that differ from parkinsonism and are established before the onset of treatment; these deficits were not improved by cholesterol oximes. However, high doses of TRO40303 improved olfaction and produced the same effects as dopamine agonists on a challenging beam test, specifically an increase in footslips, an observation congruent with its effects on transcripts involved in dopamine synthesis. High doses of TRO19622 increased alpha-synuclein aggregates in the substantia nigra; this effect, not seen with TRO40303 was inconsistent and may represent a protective mechanism as in other neurodegenerative diseases. Overall, the results suggest that cholesterol oximes, while not improving early effects of alpha-synuclein overexpression on motor behavior or pathology, may ameliorate the function and resilience of dopaminergic neurons in vivo and support further studies of neuroprotection in models with dopaminergic cell loss.