The sigma-1 receptor mediates the beneficial effects of pridopidine in a mouse model of Huntington disease

By November 3, 2016July 17th, 2020Publications

The tri-nucleotide repeat expansion underlying Huntington disease (HD) results in corticostriatal synaptic dysfunction and subsequent neurodegeneration of striatal medium spiny neurons (MSNs). HD is a devastating autosomal dominant disease with no disease-modifying treatments. Pridopidine, a postulated “dopamine stabilizer”, has been shown to improve motor symptoms in clinical trials of HD. However, the target(s) and mechanism of action of pridopidine remain to be fully elucidated. As binding studies identified sigma-1 receptor (S1R) as a high-affinity receptor for pridopidine, we evaluated the relevance of S1R as a therapeutic target of pridopidine in HD. S1R is an endoplasmic reticulum – (ER) resident transmembrane protein and is regulated by ER calcium homeostasis, which is perturbed in HD. Consistent with ER calcium dysregulation, we observed striatal upregulation of S1R in aged YAC128 transgenic HD mice and HD patients. We previously demonstrated that dendritic MSN spines are lost in aged corticostriatal co-cultures from YAC128 mice. We report here that pridopidine and the chemically similar S1R agonist 3-PPP prevent MSN spine loss in aging YAC128 co-cultures. Spine protection was blocked by neuronal deletion of S1R. Pridopidine treatment suppressed supranormal ER Ca2+ release, restored ER calcium levels and reduced excessive store-operated calcium (SOC) entry in spines, which may account for its synaptoprotective effects. Normalization of ER Ca2+ levels by pridopidine was prevented by S1R deletion. To evaluate long-term effects of pridopidine, we analyzed expression profiles of calcium signaling genes. Pridopidine elevated striatal expression of calbindin and homer1a, whereas their striatal expression was reduced in aged Q175KI and YAC128 HD mouse models compared to WT. Pridopidine and 3-PPP are proposed to prevent calcium dysregulation and synaptic loss in a YAC128 corticostriatal co-culture model of HD. The actions of pridopidine were mediated by S1R and led to normalization of ER Ca2+ release, ER Ca2+ levels and spine SOC entry in YAC128 MSNs. This is a new potential mechanism of action for pridopidine, highlighting S1R as a potential target for HD therapy. Upregulation of striatal proteins that regulate calcium, including calbindin and homer1a, upon chronic therapy with pridopidine, may further contribute to long-term beneficial effects of pridopidine in HD.