. Increased App expression in a mouse model of Down's syndrome disrupts NGF transport and causes cholinergic neuron degeneration. Neuron. 2006 Jul 6;51(1):29-42. PubMed.


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  1. I think this study by Salehi and colleagues complements our work. If anything, the two studies combined stress once again the relevance of neurotrophin supply/signaling in supporting neuronal survival and function. What I find intriguing is that the two papers describe different mechanisms by which alterations in neurotrophin signaling can cause neuronal cell death, depending on the specific brain cell type affected. For example, Salehi et al. report that disrupted retrograde transport of NGF to the basal forebrain cholinergic neurons (BFCNs) causes degeneration of these neurons (I would like to note that BDNF is not a major signaling molecule in this neuronal cell population, which is why Salehi et al. find that the retrograde transport of BDNF and NT3 is below the limits of detection with the methodology used in their study). We find that an impairment of TrkB signaling causes cell death in cortical and hippocampal neurons, two cell populations that are responsive to BDNF and in which TrkB receptor isoforms alterations have been already described in Alzheimer disease (AD). As you know, all cell populations described in the two studies (BFCNs, cortical and hippocampal neurons) are affected in AD. Thus, these papers suggest that different cell populations in the brain may be affected by different genetic insults, and alternative mechanisms should be taken into account when considering therapies.

    View all comments by Lino Tessarollo
  2. NGF has a potent effect on cholinergic neurons in the basal forebrain, which are prone to degeneration in AD. The idea that NGF dysfunction is involved in AD has been around for some time, but it has never been taken seriously because of the prominence of the “Aβ” hypothesis. Now Mobley and colleagues show that APP acts to reduce the retrograde transport of NGF in these cholinergic neurons, a process that might be important for their survival. The significance of the work by Mobley et al. is that they provide a mechanistic link between APP and NGF signaling in the basal forebrain neurons, therefore putting NGF back into the center stage of the AD field. The immediate task now is to test whether this works in an AD model.

    The functional role of TrkB.T1, which is highly expressed in the brain, has been puzzling for some time now. One idea is that T1 has no function by itself, but prevents locally secreted BDNF from diffusion to distant places, and therefore ensures its local action. Another idea is that T1 can actually signal in glial cells in an unconventional way, but this idea is largely based on cell culture work, and there is no evidence that this works in vivo. The work of Tessarollo et al. sheds new light on the function of T1, using in vivo genetic approaches. They show that restoration of the physiological level of T1 by gene targeting rescues neuronal death in trisomy 16 mouse. Interestingly, T1 appears to affect selectively the Akt pathway, which is critical for neuronal survival. Given that the main function of BDNF in the brain is for synaptic plasticity rather than neuronal survival, this work offers a unique opportunity to study differential functions of BDNF in the brain.

    View all comments by Bai Lu
  3. Yano and colleagues managed to proceed one step further in elucidating synaptic actions of neurotrophins. Although it was well established for quite some time that BDNF exerts presynaptic effects on the availability of presynaptic glutamate vesicles for synaptic transmission, the molecular determinants of this action were far from being understood. This paper now highlights new downstream signaling partners in the presynaptic actions of BDNF.

    The observation, in the early 1990s, that BDNF can enhance presynaptic functions of excitatory synapses (Lohof et al., 1993; Lessmann et al., 1994) was followed shortly thereafter by the discovery of an essential role of BDNF in Schaffer collateral LTP (Korte et al., 1995; Patterson et al., 1996). Also, in 1996, Figurov and colleagues (1996) found that one of the important presynaptic actions of BDNF is to avoid transmitter vesicle depletion upon repetitive activity of juvenile synapses, although this presynaptic BDNF effect cannot account for the impaired LTP in adult animals. It took another four years to learn, from the data by Jovanovic et al. (2000), that the effect of BDNF on availability of glutamate vesicles is mediated via synapsin 1, which is kind of a “chassis” for the transport of glutamate vesicles along actin filaments, to facilitate their “in time” arrival at the presynaptic active zone.

    With their most recent paper, Yano and coworkers now provide evidence that the actin-dependent motor protein Myo6 is linked via the adapter protein GIPC-1 to the transport of glutamate vesicles into the terminal. Important as this finding is, it raises—as new data usually do—a number of new issues concerning the molecular players involved in the presynaptic actions of BDNF, such as the following:

    1. What is the molecular impact of BDNF/TrkB signaling on the functions of GIPC-1 and Myo6, and is there a direct link to synapsin 1 function in vesicle transport?

    2. Since the basal presynaptic phenotype of the Myo6-/- and the GIPC-1-/- mice seems to be rather robust, acute knockdown of these proteins via siRNA in normally developed hippocampal neurons would further strengthen a direct and specific functional link of these proteins to the presynaptic modulation by BDNF.

    3. Given the also very prominent postsynaptic expression of Myo6 and GIPC-1 (and TrkB can be postsynaptic, too), the routes of postsynaptic actions of these downstream signaling molecules would be exciting to investigate. This is especially true, given that CA1-LTP is prominently expressed at postsynaptic locations (Malinow, 2003) and that Myo6 is involved in postsynaptic AMPA receptor shuttling, which mediates this form of LTP.

    4. The absence of any effects of Myo6 or GIPC knockouts, respectively, on LTP in adult animals raises questions about whether the LTP protocol was sensitive for pre- and postsynaptic BDNF signaling, or whether compensatory mechanisms were at work in these animals and might be responsible for bypassing BDNF signaling in postsynaptic LTP in these animals in adulthood.

    5. Finally, given the modulation of dopamine release via BDNF signaling (Blochl et al., 1996), it is tempting to speculate that BDNF, via the Myo6-GIPC-1 signaling, could also participate in the pathophysiology of Huntington and Parkinson diseases, known to originate from low dopamine release in the striatum. And even more exciting, Myo6 and GIPC could also participate in the trafficking of BDNF vesicles, which are known to depend on kinesin- and especially dynein-dependent motors in axons and dendrites (Gauthier et al., 2004).

    Of course, asking all these questions is much easier than finding the answers, and it is inherent to the paper by the Chao lab that we are now able to ask even more precise new questions regarding these topics.


    . Neurotrophins stimulate the release of dopamine from rat mesencephalic neurons via Trk and p75Lntr receptors. J Biol Chem. 1996 Aug 30;271(35):21100-7. PubMed.

    . Regulation of synaptic responses to high-frequency stimulation and LTP by neurotrophins in the hippocampus. Nature. 1996 Jun 20;381(6584):706-9. PubMed.

    . Huntingtin controls neurotrophic support and survival of neurons by enhancing BDNF vesicular transport along microtubules. Cell. 2004 Jul 9;118(1):127-38. PubMed.

    . Synapsins as mediators of BDNF-enhanced neurotransmitter release. Nat Neurosci. 2000 Apr;3(4):323-9. PubMed.

    . Hippocampal long-term potentiation is impaired in mice lacking brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1995 Sep 12;92(19):8856-60. PubMed.

    . BDNF and NT-4/5 enhance glutamatergic synaptic transmission in cultured hippocampal neurones. Neuroreport. 1994 Dec 30;6(1):21-5. PubMed.

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    View all comments by Volkmar Lessmann
  4. The study by Salehi, Delcroix, Mobley, and colleagues reporting that increased APP expression results in basal forebrain cholinergic neuron loss due to the inhibition of retrograde transport of NGF is most interesting. This cholinergic loss is reported in several neurodegenerative disorders including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) (1).

    It's of interest that Hendy and Bonyhady (2) find that retrogradely transported NGF increases ornithine decarboxylase activity in rat superior cervical ganglia. I'd like to propose that there may be a feedback loop whereby ornithine decarboxylase decreases retrograde transport of NGF.

    There are several studies that support this hypothesis, including those of Yatin and colleagues (3), finding that Aβ peptides increase ODC activity; Nilsson and colleagues’ (4) finding that APP induces expression of ODC; and Virgili and colleagues’ (5) finding ODC activity increased in the SOD1 G39A transgenic mice, an animal model for ALS.

    The fact that increased activity of this enzyme is reported in H. pylori infection and is induced by insulin may help explain the association with both hyperinsulinemia and H. pylori infection in AD.

    There may be many implications if the increased activity of ODC affects the activity of other enzymes involved in ornithine metabolism. Signs of Ornithine transcarbamylase (OTC) deficiency include hyperammonemia, failure to thrive, seizures, mental retardation, and Alzheimer type 2 astrocytosis. Deficiency of this enzyme is also associated with basal forebrain cholinergic loss (6). Those with OTC deficiency are sensitive to valproic acid and this would need to be taken into consideration for those suggesting VPA therapy in AD. If substrate availability was reduced for the ornithine aminotransferase (OAT) reaction, then we may be looking at a hypoglutamatergic state. Reduced glutamate levels have been reported in several brain regions in Down syndrome (DS) (7). Are these problems further compounded in DS due to the fact that we have the gene pyridoxal kinase on Chr 21? Pyridoxal 5'-phosphate is a cofactor for ODC?

    The fact that vitamin E and resveratrol have been shown to inhibit ODC activity may give us reason to suspect that the ODC inhibitors antizyme and difluoromethylornithine (DFMO) may be a useful treatment in those with AD, DS, and ALS. When taking this into account, I note in the study by Tournoy et al. (8) that loss of presenilin in mice is associated with an autoimmune disease which mimics systemic lupus erythematosis. Elevated polyamines are seen in lupus-prone mice and interestingly, treatment of these mice with DFMO resulted in a significant increase in lifespan (9). Do those with PS1 mutations have increased ODC activity? Is ODC a longevity gene?


    . Disease-related regressive alterations of forebrain cholinergic system in SOD1 mutant transgenic mice. Neurochem Int. 2005 Apr;46(5):357-68. PubMed.

    . Retrogradely transported nerve growth factor increases ornithine decarboxylase activity in rat superior cervical ganglia. Brain Res. 1980 Oct 27;200(1):39-45. PubMed.

    . Alzheimer's amyloid beta-peptide associated free radicals increase rat embryonic neuronal polyamine uptake and ornithine decarboxylase activity: protective effect of vitamin E. Neurosci Lett. 1999 Mar 19;263(1):17-20. PubMed.

    . Antibody-bound amyloid precursor protein upregulates ornithine decarboxylase expression. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2006 Mar 24;341(4):1294-9. PubMed.

    . Regional and temporal alterations of ODC/polyamine system during ALS-like neurodegenerative motor syndrome in G93A transgenic mice. Neurochem Int. 2006 Feb;48(3):201-7. PubMed.

    . Evidence for forebrain cholinergic neuronal loss in congenital ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency. Metab Brain Dis. 2000 Mar;15(1):83-91. PubMed.

    . Excitatory amino acids and monoamines in parahippocampal gyrus and frontal cortical pole of adults with Down syndrome. Life Sci. 1997;60(15):1231-7. PubMed.

    . Partial loss of presenilins causes seborrheic keratosis and autoimmune disease in mice. Hum Mol Genet. 2004 Jul 1;13(13):1321-31. PubMed.

    . Successful treatment of lupus nephritis in MRL-lpr/lpr mice by inhibiting ornithine decarboxylase. Kidney Int. 1991 May;39(5):882-90. PubMed.

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