The long and the short of Huntington's disease: how the sphingolipid profile is shifted in the caudate of advanced clinical cases

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Brain Communications


Huntington's disease is a devastating neurodegenerative disorder that onsets in late adulthood as progressive and terminal cognitive, psychiatric and motor deficits. The disease is genetic, triggered by a CAG repeat (polyQ) expansion mutation in the Huntingtin gene and resultant huntingtin protein. Although the mutant huntingtin protein is ubiquitously expressed, the striatum degenerates early and consistently in the disease. The polyQ mutation at the N-terminus of the huntingtin protein alters its natural interactions with neural phospholipids in vitro, suggesting that the specific lipid composition of brain regions could influence their vulnerability to interference by mutant huntingtin; however, this has not yet been demonstrated in vivo. Sphingolipids are critical cell signalling molecules, second messengers and membrane components. Despite evidence of sphingolipid disturbance in Huntington's mouse and cell models, there is limited knowledge of how these lipids are affected in human brain tissue. Using post-mortem brain tissue from five brain regions implicated in Huntington's disease (control n = 13, Huntington's n = 13), this study aimed to identify where and how sphingolipid species are affected in the brain of clinically advanced Huntington's cases. Sphingolipids were extracted from the tissue and analysed using targeted mass spectrometry analysis; proteins were analysed by western blot. The caudate, putamen and cerebellum had distinct sphingolipid changes in Huntington's brain whilst the white and grey frontal cortex were spared. The caudate of Huntington's patients had a shifted sphingolipid profile, favouring long (C13-C21) over very-long-chain (C22-C26) ceramides, sphingomyelins and lactosylceramides. Ceramide synthase 1, which synthesizes the long-chain sphingolipids, had a reduced expression in Huntington's caudate, correlating positively with a younger age at death and a longer CAG repeat length of the Huntington's patients. The expression of ceramide synthase 2, which synthesizes very-long-chain sphingolipids, was not different in Huntington's brain. However, there was evidence of possible post-translational modifications in the Huntington's patients only. Post-translational modifications to ceramide synthase 2 may be driving the distinctive sphingolipid profile shifts of the caudate in advanced Huntington's disease. This shift in the sphingolipid profile is also found in the most severely affected brain regions of several other neurodegenerative conditions and may be an important feature of region-specific cell dysfunction in neurodegenerative disease.

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