Early mechanisms of pathobiology are revealed by transcriptional temporal dynamics in hippocampal CA1 neurons of prion infected mice.PLoS Pathog. 2012; 8(11):e1003002.PP
Prion diseases typically have long pre-clinical incubation periods during which time the infectious prion particle and infectivity steadily propagate in the brain. Abnormal neuritic sprouting and synaptic deficits are apparent during pre-clinical disease, however, gross neuronal loss is not detected until the onset of the clinical phase. The molecular events that accompany early neuronal damage and ultimately conclude with neuronal death remain obscure. In this study, we used laser capture microdissection to isolate hippocampal CA1 neurons and determined their pre-clinical transcriptional response during infection. We found that gene expression within these neurons is dynamic and characterized by distinct phases of activity. We found that a major cluster of genes is altered during pre-clinical disease after which expression either returns to basal levels, or alternatively undergoes a direct reversal during clinical disease. Strikingly, we show that this cluster contains a signature highly reminiscent of synaptic N-methyl-D-aspartic acid (NMDA) receptor signaling and the activation of neuroprotective pathways. Additionally, genes involved in neuronal projection and dendrite development were also altered throughout the disease, culminating in a general decline of gene expression for synaptic proteins. Similarly, deregulated miRNAs such as miR-132-3p, miR-124a-3p, miR-16-5p, miR-26a-5p, miR-29a-3p and miR-140-5p follow concomitant patterns of expression. This is the first in depth genomic study describing the pre-clinical response of hippocampal neurons to early prion replication. Our findings suggest that prion replication results in the persistent stimulation of a programmed response that is mediated, at least in part, by synaptic NMDA receptor activity that initially promotes cell survival and neurite remodelling. However, this response is terminated prior to the onset of clinical symptoms in the infected hippocampus, seemingly pointing to a critical juncture in the disease. Manipulation of these early neuroprotective pathways may redress the balance between degeneration and survival, providing a potential inroad for treatment.