Huntington's disease (HD) is a late onset progressive genetic disorder characterised by motor dysfunction, personality changes, dementia and premature death. The disease is caused by an unstable expanded trinucleotide (CAG) repeat encoding a polyglutamine stretch in the IT15 gene for huntingtin, a protein of unknown function. Transgenic mice expressing exon one of the human HD gene with an expanded polyglutamine region develop many features of human HD. Exposure of these mice to an "enriched" environment delays the onset of motor disorders and slows disease progression [Nature 404 (2000) 721]. We have compared the levels of receptor binding of a range of basal ganglia neurotransmitter receptors believed to be important in HD, in normal mice and R6/1 transgenic HD mice housed in either enriched or standard laboratory environments. HD mice housed in a normal environment show a loss of cannabinoid CB1 and dopamine D1 and D2 receptors in the striatum and the corresponding output nuclei of the basal ganglia. HD mice exposed to an enriched environment show equivalent loss of D1 and D2 receptors as their "non-enriched" counterparts; in contrast, the "enriched" mice show significantly less depletion of CB1 receptors. In the brains of humans diagnosed with HD cannabinoid CB1 receptors are selectively lost from the basal ganglia output nuclei prior to the development of other identifiable neuropathology [Neuroscience 97 (2000) 505]. Our results therefore show that an enhanced environment slows the rate of loss of one of the first identifiable neurochemical deficits of HD. This suggests that delaying the loss of CB1 receptors, either by environmental stimulation or pharmacologically, may be beneficial in delaying disease progression in HD patients.
- Transgenic mice