Environmental factors as modulators of neurodegeneration: Insights from gene-environment interactions in Huntington's disease

Christina Mo, Anthony J. Hannan*, Thibault Renoir

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Unlike many other neurodegenerative diseases with established gene-environment interactions, Huntington's disease (HD) is viewed as a disorder governed by genetics. The cause of the disease is a highly penetrant tandem repeat expansion encoding an extended polyglutamine tract in the huntingtin protein. In the year 2000, a pioneering study showed that the disease could be delayed in transgenic mice by enriched housing conditions. This review describes subsequent human and preclinical studies identifying environmental modulation of motor, cognitive, affective and other symptoms found in HD. Alongside the behavioral observations we also discuss potential mechanisms and the relevance to other neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. In mouse models of HD, increased sensorimotor and cognitive stimulation can delay or ameliorate various endophenotypes. Potential mechanisms include increased trophic support, synaptic plasticity, adult neurogenesis, and other forms of experience-dependent cellular plasticity. Subsequent clinical investigations support a role for lifetime activity levels in modulating the onset and progression of HD. Stress can accelerate memory and olfactory deficits and exacerbate cellular dysfunctions in HD mice. In the absence of effective treatments to slow the course of HD, environmental interventions offer feasible approaches to delay the disease, however further preclinical and human studies are needed in order to generate clinical recommendations. Environmental interventions could be combined with future pharmacological therapies and stimulate the identification of enviromimetics, drugs which mimic or enhance the beneficial effects of cognitive stimulation and physical activity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)178-192
Number of pages15
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Volume52
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2015
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Cognitive stimulation
  • Diet
  • Environmental enrichment
  • Environmental modifiers
  • Exercise
  • Lifestyle
  • Neurodegenerative disorder
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Physical activity
  • Polyglutamine disease
  • Stress
  • Tandem repeat disorders

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