Pretangle pathology within cholinergic nucleus basalis neurons coincides with neurotrophic and neurotransmitter receptor gene dysregulation during the progression of Alzheimer’s disease

Publication date: September 2018
Source:Neurobiology of Disease, Volume 117
Author(s): Chelsea T. Tiernan, Stephen D. Ginsberg, Bin He, Sarah M. Ward, Angela L. Guillozet-Bongaarts, Nicholas M. Kanaan, Elliott J. Mufson, Scott E. Counts
Cholinergic basal forebrain neurons of the nucleus basalis of Meynert (nbM) regulate attentional and memory function and are exquisitely prone to tau pathology and neurofibrillary tangle (NFT) formation during the progression of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). nbM neurons require the neurotrophin nerve growth factor (NGF), its cognate receptor TrkA, and the pan-neurotrophin receptor p75NTR for their maintenance and survival. Additionally, nbM neuronal activity and cholinergic tone are regulated by the expression of nicotinic (nAChR) and muscarinic (mAChR) acetylcholine receptors as well as receptors modulating glutamatergic and catecholaminergic afferent signaling. To date, the molecular and cellular relationships between the evolution of tau pathology and nbM neuronal survival remain unknown. To address this knowledge gap, we profiled cholinotrophic pathway genes within nbM neurons immunostained for pS422, a pretangle phosphorylation event preceding tau C-terminal truncation at D421, or dual-labeled for pS422 and TauC3, a later stage tau neo-epitope revealed by this same C-terminal truncation event, via single-population custom microarray analysis. nbM neurons were obtained from postmortem tissues from subjects who died with an antemortem clinical diagnosis of no cognitive impairment (NCI), mild cognitive impairment (MCI), or mild/moderate AD. Quantitative analysis revealed significant downregulation of mRNAs encoding TrkA as well as TrkB, TrkC, and the Trk-mediated downstream pro-survival kinase Akt in pS422+ compared to unlabeled, pS422-negative nbM neurons. In addition, pS422+ neurons displayed a downregulation of transcripts encoding NMDA receptor subunit 2B, metabotropic glutamate receptor 2, D2 dopamine receptor, and β1 adrenoceptor. By contrast, transcripts encoding p75NTR were downregulated in dual-labeled pS422+/TauC3+ neurons. Appearance of the TauC3 epitope was also associated with an upregulation of the α7 nAChR subunit and differential downregulation of the β2 nAChR subunit. Notably, we found that gene expression patterns for each cell phenotype did not differ with clinical diagnosis. However, linear regression revealed that global cognition and Braak stage were predictors of select transcript changes within both unlabeled and pS422+/TauC3− neurons. Taken together, these cell phenotype-specific gene expression profiling data suggest that dysregulation of neurotrophic and neurotransmitter signaling is an early pathogenic mechanism associated with NFT formation in vulnerable nbM neurons and cognitive decline in AD, which may be amenable to therapeutic intervention early in the disease process.