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Synapse. 2001 Sep 15;41(4):329-36.

Vesicular neurotransmitter transporters in Huntington's disease: initial observations and comparison with traditional synaptic markers.

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  • 1Department of Radiology (Division of Nuclear Medicine), The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.


Markers of identified neuronal populations have previously suggested selective degeneration of projection neurons in Huntington's disease (HD) striatum. Interpretations are, however, limited by effects of compensatory regulation and atrophy. Studies of the vesicular monoamine transporter type-2 (VMAT2) and of the vesicular acetylcholine transporter (VAChT) in experimental animals indicate that they are robust markers of presynaptic integrity and are not subject to regulation. We measured dopamine and acetylcholine vesicular transporters to characterize the selectivity of degeneration in HD striatum. Brains were obtained at autopsy from four HD patients and five controls. Autoradiography was used to quantify radioligand binding to VMAT2, VAChT, the dopamine plasmalemmal transporter (DAT), benzodiazepine (BZ) binding sites, and D2-type dopamine receptors. The activity of choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) was determined as an additional marker of cholinergic neurons. Autoradiograms were analyzed by video-assisted densitometry and assessment of atrophy was made from regional structural areas in the coronal projection. Striatal VMAT2, DAT, and VAChT concentrations were unchanged or increased, while D2 and BZ binding and ChAT activity were decreased in HD. After atrophy correction, all striatal binding sites were decreased. However, the decrease in ChAT activity was 3-fold greater than that of VAChT binding. In addition to degeneration of striatal projection neurons, there are losses of extrinsic nigrostriatal projections and of striatal cholinergic interneurons in HD on the basis of vesicular transporter measures. There is also markedly reduced expression of ChAT by surviving cholinergic striatal interneurons.

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