UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Specific aspects of neurodegenerative disease Biro, Andrew J.


This thesis is broken into four chapters. The first two chapters summarize two separate lines of investigation into the role of a putative neurotoxin in the pathogenesis of Huntington's Disease (HD). The third chapter outlines an investigation of the putative role of beta-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) in the pathogenesis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), while the final chapter details a post-mortem investigation of the contents of biogenic amines and amino acids in the brain of a man who died of a familial form of parkinsonism. Chapter I is a description of a chromatographic technique developed to isolate quinolinic acid (QA), an endogenous compound implicated in the pathogenesis of HD, from deproteinized human sera. A cation exchange column was used to selectively isolate QA, which was eluted with 10 mM HCl. The eluted fractions were analyzed by UV spectrometry to isolate and quantify QA. Once the fractions corresponding the elution of authentic QA were isolated, concentrated and the excess HCl removed, the fractions were added to growing fetal rat striatal explant cultures as an assay of neurotoxicity. Since HD involves the selective degeneration of GABAergic neurons in the striatum, the activity of glutamic acid decarboxylase, the final enzyme in the synthesis of GABA, was used to determine the viability of the cultures. Unfortunately, the method was confounded by the contamination of all effluents by compounds originating from the cation exchange resin, which were discovered to be neurotoxic to the striatal cultures, and as a result the investigation had to be abandoned. Chapter II describes an investigation designed to further characterize the nature of neurotoxicity observed in the sera obtained from patients with HD (Perry et al. 1987). Compounds with the capacity to selectively stimulate neurons at the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor have been implicated in a variety of neurodegenerative disorders, including HD. Selective antagonists at the NMDA receptor have been shown to protect neurons from the degenerative effects of such "excitotoxins". The investigation described used MK-801, a potent noncompetitive NMDA antagonist, in an attempt to protect fetal rat striatal cultures from the neurodegenerative effects of the sera obtained from HD patients. The results obtained were equivocal. No evidence was obtained to support a role of the NMDA receptor in the mediation of the neurotoxicity, and in addition the neurodegenerative effects of HD sera were not reproduced in the present investigation. A variety of possible explanations for the apparent discrepancy are suggested. Chapter III describes an experiment intended to produce an animal model of ALS based on the observations by Spencer et al. 1987 that chronic oral administration of BMAA in monkeys produced the histological and behavioural characteristics of this disease. In the present investigation synthetic D,L-BMAA was given by gavage to mice over an eleven week period. Since BMAA is known to act at the NMDA receptor, a subset of the mice were also given MK-801 in an effort to protect them from any deleterious effects based on the action of BMAA at this receptor. The animals were sacrificed at the end of the experiment, and biochemical analyses were performed on the striata and cortices of the animals. In addition, neuropathological studies were performed on the spinal cords, basal ganglia and related structures. The results indicated no biochemical or neuropathological abnormality as a result of BMAA administration. Chapter IV describes a post-mortem investigation of a man who was a member of a well described pedigree which carries an autosomal dominant form of parkinsonism. The object of the investigation was to determine post-mortem levels of dopamine, noradrenaline, serotonin and their metabolites, in addition to amino acids in various regions of brain. Although conflicting evidence was obtained during life, neuropathological findings and the present neurochemical analyses confirm the degeneration of the nigrostriatal dopaminergic tract, characteristic of parkinsonism, in this man.

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