Joanna L JL Elson, Abi A Yates, Ilse S IS Pienaar

Published:

We previously reported a loss of cholinergic neurons within the pedunculopontine tegmental nucleus (PPTg) in rats that had been intra-nigrally lesioned with the proteasomal inhibitor lactacystin, with levels of neuronal loss corresponding to that seen in the post-mortem pedunculopontine nucleus (PPN) of advanced Parkinson's disease (PD) patients. Here we reveal lower expression values of the acetylcholine synthesising enzyme, choline acetyltransferase, within the remaining PPTg cholinergic neurons of lesioned rats compared to sham controls. We further characterise this animal model entailing dopaminergic- and non-dopaminergic neurodegeneration by reporting on stereological counts of non-cholinergic neurons, to determine whether the toxin is neuro-type specific. Cell counts between lesioned and sham-lesioned rats were analysed in terms of the topological distribution pattern across the rostro-caudal extent of the PPTg. The study also reports somatic hypotrophy in the remaining non-cholinergic neurons, particularly on the side closest to the nigral lesion. The cytotoxicity affecting the PPTg in this rat model of PD involves overexpression and accumulation of alpha-synuclein (αSYN), affecting cholinergic and non-cholinergic neurons as well as microglia on the lesioned hemispheric side. We ascertained that microglia within the PPTg become fully activated due to the extensive neuronal damage and neuronal death resulting from a lactacystin nigral lesion, displaying a distinct rostro-caudal distribution profile which correlates with PPTg neuronal loss, with the added implication that lactacystin-induced αSYN aggregation might trigger neuronophagia for promoting PPTg cell loss. The data provide critical insights into the mechanisms underlying the lactacystin rat model of PD, for studying the PPTg in health and when modelling neurodegenerative disease.