Although epigenetic abnormalities have been described in Huntington's disease (HD), the causal epigenetic mechanisms driving neurodegeneration in HD cortex and striatum remain undefined. Using an epigenetic pathway-targeted drug screen, we report that inhibitors of DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs), decitabine and FdCyd, block mutant huntingtin (Htt)-induced toxicity in primary cortical and striatal neurons. In addition, knockdown of DNMT3A or DNMT1 protected neurons against mutant Htt-induced toxicity, together demonstrating a requirement for DNMTs in mutant Htt-triggered neuronal death and suggesting a neurodegenerative mechanism based on DNA methylation-mediated transcriptional repression. Inhibition of DNMTs in HD model primary cortical or striatal neurons restored the expression of several key genes, including Bdnf, an important neurotrophic factor implicated in HD. Accordingly, the Bdnf promoter exhibited aberrant cytosine methylation in mutant Htt-expressing cortical neurons. In vivo, pharmacological inhibition of DNMTs in HD mouse brains restored the mRNA levels of key striatal genes known to be downregulated in HD. Thus, disturbances in DNA methylation play a critical role in mutant Htt-induced neuronal dysfunction and death, raising the possibility that epigenetic strategies targeting abnormal DNA methylation may have therapeutic utility in HD.

Original languageEnglish
Article number31022
JournalScientific reports
StatePublished - Aug 12 2016


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