Depressed Synaptic Transmission and Reduced Vesicle Release Sites in Huntington's Disease Neuromuscular Junctions

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Huntington's disease (HD) is a progressive and fatal degenerative disorder that results in debilitating cognitive and motor dysfunction. Most HD studies have focused on degeneration of the CNS. We previously discovered that skeletal muscle from transgenic R6/2 HD mice is hyperexcitable due to decreased chloride and potassium conductances. The progressive and early onset of these defects suggest a primary myopathy in HD. In this study, we examined the relationship between neuromuscular transmission and skeletal muscle hyperexcitability. We used an ex vivo preparation of the levator auris longus muscle from male and female late-stage R6/2 mice and age-matched wild-type controls. Immunostaining of the synapses and molecular analyses revealed no evidence of denervation. Physiologically, we recorded spontaneous miniature endplate currents (mEPCs) and nerve-evoked EPCs (eEPCs) under voltage-clamp, which, unlike current-clamp records, were independent of the changes in muscle membrane properties. We found a reduction in the number of vesicles released per action potential (quantal content) in R6/2 muscle, which analysis of eEPC variance and morphology indicate is caused by a reduction in the number of vesicle release sites (n) rather than a change in the probability of release (prel). Furthermore, analysis of high-frequency stimulation trains suggests an impairment in vesicle mobilization. The depressed neuromuscular transmission in R6/2 muscle may help compensate for the muscle hyperexcitability and contribute to motor impersistence.