SFN Poster of the Year 2014

692.21 Impairments in gait, posture and complex movement control in rats modeling the multi-system, cholinergic-dopaminergic losses in PD
K Phillips, A Kucinski, R Albin, M Sarter
featuring IT-42 Anti-ChAT-SAP (poster; Wednesday, Nov. 19, 8:00 AM – 12:00 PM)

In addition to striatal dopamine loss, degeneration of cholinergic neurons in the basal forebrain (BF) and the brainstem pedunculopontine nucleus (PPN) were documented in patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD). Loss of cholinergic projections to cortical, thalamic and midbrain regions have been associated with impairments in gait and postural control and a propensity for falls. We previously demonstrated that loss of cortical cholinergic inputs and the resulting impairments in attentional control ‘unmask’ gait and postural risk factors and thus yielded falls in rats with striatal dopamine loss (Kucinski et al., 2013). For this research we developed a new behavior task for the assessment of gait, postural control, and fall propensity (Michigan Complex Motor Control Task; MCMCT). Here, to determine the contributions of the PPN cholinergic projection system to complex movement control, we also lesioned the cholinergic pars compacta (posterior) division of the PPN by infusing anti-ChAT saporin-coupled immunotoxin. Rats received these lesions either in combination with BF cholinergic (192-IgG-saporin) or dorsomedial striatal dopamine loss (6-OHDA), or all three lesions together (“triples”). MCMCT performance by triples was characterized by more falls than in rats with just PPN lesions, PPN plus striatal dopamine loss, or rats with loss of both BF and PPN cholinergic neurons. High fall rates in triples persisted throughout the 20-day MCMCT testing sequence, indicating that daily practice did not improve the interactions between loss of attentional control and gait and postural deficits that underlie falls. Interestingly, combined loss of BF and PPN cholinergic neurons increased falls relative to controls and single lesions, suggesting that ascending cholinergic PPN loss sufficiently dysregulates striatal dopamine input for BF cholinergic cell loss to ‘unmask’ the impact of the former on striatal dysfunction. Finally, PPN cholinergic cell loss resulted in ballistic postural (recovery) movements and slip-triggered switches to asymmetrical gait. Such behavior was previously observed in rats after electrolytic lesions of the PPN region, considered a model of “Parkinsonian festination” (Cheng et al., 1981) and it may assist in maintaining balance by stabilizing the center of gravity. Collectively, our findings support the hypothesis that PPN cholinergic projections contribute to the mediation of gait symmetry and postural control, and when lesioned in combination with forebrain cholinergic and dopaminergic system, results in profound impairments in the control of complex movements. This research was supported by the Michael J. Fox Foundation.