Histones are basic proteins that interact with negatively charged phosphate groups on DNA, compacting and protecting the DNA, and controlling gene expression. Histones are subject to a number of post-translational modifications, including methylation and acetylation. The balance between acetylation by histone acetyltransferases (HAT) and deacylation by histone deacetylases (HDAC) alters the strength of DNA interactions and plays a key role in regulating gene expression.
Collaborators led by scientists at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory have identified a promising target that could enable the development of therapeutics to improve memory and learning in patients with neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s. The team demonstrated that treatment with HDAC inhibitors enhanced memory and learning ability in normal mice and mouse models of neurodegeneration.
Histone and DNA are the major components of chromatin, the complex that packages genetic information into the chromosomes and inhibitors of the HDAC family have received much attention in recent years as potential treatments for various cancers. Chromatin modification, particularly via deacetylation, has also been implicated in memory formation.
Although HDACs are a family of 11 members, the team has shown that neuron-specific overexpression of HDAC2, but not HDAC1, in mice decreased synaptic plasticity, synapse number and memory formation. This effect was ameliorated by treatment with HDAC inhibitors. Conversely, Hdac2 deficient mice displayed enhancement of synapse number and memory facilitation.
The results, published in full in the journal Nature, suggest exploration of selective HDAC2 inhibitors for treatment of human neurodegenerative diseases involving memory impairment.