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Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience

Whisker movements can be used to assess motor deficits in HD mice

Jenny Morton's research team in collaboration with Manchester University has used whisker movement to characterize motor deficits in mouse with Huntington's Disease

Motor dysfunction is a major component of the Huntington’s disease (HD) phenotype, both in patients and animal models. Motor function in mice is usually measured using tests that involve a novel environment, or require a degree of learning, which creates potential confounds in animals, such as anxiety and/or learning.

In this paper published in Journal of Neuroscience Methods, Jenny Morton's team in collaboration with Robyn Grant from Machester University propose that studying whisker control provides a more naturalistic way to measure motor function in HD mice. They tested three strains of HD mice; R6/2 (CAG250), zQ175 and Hdh (CAG50, 150 and 250) mice.

The researchers discovered a clear and progressive whisking deficit in the most severe model, the R6/2 CAG250 mouse. At 10 weeks, R6/2 mice showed an increase in whisking movements, which may be a correlate of the hyperkinesia seen in HD patients. By 18 weeks the R6/2 mice showed a reduction in whisking movements. Hdh Q250 mice showed a hyperkinetic profile at 10 weeks, approximately 4 months before other motor deficits have previously been reported in these mice. Q175 mice showed very little change in whisking behaviour, apart from a transient increase in retraction velocity at 10 weeks.

The findings suggest that whisking may be a more sensitive test of motor function in HD mice than more commonly used methods, such as the rotarod.

Whisking deficits could represent a novel way of assessing the progression of the motor phenotype, and are early indicators for reversal of phenotype studies, such as drug trials.