Wanda Leon

McGill University, Montréal, Quebec, Canada

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Publications (11)30.78 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: Cortical cholinergic atrophy plays a significant role in the cognitive loss seen with aging and in Alzheimer's disease (AD), but the mechanisms leading to it remain unresolved. Nerve growth factor (NGF) is the neurotrophin responsible for the phenotypic maintenance of basal forebrain cholinergic neurons in the mature and fully differentiated CNS. In consequence, its implication in cholinergic atrophy has been suspected; however, no mechanistic explanation has been provided. We have previously shown that the precursor of NGF (proNGF) is cleaved extracellularly by plasmin to form mature NGF (mNGF) and that mNGF is degraded by matrix metalloproteinase 9. Using cognitive-behavioral tests, Western blotting, and confocal and electron microscopy, this study demonstrates that a pharmacologically induced chronic failure in extracellular NGF maturation leads to a reduction in mNGF levels, proNGF accumulation, cholinergic degeneration, and cognitive impairment in rats. It also shows that inhibiting NGF degradation increases endogenous levels of the mature neurotrophin and increases the density of cortical cholinergic boutons. Together, the data point to a mechanism explaining cholinergic loss in neurodegenerative conditions such as AD and provide a potential therapeutic target for the protection or restoration of this CNS transmitter system in aging and AD.
    Journal of Neuroscience 02/2012; 32(6):2002-12. · 6.91 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: At diagnosis, Alzheimer's disease (AD) brains are extensively burdened with plaques and tangles and display a degree of synaptic failure most likely beyond therapeutic treatment. It is therefore crucial to identify early pathological events in the progression of the disease. While it is not currently feasible to identify and study early, pre-clinical stages of AD, transgenic (Tg) models offer a valuable tool in this regard. Here we investigated cognitive, structural and biochemical CNS alterations occurring in our newly developed McGill-Thyl-APP Tg mice (over-expressing the human amyloid precursor protein with the Swedish and Indiana mutations) prior to extracellular plaque deposition. Pre-plaque, 3-month old Tg mice already displayed cognitive deficits concomitant with reorganization of cortical cholinergic pre-synaptic terminals. Conformational specific antibodies revealed the early appearance of intracellular amyloid β (Aβ)-oligomers and fibrillar oligomers in pyramidal neurons of cerebral cortex and hippocampus. At the same age, the cortical levels of insulin degrading enzyme -a well established Aβ-peptidase, were found to be significantly down-regulated. Our results suggest that, in the McGill-Thy1-APP Tg model, functional, structural and biochemical alterations are already present in the CNS at early, pre-plaque stages of the pathology. Accumulation of intraneuronal neurotoxic Aβ-oligomers (possibly caused by a failure in the clearance machinery) is likely to be the culprit of such early, pre-plaque pathology. Similar neuronal alterations might occur prior to clinical diagnosis in AD, during a yet undefined 'latent' stage. A better understanding of such pre-clinical AD might yield novel therapeutic targets and or diagnostic tools.
    Current Alzheimer research 12/2010; 8(1):4-23. · 4.97 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The standard model of system consolidation proposes that memories are initially hippocampus dependent and become hippocampus independent over time. Previous studies have demonstrated the involvement of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) in the retrieval of remote memories. The transformations required to make a memory undergo system's consolidation are thought to require synaptic plasticity. In this study, we investigated the participation of the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK)/ERK pathway in acquisition, memory consolidation, and recent memory recall of the Morris water maze (MWM) task using a 1-d training protocol. To this end, bilateral injections of the MEK inhibitor U0126 into the rat mPFC were performed. The injection of the MEK inhibitor in the mPFC did not affect the acquisition of the MWM. However, MEK inhibitor resulted in impairments on recent memory retrieval either when applied at the end of the learning phase (memory consolidation) or prior to the retention test. The results strongly support the concept that recently acquired and consolidated spatial memories require the mPFC, and that local activation of the MAPK/ERK pathway in the mPFC is necessary for the consolidation and recall of recent memories.
    Learning & memory (Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.) 06/2010; 17(6):297-305. · 4.08 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative pathology in which amyloid-beta (Abeta) peptide accumulates in different brain areas leading to deposition of plaques and a progressive decline of cognitive functions. After a decade in which a number of transgenic (Tg) mouse models mimicking AD-like amyloid-deposition pathology have been successfully generated, few rat models have been reported that develop intracellular and extracellular Abeta accumulation, together with impairment of cognition. The generation of a Tg rat reproducing the full AD-like amyloid pathology has been elusive. Here we describe the generation and characterization of a new transgenic rat line, coded McGill-R-Thy1-APP, developed to express the human amyloid-beta precursor protein (AbetaPP) carrying both the Swedish and Indiana mutations under the control of the murine Thy1.2 promoter. The selected mono-transgenic line displays an extended phase of intraneuronal Abeta accumulation, already apparent at 1 week after birth, which is widespread throughout different cortical areas and the hippocampus (CA1, CA2, CA3, and dentate gyrus). Homozygous Tg animals eventually produce extracellular Abeta deposits and, by 6 months of age, dense, thioflavine S-positive, amyloid plaques are detected, associated with glial activation and surrounding dystrophic neurites. The cognitive functions in transgenic McGill-R-Thy1-APP rats, as assessed using the Morris water maze task, were found already altered as early as at 3 months of age, when no CNS plaques are yet present. The spatial cognitive impairment becomes more prominent in older animals (13 months), where the behavioral performance of Tg rats positively correlates with the levels of soluble Abeta (trimers) measured in the cortex.
    Journal of Alzheimer's disease: JAD 02/2010; 20(1):113-26. · 4.17 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Intracellular accumulation of beta-amyloid (Abeta) is one of the early features in the neuropathology of Alzheimer's disease (AD) and Down's syndrome. This can be reproduced in cell and transgenic animal models of the AD-like amyloid pathology. In a transgenic rat model, our lab has previously shown that the intracellular accumulation of Abeta is sufficient to provoke cognitive impairments and biochemical alterations in the cerebral cortex and hippocampus in the absence of amyloid plaques. To investigate an early, pre-plaque inflammatory process in AD-like transgenic models and establish whether the neurotoxic effects of Abeta oligomers and proinflammatory responses can be arrested with minocycline. For these studies, we used naïve mice and transgenic animal models of the AD-like amyloid pathology and applied neurochemical, immunohistochemical and behavioral experimental approaches. In the early stages of the AD-like amyloid pathology, intracellular Abeta oligomers accumulate within neurons of the cerebral cortex and hippocampus. Coincidental with this, behavioral impairments occur prior to the appearance of amyloid plaques, together with an upregulation of MHC-II, i-NOS and COX-2, well-known proinflammatory markers. Treatment with minocycline corrected behavioral impairments, lowered inflammatory markers and levels of Abeta trimers. A pharmacological approach targeting the early neuroinflammatory effects of Abeta might be a promising strategy to prevent or delay the onset of AD.
    Neurodegenerative Diseases 02/2010; 7(1-3):96-8. · 3.41 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Basal forebrain cholinergic neurons are highly dependent on nerve growth factor (NGF) supply for the maintenance of their cholinergic phenotype as well as their cholinergic synaptic integrity. The precursor form of NGF, proNGF, abounds in the CNS and is highly elevated in Alzheimer’s disease. In order to obtain a deeper understanding of the NGF biology in the CNS, we have performed a series of ex vivo and in vivo investigations to elucidate the mechanisms of release, maturation and degradation of this neurotrophin. In this short review, we describe this NGF metabolic pathway, its significance for the maintenance of basal cholinergic neurons, and its dysregulation in Alzheimer’s disease. We are proposing that the conversion of proNGF to mature NGF occurs in the extracellular space by the coordinated action of zymogens, convertases, and endogenous regulators, which are released in the extracellular space in an activity-dependent fashion. We further discuss our findings of a diminished conversion of the NGF precursor molecule to its mature form in Alzheimer’s disease as well as an augmented degradation of mature NGF. These combined effects on NGF metabolism would explain the well-known cholinergic atrophy found in Alzheimer’s disease and would offer new therapeutic opportunities aimed at correcting the NGF dysmetabolism along with Aβ-induced inflammatory responses.
    Journal of Molecular Neuroscience 01/2010; 40(1):230-235. · 2.89 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We previously reported that the precursor form of nerve growth factor (pro-NGF) and not mature NGF is liberated in the CNS in an activity-dependent manner, and that its maturation and degradation occur in the extracellular space by the coordinated action of proteases.Here, we present evidence of diminished conversion of pro-NGF to its mature form and of greater NGF degradation in Alzheimer disease (AD) brain samples compared with controls. These alterations of the NGF metabolic pathway likely resulted in the increased pro-NGF levels. The pro-NGF was largely in a peroxynitrited form in the AD samples. Intrahippocampal injection of amyloid-beta oligomers provoked similar upregulation of pro-NGF in naive rats that was accompanied by evidence of microglial activation (CD40), increased levels of inducible nitric oxide synthase, and increased activity of the NGF-degrading enzyme matrix metalloproteinase 9. The elevated inducible nitric oxide synthase provoked the generation of biologically inactive, peroxynitrite-modified pro-NGF in amyloid-beta oligomer-injected rats. These parameters were corrected by minocycline treatment. Minocycline also diminished altered matrix metalloproteinase 9, inducible nitric oxide synthase, and microglial activation (CD40); improved cognitive behavior; and normalized pro-NGF levels in a transgenic mouse AD model. The effects of amyloid-beta amyloid CNS burden on NGF metabolism may explain the paradoxical upregulation of pro-NGF in AD accompanied by atrophy of forebrain cholinergic neurons.
    Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology 09/2009; 68(8):857-69. · 4.35 Impact Factor
  • Alzheimers & Dementia - ALZHEIMERS DEMENT. 01/2009; 5(4).
  • Alzheimers & Dementia - ALZHEIMERS DEMENT. 01/2008; 4(4).
  • Alzheimers & Dementia - ALZHEIMERS DEMENT. 01/2008; 4(4).
  • Alzheimers & Dementia - ALZHEIMERS DEMENT. 01/2008; 4(4).