Author(s): Reema Roshan
Several microRNAs have been implicated in neurogenesis, neuronal differentiation, neurodevelopment, and memory. Development of miRNA-based therapeutics, however, needs tools for effective miRNA modulation, tissue-specific delivery, and in vivo evidence of functional effects following the knockdown of miRNA. Expression of miR-29a is reduced in patients and animal models of several neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease, and spinocerebellar ataxias. The temporal expression pattern of miR-29b during development also correlates with its protective role in neuronal survival. Here, we report the cellular and behavioral effect of in vivo, brain-specific knockdown of miR-29. We delivered specific anti-miRNAs to the mouse brain using a neurotropic peptide, thus overcoming the blood-brain-barrier and restricting the effect of knockdown to the neuronal cells. Large regions of the hippocampus and cerebellum showed massive cell death, reiterating the role of miR-29 in neuronal survival. The mice showed characteristic features of ataxia, including reduced step length. However, the apoptotic targets of miR-29, such as Puma, Bim, Bak, or Bace1, failed to show expected levels of up-regulation in mice, following knockdown of miR-29. In contrast, another miR-29 target, voltage-dependent anion channel1 (VDAC1), was found to be induced several fold in the hippocampus, cerebellum, and cortex of mice following miRNA knockdown. Partial restoration of apoptosis was achieved by down-regulation of VDAC1 in miR-29 knockdown cells. Our study suggests that regulation of VDAC1 expression by miR-29 is an important determinant of neuronal cell survival in the brain. Loss of miR-29 results in dysregulation of VDAC1, neuronal cell death, and an ataxic phenotype.