HDAC6 inhibition reverses long-term doxorubicin-induced cognitive dysfunction by restoring microglia homeostasis and synaptic integrity

Blake R. McAlpin, Rajasekaran Mahalingam, Anand K. Singh, Shruti Dharmaraj, Taylor T. Chrisikos, Nabila Boukelmoune, Annemieke Kavelaars, Cobi J. Heijnen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Breast cancer is the most common female malignancy in both the developed and developing world. Doxorubicin is one of the most commonly used chemotherapies for breast cancer. Unfortunately, up to 60% of survivors report long-term chemotherapy-induced cognitive dysfunction (CICD) characterized by deficits in working memory, processing speed and executive function. Currently, no therapeutic standard for treating CICD exists. Here, we hypothesized that treatment with a blood-brain barrier permeable histone deacetylase 6 (HDAC6) inhibitor can successfully reverse long-term doxorubicin-induced cognitive dysfunction. Methods: The puzzle box test and novel object/place recognition test were used to assess cognitive function following a therapeutic doxorubicin dosing schedule in female mice. Mitochondrial function and morphology in neuronal synaptosomes were evaluated using the Seahorse XF24 extracellular flux analyzer and transmission electron microscopy, respectively. Hippocampal postsynaptic integrity was evaluated using immunofluorescence. Hippocampal microglia phenotype was determined using advanced imaging techniques and single-nucleus RNA sequencing. Results: A 14-day treatment with a blood-brain barrier permeable HDAC6 inhibitor successfully reversed long-term CICD in the domains of executive function, working and spatial memory. No significant changes in mitochondrial function or morphology in neuronal synaptosomes were detected. Long-term CICD was associated with a decreased expression of postsynaptic PSD95 in the hippocampus. These changes were associated with decreased microglial ramification and alterations in the microglia transcriptome that suggest a stage 1 disease-associated microglia (DAM) phenotype. HDAC6 inhibition completely reversed these doxorubicin-induced alterations, indicating a restoration of microglial homeostasis. Conclusion: Our results show that decreased postsynaptic integrity and a neurodegenerative microglia phenotype closely resembling stage 1 DAM microglia contribute to long-term CICD. Moreover, HDAC6 inhibition shows promise as an efficacious pharmaceutical intervention to alleviate CICD and improve quality of life of breast cancer survivors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)603-619
Number of pages17
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2022


  • Chemobrain
  • Chemotherapy-induced cognitive dysfunction
  • HDAC6 inhibition
  • Microglia
  • Single-nucleus RNA sequencing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics (miscellaneous)


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