Spinocerebellar ataxia type 17 (SCA17) is caused by a CAG/CAA expansion mutation encoding an expanded polyglutamine (polyQ) tract in TATA-box binding protein (TBP), a general transcription initiation factor. Suppression of cAMP-responsive element binding protein-(CREB-) dependent transcription, impaired nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (NRF2) signaling, and interaction of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) with increased oxidative stress have been implicated to be involved in pathogenic mechanisms of polyQ-mediated diseases. In this study, we demonstrated decreased pCREB and NRF2 and activated AMPK contributing to neurotoxicity in SCA17 SH-SY5Y cells. We also showed that licochalcone A and the related in-house derivative compound 3-benzoyl-5-hydroxy-2H-chromen-2-one (LM-031) exhibited antiaggregation, antioxidative, antiapoptosis, and neuroprotective effects in TBP/Q79-GFP-expressing cell models. LM-031 and licochalcone A exerted neuroprotective effects by upregulating pCREB and its downstream genes, BCL2 and GADD45B, and enhancing NRF2. Furthermore, LM-031, but not licochalcone A, reduced activated AMPKα. Knockdown of CREB and NRF2 and treatment of AICAR (5-aminoimidazole-4-carboxamide 1-β-D-ribofuranoside), an AMPK activator, attenuated the aggregation-inhibiting and neurite outgrowth promoting effects of LM-031 on TBP/Q79 SH-SY5Y cells. The study results suggest the LM-031 as potential therapeutics for SCA17 and probable other polyQ diseases.
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