Inhibition of the protein phosphatase calcineurin (CN) ameliorates pathophysiologic and cognitive changes in aging rodents and mice with aging-related Alzheimer's disease (AD)-like pathology. However, concerns over adverse effects have slowed the transition of common CN-inhibiting drugs to the clinic for the treatment of AD and AD-related disorders. Targeting substrates of CN, like the nuclear factor of activated T cells (NFATs), has been suggested as an alternative, safer approach to CN inhibitors. However, small chemical inhibitors of NFATs have only rarely been described. Here, we investigate a newly developed neuroprotective hydroxyquinoline derivative (Q134R) that suppresses NFAT signaling, without inhibiting CN activity. Q134R partially inhibited NFAT activity in primary rat astrocytes, but did not prevent CN-mediated dephosphorylation of a non-NFAT target, either in vivo, or in vitro. Acute (≤1 week) oral delivery of Q134R to APP/PS1 (12 months old) or wild-type mice (3–4 months old) infused with oligomeric Aβ peptides led to improved Y maze performance. Chronic (≥3 months) oral delivery of Q134R appeared to be safe, and, in fact, promoted survival in wild-type (WT) mice when given for many months beyond middle age. Finally, chronic delivery of Q134R to APP/PS1 mice during the early stages of amyloid pathology (i.e., between 6 and 9 months) tended to reduce signs of glial reactivity, prevented the upregulation of astrocytic NFAT4, and ameliorated deficits in synaptic strength and plasticity, without noticeably altering parenchymal Aβ plaque pathology. The results suggest that Q134R is a promising drug for treating AD and aging-related disorders.

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Published in Aging Cell, e13416.

© 2021 The Authors

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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This work was supported by National Institutes of Health Grants (RF1AG027297, R21AG051945, T32AG057461), a UK CCTS/UL1TR001998 grant, an Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation grant, The Sylvia Mansbach Research Fund, and The Hazel Embry Research Trust.

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The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.