Background: Yeast have been used to study hungtingtin toxicity.
Results: Both HttQ103 and HttQP103 are toxic in yeast with [PSI+] prion. This toxicity is markedly rescued by a Sup35 fragment.
Conclusion: Sequestration of the essential protein, Sup35, contributes to Htt toxicity in yeast.
Significance: This research demonstrates the complex nature of Htt toxicity.
Expression of huntingtin fragments with 103 glutamines (HttQ103) is toxic in yeast containing either the [PIN+] prion, which is the amyloid form of Rnq1, or [PSI+] prion, which is the amyloid form of Sup35. We find that HttQP103, which has a polyproline region at the C-terminal end of the polyQ repeat region, is significantly more toxic in [PSI+] yeast than in [PIN+], even though HttQP103 formed multiple aggregates in both [PSI+] and [PIN+] yeast. This toxicity was only observed in the strong [PSI+] variant, not the weak [PSI+] variant, which has more soluble Sup35 present than the strong variant. Furthermore, expression of the MC domains of Sup35, which retains the C-terminal domain of Sup35, but lacks the N-terminal prion domain, almost completely rescued HttQP103 toxicity, but was less effective in rescuing HttQ103 toxicity. Therefore, the toxicity of HttQP103 in yeast containing the [PSI+] prion is primarily due to sequestration of the essential protein, Sup35.
Huntington Disease; Prions; Protein Folding; Yeast; Yeast Physiology
Polyglutamine expansion causes diseases in humans and other mammals. One example is Huntington's disease. Fragments of human huntingtin protein having an expanded polyglutamine stretch form aggregates and cause cytotoxicity in yeast cells bearing endogenous QN-rich proteins in the aggregated (prion) form. Attachment of the proline(P)-rich region targets polyglutamines to the large perinuclear deposit (aggresome). Aggresome formation ameliorates polyglutamine cytotoxicity in cells containing only the prion form of Rnq1 protein. Here we show that expanded polyglutamines both with (poly-QP) or without (poly-Q) a P-rich stretch remain toxic in the presence of the prion form of translation termination (release) factor Sup35 (eRF3). A Sup35 derivative that lacks the QN-rich domain and is unable to be incorporated into aggregates counteracts cytotoxicity, suggesting that toxicity is due to Sup35 sequestration. Increase in the levels of another release factor, Sup45 (eRF1), due to either disomy by chromosome II containing the SUP45 gene or to introduction of the SUP45-bearing plasmid counteracts poly-Q or poly-QP toxicity in the presence of the Sup35 prion. Protein analysis confirms that polyglutamines alter aggregation patterns of Sup35 and promote aggregation of Sup45, while excess Sup45 counteracts these effects. Our data show that one and the same mode of polyglutamine aggregation could be cytoprotective or cytotoxic, depending on the composition of other aggregates in a eukaryotic cell, and demonstrate that other aggregates expand the range of proteins that are susceptible to sequestration by polyglutamines.
Polyglutamine diseases, including Huntington disease, are associated with expansions of polyglutamine tracts, resulting in aggregation of respective proteins. The severity of Huntington disease is controlled by both DNA and non–DNA factors. Mechanisms of such a control are poorly understood. Polyglutamine may sequester other cellular proteins; however, different experimental models have pointed to different sequestered proteins. By using a yeast model, we demonstrate that the mechanism of polyglutamine toxicity is driven by the composition of other (endogenous) aggregates (for example, yeast prions) present in a eukaryotic cell. Although these aggregates do not necessarily cause significant toxicity on their own, they serve as mediators in protein sequestration and therefore determine which specific proteins are to be sequestered by polyglutamines. We also show that polyglutamine deposition into an aggresome, a perinuclear compartment thought to be cytoprotective, fails to ameliorate cytotoxicity in cells with certain compositions of pre-existing aggregates. Finally, we demonstrate that an increase in the dosage of a sequestered protein due to aneuploidy by a chromosome carrying a respective gene may rescue cytotoxicity. Our data shed light on genetic and epigenetic mechanisms modulating polyglutamine cytotoxicity and establish a new approach for identifying potential therapeutic targets through characterization of the endogenous aggregated proteins.
In eukaryotic cells amyloid aggregates may incorporate various functionally unrelated proteins. In mammalian diseases this may cause amyloid toxicity, while in yeast this could contribute to prion phenotypes. Insolubility of amyloids in the presence of strong ionic detergents, such as SDS or sarcosyl, allows discrimination between amorphous and amyloid aggregates. Here, we used this property of amyloids to study the interdependence of their formation in yeast. We observed that SDS-resistant polymers of proteins with extended polyglutamine domains caused the appearance of SDS or sarcosyl-insoluble polymers of three tested chromosomally-encoded Q/N-rich proteins, Sup35, Rnq1 and Pub1. These polymers were non-heritable, since they could not propagate in the absence of polyglutamine polymers. Sup35 prion polymers caused the appearance of non-heritable sarcosyl-resistant polymers of Pub1. Since eukaryotic genomes encode hundreds of proteins with long Q/N-rich regions, polymer interdependence suggests that conversion of a single protein into polymer form may significantly affect cell physiology by causing partial transfer of other Q/N-rich proteins into a non-functional polymer state.
amyloid; prion; [PSI+]; huntingtin; polyglutamine; Saccharomyces cerevisiae; Sup35/eRF3
Onset of proteotoxicity is linked to change in the subcellular location of proteins that cause misfolding diseases. Yet, factors that drive changes in disease protein localization and the impact of residence in new surroundings on proteotoxicity are not entirely clear. To address these issues, we examined aspects of proteotoxicity caused by Rnq1-green fluorescent protein (GFP) and a huntingtin's protein exon-1 fragment with an expanded polyglutamine tract (Htt-103Q), which is dependent upon the intracellular presence of [RNQ+] prions. Increasing heat-shock protein 40 chaperone activity before Rnq1-GFP expression, shifted Rnq1-GFP aggregation from the cytosol to the nucleus. Assembly of Rnq1-GFP into benign amyloid-like aggregates was more efficient in the nucleus than cytosol and nuclear accumulation of Rnq1-GFP correlated with reduced toxicity. [RNQ+] prions were found to form stable complexes with Htt-103Q, and nuclear Rnq1-GFP aggregates were capable of sequestering Htt-103Q in the nucleus. On accumulation in the nucleus, conversion of Htt-103Q into SDS-resistant aggregates was dramatically reduced and Htt-103Q toxicity was exacerbated. Alterations in activity of molecular chaperones, the localization of intracellular interaction partners, or both can impact the cellular location of disease proteins. This, in turn, impacts proteotoxicity because the assembly of proteins to a benign state occurs with different efficiencies in the cytosol and nucleus.
Prions are infectious, self-propagating protein conformations. Rnq1 is required for the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae prion [PIN+], which is necessary for the de novo induction of a second prion, [PSI+]. Here we isolated a [PSI+]-eliminating mutant, Rnq1Δ100, that deletes the nonprion domain of Rnq1. Rnq1Δ100 inhibits not only [PSI+] prion propagation but also [URE3] prion and huntingtin's polyglutamine aggregate propagation in a [PIN+] background but not in a [pin−] background. Rnq1Δ100, however, does not eliminate [PIN+]. These findings are interpreted as showing a possible involvement of the Rnq1 prion in the maintenance of heterologous prions and polyQ aggregates. Rnq1 and Rnq1Δ100 form a sodium dodecyl sulfate-stable and Sis1 (an Hsp40 chaperone protein)-containing coaggregate in [PIN+] cells. Importantly, Rnq1Δ100 is highly QN-rich and prone to self-aggregate or coaggregate with Rnq1 when coexpressed in [pin−] cells. However, the [pin−] Rnq1-Rnq1Δ100 coaggregate does not represent a prion-like aggregate. These findings suggest that [PIN+] Rnq1-Rnq1Δ100 aggregates interact with other transmissible and nontransmissible amyloids to destabilize them and that the nonprion domain of Rnq1 plays a crucial role in self-regulation of the highly reactive QN-rich prion domain of Rnq1.
The glutamine/asparagine (Q/N)-rich yeast prion protein Sup35 has a low intrinsic propensity to spontaneously self-assemble into ordered, β-sheet-rich amyloid fibrils. In yeast cells, de novo formation of Sup35 aggregates is greatly facilitated by high protein concentrations and the presence of preformed Q/N-rich protein aggregates that template Sup35 polymerization. Here, we have investigated whether aggregation-promoting polyglutamine (polyQ) tracts can stimulate the de novo formation of ordered Sup35 protein aggregates in the absence of Q/N-rich yeast prions. Fusion proteins with polyQ tracts of different lengths were produced and their ability to spontaneously self-assemble into amlyloid structures was analyzed using in vitro and in vivo model systems. We found that Sup35 fusions with pathogenic (≥54 glutamines), as opposed to non-pathogenic (19 glutamines) polyQ tracts efficiently form seeding-competent protein aggregates. Strikingly, polyQ-mediated de novo assembly of Sup35 protein aggregates in yeast cells was independent of pre-existing Q/N-rich protein aggregates. This indicates that increasing the content of aggregation-promoting sequences enhances the tendency of Sup35 to spontaneously self-assemble into insoluble protein aggregates. A similar result was obtained when pathogenic polyQ tracts were linked to the yeast prion protein Rnq1, demonstrating that polyQ sequences are generic inducers of amyloidogenesis. In conclusion, long polyQ sequences are powerful molecular tools that allow the efficient production of seeding-competent amyloid structures.
In yeast, fragmentation of amyloid polymers by the Hsp104 chaperone allows them to propagate as prions. The prion-forming domain of the yeast Sup35 protein is rich in glutamine, asparagine, tyrosine, and glycine residues, which may define its prion properties. Long polyglutamine stretches can also drive amyloid polymerization in yeast, but these polymers are unable to propagate because of poor fragmentation and exist through constant seeding with the Rnq1 prion polymers. We proposed that fragmentation of polyglutamine amyloids may be improved by incorporation of hydrophobic amino acid residues into polyglutamine stretches. To investigate this, we constructed sets of polyglutamine with or without tyrosine stretches fused to the non-prion domains of Sup35. Polymerization of these chimeras started rapidly, and its efficiency increased with stretch size. Polymerization of proteins with polyglutamine stretches shorter than 70 residues required Rnq1 prion seeds. Proteins with longer stretches polymerized independently of Rnq1 and thus could propagate. The presence of tyrosines within polyglutamine stretches dramatically enhanced polymer fragmentation and allowed polymer propagation in the absence of Rnq1 and, in some cases, of Hsp104.
Huntington's disease (HD) is a neurodegenerative disorder caused by an expanded polyglutamine (polyQ) tract in the huntingtin (htt) protein. Mutant htt toxicity is exposed after htt cleavage by caspases and other proteases release NH2-terminal fragments containing the polyQ expansion. Here, we show htt interacts and colocalizes with cdk5 in cellular membrane fractions. Cdk5 phosphorylates htt at Ser434, and this phosphorylation reduces caspase-mediated htt cleavage at residue 513. Reduced mutant htt cleavage resulting from cdk5 phosphorylation attenuated aggregate formation and toxicity in cells expressing the NH2-terminal 588 amino acids (htt588) of mutant htt. Cdk5 activity is reduced in the brains of HD transgenic mice compared with controls. This result can be accounted for by the polyQ-expanded htt fragments reducing the interaction between cdk5 and its activator p35. These data predict that the ability of cdk5 phosphorylation to protect against htt cleavage, aggregation, and toxicity is compromised in cells expressing toxic fragments of htt.
Huntington's disease (HD) is a fatal neurodegenerative disorder that is caused by an expansion of a polyglutamine (polyQ) tract in the protein huntingtin (Htt)1, which leads to its aggregation in nuclear and cytoplasmic inclusion bodies2. We recently reported the identification of 52 loss-of-function (LOF) mutations in yeast genes that enhance the toxicity of a mutant Htt fragment3. Here we report the results from a genome-wide LOF suppressor screen in which 28 gene deletions that suppress toxicity of a mutant Htt fragment were identified. The suppressors are known or predicted to play roles in vesicle transport, vacuolar degradation, transcription, and prion-like aggregation. Among the most potent suppressors identified was Bna4 (kynurenine 3-monooxygenase), an enzyme in the kynurenine pathway of tryptophan degradation that in humans has been linked directly to the pathophysiology of HD by a mechanism that may involve reactive oxygen species4. This finding suggests a conserved mechanism of polyQ toxicity from yeast to humans and identifies new candidate therapeutic targets for the treatment of HD.
Prions are viewed as enigmatic infectious entities whose genetic properties are enciphered solely in an array of self-propagating protein aggregate conformations. Rnq1, a yeast protein with yet unknown function, forms a prion named [PIN+] for its ability to facilitate the de novo induction of another prion, [PSI+]. Here we investigate a set of RNQ1 truncations that were designed to cover major Rnq1 sequence elements similar to those important for the propagation of other yeast prions: a region rich in asparagines and glutamines and several types of oligopeptide repeats. Proteins encoded by these RNQ1 truncations were tested for their ability to (i) join (decorate) pre-existing [PIN+] aggregates made of wild-type Rnq1 and (ii) maintain the heritable aggregated state in the absence of wild-type RNQ1. While the possible involvement of particular sequence elements in the propagation of [PIN+] is discussed, the major result is that the efficiency of transmission of [PIN+] from wild-type Rnq1 to a fragment, decreased with the fragment’s length.
Rnq1 [PIN+] yeast prion [PSI+] induction
Post-translational modification by the lipid palmitate is crucial for the correct targeting and function of many proteins. Here we show that huntingtin (htt) is normally palmitoylated at cysteine 214, which is essential for its trafficking and function. The palmitoylation and distribution of htt are regulated by the palmitoyl transferase huntingtin interacting protein 14 (HIP14). Expansion of the polyglutamine tract of htt, which causes Huntington disease, results in reduced interaction between mutant htt and HIP14 and consequently in a marked reduction in palmitoylation. Mutation of the palmitoylation site of htt, making it palmitoylation resistant, accelerates inclusion formation and increases neuronal toxicity. Downregulation of HIP14 in mouse neurons expressing wild-type and mutant htt increases inclusion formation, whereas overexpression of HIP14 substantially reduces inclusions. These results suggest that the expansion of the polyglutamine tract in htt results in decreased palmitoylation, which contributes to the formation of inclusion bodies and enhanced neuronal toxicity.
An expanded polyglutamine tract (>37 glutamines) in the N-terminal region of huntingtin (htt) causes htt to accumulate in the nucleus, leading to transcriptional dysregulation in Huntington disease (HD). In HD knock-in mice that express full-length mutant htt at the endogenous level, mutant htt preferentially accumulates in the nuclei of striatal neurons, which are affected most profoundly in HD. The mechanism underlying this preferential nuclear accumulation of mutant htt in striatal neurons remains unknown. Here, we report that serine 16 (S16) in htt is important for the generation of small N-terminal fragments that are able to accumulate in the nucleus and form aggregates. Phosphorylation of N-terminal S16 in htt promotes the nuclear accumulation of small N-terminal fragments and reduces the interaction of N-terminal htt with the nuclear pore complex protein Tpr. Mouse brain striatal tissues show increased S16 phosphorylation and a decreased association between mutant N-terminal htt and Tpr. These findings provide mechanistic insight into the nuclear accumulation of mutant htt and the selective neuropathology of HD, revealing potential therapeutic targets for treating this disease.
Aggregation of proteins containing polyglutamine (polyQ) expansions characterizes many neurodegenerative disorders, including Huntington’s disease. Molecular chaperones modulate Huntingtin (Htt) aggregation and toxicity by an ill-defined mechanism. Here we determine how the chaperonin TRiC suppresses Htt aggregation. Surprisingly, TRiC does not physically block the polyQ tract itself, but rather sequesters a short Htt sequence element N-terminal to the polyQ tract, that promotes the amyloidogenic conformation. The residues of this amyloid-promoting element essential for rapid Htt aggregation are directly bound by TRiC. Our findings illustrate how molecular chaperones, which recognize hydrophobic determinants, can prevent aggregation of polar polyQ tracts associated with neurodegenerative diseases. The observation that the switch of polyQ tracts to an amyloidogenic conformation is accelerated by short endogenous sequence elements provides a novel target for therapeutic strategies to inhibit aggregation.
Misfolding and aggregation of proteins containing expanded polyglutamine repeats underlie Huntington’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders1. Here, we show that the hetero-oligomeric chaperonin TRiC (also known as CCT) physically interacts with polyglutamine-expanded variants of huntingtin (Htt) and effectively inhibits their aggregation. Depletion of TRiC enhances polyglutamine aggregation in yeast and mammalian cells. Conversely, overexpression of a single TRiC subunit, CCT1, is sufficient to remodel Htt-aggregate morphology in vivo and in vitro, and reduces Htt-induced toxicity in neuronal cells. Because TRiC acts during de novo protein biogenesis2, this chaperonin may have an early role preventing Htt access to pathogenic conformations. Based on the specificity of the Htt–CCT1 interaction, the CCT1 substrate-binding domain may provide a versatile scaffold for therapeutic inhibitors of neurodegenerative disease.
Huntington’s disease (HD) is an autosomal dominant neurodegenerative disease that is caused by the expansion of a polyglutamine (polyQ) stretch within Huntingtin (htt), the protein product of the HD gene. Although studies in vitro have suggested that the mutant htt can act in a potentially dominant negative fashion by sequestering wild-type htt into insoluble protein aggregates, the role of the length of the normal htt polyQ stretch, and the adjacent proline-rich region (PRR) in modulating HD mouse model pathogenesis is currently unknown.
We describe the generation and characterization of a series of knock-in HD mouse models that express versions of the mouse HD gene (Hdh) encoding N-terminal hemaglutinin (HA) or 3xFlag epitope tagged full-length htt with different polyQ lengths (HA7Q-, 3xFlag7Q-, 3xFlag20Q-, and 3xFlag140Q-htt) and substitution of the adjacent mouse PRR with the human PRR (3xFlag20Q- and 3xFlag140Q-htt). Using co-immunoprecipitation and immunohistochemistry analyses, we detect no significant interaction between soluble full-length normal 7Q- htt and mutant (140Q) htt, but we do observe N-terminal fragments of epitope-tagged normal htt in mutant htt aggregates. When the sequences encoding normal mouse htt’s polyQ stretch and PRR are replaced with non-pathogenic human sequence in mice also expressing 140Q-htt, aggregation foci within the striatum, and the mean size of htt inclusions are increased, along with an increase in striatal lipofuscin and gliosis.
In mice, soluble full-length normal and mutant htt are predominantly monomeric. In heterozygous knock-in HD mouse models, substituting the normal mouse polyQ and PRR with normal human sequence can exacerbate some neuropathological phenotypes.
Huntingtin; Epitope tag; Knock-in; Polyglutamine; Proline-rich region; Sequestration; Huntington’s disease
Aggregation and cytotoxicity of mutant proteins containing an expanded number of polyglutamine (polyQ) repeats is a hallmark of several diseases, including Huntington's disease (HD). Within cells, mutant Huntingtin (mHtt) and other polyglutamine expansion mutant proteins exist as monomers, soluble oligomers, and insoluble inclusion bodies (IBs). Determining which of these forms constitute a toxic species has proven difficult. Recent studies support a role for IBs as a cellular coping mechanism to sequester levels of potentially toxic soluble monomeric and oligomeric species of mHtt.
When fused to a fluorescent reporter (GFP) and expressed in cells, the soluble monomeric and oligomeric polyglutamine species are visually indistinguishable. Here, we describe two complementary biophysical fluorescence microscopy techniques to directly detect soluble polyglutamine oligomers (using Htt exon 1 or Httex1) and monitor their fates in live cells. Photobleaching analyses revealed a significant reduction in the mobilities of mHttex1 variants consistent with their incorporation into soluble microcomplexes. Similarly, when fused to split-GFP constructs, both wildtype and mHttex1 formed oligomers, as evidenced by the formation of a fluorescent reporter. Only the mHttex1 split-GFP oligomers assembled into IBs. Both FRAP and split-GFP approaches confirmed the ability of mHttex1 to bind and incorporate wildtype Htt into soluble oligomers. We exploited the irreversible binding of split-GFP fragments to forcibly increase levels of soluble oligomeric mHttex1. A corresponding increase in the rate of IBs formation and the number formed was observed. Importantly, higher levels of soluble mHttex1 oligomers significantly correlated with increased mutant cytotoxicity, independent of the presence of IBs.
Our study describes powerful and sensitive tools for investigating soluble oligomeric forms of expanded polyglutamine proteins, and their impact on cell viability. Moreover, these methods should be applicable for the detection of soluble oligomers of a wide variety of aggregation prone proteins.
The yeast [PSI+], [URE3], and [PIN+] genetic elements are prion forms of Sup35p, Ure2p, and Rnq1p, respectively. Overexpression of Sup35p, Ure2p, or Rnq1p leads to increased de novo appearance of [PSI+], [URE3], and [PIN+], respectively. This inducible appearance of [PSI+] was shown to be dependent on the presence of [PIN+] or [URE3] or overexpression of other yeast proteins that have stretches of polar residues similar to the prion-determining domains of the known prion proteins. In a similar manner, [PSI+] and [URE3] facilitate the appearance of [PIN+]. In contrast to these positive interactions, here we find that in the presence of [PIN+], [PSI+] and [URE3] repressed each other's propagation and de novo appearance. Elevated expression of Hsp104 and Hsp70 (Ssa2p) had little effect on these interactions, ruling out competition between the two prions for limiting amounts of these protein chaperones. In contrast, we find that constitutive overexpression of SSA1 but not SSA2 cured cells of [URE3], uncovering a specific interaction between Ssa1p and [URE3] and a functional distinction between these nearly identical Hsp70 isoforms. We also find that Hsp104 abundance, which critically affects [PSI+] propagation, is elevated when [URE3] is present. Our results are consistent with the notion that proteins that have a propensity to form prions may interact with heterologous prions but, as we now show, in a negative manner. Our data also suggest that differences in how [PSI+] and [URE3] interact with Hsp104 and Hsp70 may contribute to their antagonistic interactions.
Huntington’s disease (HD) is caused by progressive loss of striatal medium spiny neurons (MSN). The molecular trigger of HD is a polyglutamine expansion in the Huntingtin protein (Htt). The mutant Htt protein forms insoluble nuclear aggregates which have been proposed to play a key role in causing neuronal cell death in HD. Other lines of investigation suggest that expression of mutant Htt facilitates activity of the NR2B subtype of NMDA receptors and the type 1 inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate receptors (InsP3R1), and that disturbed calcium (Ca2+) signaling causes apoptosis of MSNs in HD. The YAC128 transgenic HD mouse model expresses the full-length human Htt protein with 120Q CAG repeat expansion and displays age-dependent loss of striatal neurons as seen in human HD brain. In contrast, the shortstop mice express an amino-terminal fragment of the mutant Htt protein (exons 1 and 2) and display no behavioral abnormalities or striatal neurodegeneration despite widespread formation of neuronal inclusions. Here we compared Ca2+ signals in primary MSN neuronal cultures derived from YAC128 and shortstop mice to their wild type non-transgenic littermates. Repetitive application of glutamate results in supranormal Ca2+ responses in YAC128 MSNs, but not in shortstop MSNs. In addition, while currents mediated by the NR2B subtype of NMDA receptors were increased in YAC128 MSNs, currents in SS MSNs were found to be similar to WT. Furthermore, YAC128 MSNs were sensitized to glutamate-induced apoptosis. Consistent with these findings, we found that application of glutamate induced rapid loss of mitochondrial membrane potential in YAC128 MSNs. In contrast, SS MSNs do not show increased cell death post glutamate treatment nor cause loss of mitochondrial membrane potential. Glutamate-induced loss of mitochondrial membrane potential in YAC128 MSNs could be prevented by inhibitors of NR2B NMDA receptors and mGluR1/5 receptors. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that disturbed neuronal Ca2+ signaling plays a significant role in the degeneration of MSN containing full length mutant Httexp. Furthermore, the results obtained with neurons from shortstop mice provide additional evidence that not all fragments of mutant Httexp are toxic to neurons.
calcium; NMDAR; Huntington’s; disease; transgenic mouse; mitochondria; apoptosis; excitotoxicity
Huntington's disease (HD) is an autosomal dominantly inherited disorder caused by the expansion of CAG repeats in the Huntingtin (HTT) gene. The abnormally extended polyglutamine in the HTT protein encoded by the CAG repeats has toxic effects. Here, we provide evidence to support that the mutant HTT CAG repeats interfere with cell viability at the RNA level. In human neuronal cells, expanded HTT exon-1 mRNA with CAG repeat lengths above the threshold for complete penetrance (40 or greater) induced cell death and increased levels of small CAG-repeated RNAs (sCAGs), of ≈21 nucleotides in a Dicer-dependent manner. The severity of the toxic effect of HTT mRNA and sCAG generation correlated with CAG expansion length. Small RNAs obtained from cells expressing mutant HTT and from HD human brains significantly decreased neuronal viability, in an Ago2-dependent mechanism. In both cases, the use of anti-miRs specific for sCAGs efficiently blocked the toxic effect, supporting a key role of sCAGs in HTT-mediated toxicity. Luciferase-reporter assays showed that expanded HTT silences the expression of CTG-containing genes that are down-regulated in HD. These results suggest a possible link between HD and sCAG expression with an aberrant activation of the siRNA/miRNA gene silencing machinery, which may trigger a detrimental response. The identification of the specific cellular processes affected by sCAGs may provide insights into the pathogenic mechanisms underlying HD, offering opportunities to develop new therapeutic approaches.
Huntington's disease (HD) is a neurodegenerative disorder caused by an abnormal CAG expansion in the Huntingtin gene (HTT), resulting in an expanded polyglutamine track in the HTT protein. Longer CAG expansions correlate with an earlier more severe manifestation of the disease that produces choreic movement, behavioural and psychiatric disturbances, and dementia. Although the causative gene is widely expressed, neuropathology is characterized by striatal and cortical atrophy. HTT interacts with proteins involved in transcription, cell signaling, and transport. The pathogenic role of mutant HTT is not fully understood. This study shows that CAG expanded HTT RNA also contributes to neuronal toxicity. Mutant HTT RNA gives rise to small CAG-repeated RNAs (sCAGs) with neurotoxic activity. These short RNAs interfere with cell functions by silencing the expression of genes that are fully or partially complementary, through a mechanism similar to that of microRNAs. These findings suggest that a small RNA–dependent mechanism may contribute to HD neuronal cell loss. The exhaustive identification of the target genes modulated by sCAGs may lead to a better understanding of HD pathology, allowing the development of new therapeutic strategies.
Huntington disease (HD) is an inherited and incurable neurodegenerative disorder caused by an abnormal polyglutamine (polyQ) expansion in huntingtin (HTT). PolyQ length determines disease onset and severity with a longer expansion causing earlier onset. The mechanisms of mutant HTT-mediated neurotoxicity remain unclear; however, mitochondrial dysfunction is a key event in HD pathogenesis1,2. Here we tested whether mutant HTT impairs the mitochondrial fission/fusion balance and thereby causes neuronal injury. We show that mutant HTT triggers mitochondrial fragmentation in neurons and fibroblasts of HD individuals in vitro and HD mice in vivo before the presence of neurological deficits and HTT aggregates. Interestingly, mutant HTT abnormally interacts with the mitochondrial fission GTPase dynamin-related protein 1 (DRP1) in HD mice and individuals which in turn stimulates its enzymatic activity. Importantly, mutant HTT-mediated mitochondrial fragmentation, defects in anterograde and retrograde mitochondrial transport, and neuronal cell death are all rescued by reducing DRP1 GTPase activity with the dominant-negative DRP1K38A mutant. Thus, DRP1 might represent a new therapeutic target to combat neurodegeneration in HD.
The 17-amino-acid N-terminal segment (httNT) that leads into the polyglutamine (polyQ) segment in the Huntington's disease protein huntingtin (htt) dramatically increases aggregation rates and changes the aggregation mechanism, compared to a simple polyQ peptide of similar length. With polyQ segments near or above the pathological repeat length threshold of about 37, aggregation of htt N-terminal fragments is so rapid that it is difficult to tease out mechanistic details. We describe here the use of very short polyQ repeat lengths in htt N-terminal fragments to slow this disease-associated aggregation. Although all of these peptides, in addition to httNT itself, form α-helix-rich oligomeric intermediates, only peptides with QN of eight or longer mature into amyloid-like aggregates, doing so by a slow increase in β-structure. Concentration-dependent circular dichroism and analytical ultracentrifugation suggest that the httNT sequence, with or without added glutamine residues, exists in solution as an equilibrium between disordered monomer and α-helical tetramer. Higher order, α-helix rich oligomers appear to be built up via these tetramers. However, only httNTQN peptides with N=8 or more undergo conversion into polyQ β-sheet aggregates. These final amyloid-like aggregates not only feature the expected high β-sheet content but also retain an element of solvent-exposed α-helix. The α-helix-rich oligomeric intermediates appear to be both on- and off-pathway, with some oligomers serving as the pool from within which nuclei emerge, while those that fail to undergo amyloid nucleation serve as a reservoir for release of monomers to support fibril elongation. Based on a regular pattern of multimers observed in analytical ultracentrifugation, and a concentration dependence of α-helix formation in CD spectroscopy, it is likely that these oligomers assemble via a four-helix assembly unit. PolyQ expansion in these peptides appears to enhance the rates of both oligomer formation and nucleation from within the oligomer population, by structural mechanisms that remain unclear.
amyloid; α-helical oligomers; nucleation; polyglutamine; FTIR
Huntington's disease (HD) is a fatal neurodegenerative condition caused by expansion of the polyglutamine tract in the huntingtin (Htt) protein. Neuronal toxicity in HD is thought to be, at least in part, a consequence of protein interactions involving mutant Htt. We therefore hypothesized that genetic modifiers of HD neurodegeneration should be enriched among Htt protein interactors. To test this idea, we identified a comprehensive set of Htt interactors using two complementary approaches: high-throughput yeast two-hybrid screening and affinity pull down followed by mass spectrometry. This effort led to the identification of 234 high-confidence Htt-associated proteins, 104 of which were found with the yeast method and 130 with the pull downs. We then tested an arbitrary set of 60 genes encoding interacting proteins for their ability to behave as genetic modifiers of neurodegeneration in a Drosophila model of HD. This high-content validation assay showed that 27 of 60 orthologs tested were high-confidence genetic modifiers, as modification was observed with more than one allele. The 45% hit rate for genetic modifiers seen among the interactors is an order of magnitude higher than the 1%–4% typically observed in unbiased genetic screens. Genetic modifiers were similarly represented among proteins discovered using yeast two-hybrid and pull-down/mass spectrometry methods, supporting the notion that these complementary technologies are equally useful in identifying biologically relevant proteins. Interacting proteins confirmed as modifiers of the neurodegeneration phenotype represent a diverse array of biological functions, including synaptic transmission, cytoskeletal organization, signal transduction, and transcription. Among the modifiers were 17 loss-of-function suppressors of neurodegeneration, which can be considered potential targets for therapeutic intervention. Finally, we show that seven interacting proteins from among 11 tested were able to co-immunoprecipitate with full-length Htt from mouse brain. These studies demonstrate that high-throughput screening for protein interactions combined with genetic validation in a model organism is a powerful approach for identifying novel candidate modifiers of polyglutamine toxicity.
Huntington's Disease (HD) is a fatal inherited neurodegenerative disease, which typically begins in middle age and progresses with symptoms of severe uncontrolled movements and cognitive dysfunction. HD is uniformly fatal with death occurring ten to 15 years after onset of symptoms. There is currently no effective treatment for HD. The genetic mutation underlying HD causes a protein called huntingtin (Htt) to contain an abnormally long tract of the amino acid glutamine. This extended span of glutamines changes the shape of the Htt protein, which can cause it to interact in abnormal ways with other cellular proteins. In this study, we have identified a large number of new proteins that bind to normal and mutant forms of the Htt protein. To establish a potential role for these interacting proteins in HD, we show that changing the expression of many of these proteins can modulate the pathological effects of mutant Htt on fly neurons that deteriorate when they express mutant Htt. Identifying cellular proteins that bind to Htt and modulate its pathological activity may facilitate the discovery of an effective treatment for HD.
Protein aggregation is associated with neurodegeneration. Polyglutamine expansion diseases such as spinobulbar muscular atrophy and Huntington disease feature proteins that are destabilized by an expanded polyglutamine tract in their N-termini. It has previously been reported that intracellular aggregation of these target proteins, the androgen receptor (AR) and huntingtin (Htt), is modulated by actin-regulatory pathways. Sequences that flank the polyglutamine tract of AR and Htt might influence protein aggregation and toxicity through protein-protein interactions, but this has not been studied in detail. Here we have evaluated an N-terminal 127 amino acid fragment of AR and Htt exon 1. The first 50 amino acids of ARN127 and the first 14 amino acids of Htt exon 1 mediate binding to filamentous actin in vitro. Deletion of these actin-binding regions renders the polyglutamine-expanded forms of ARN127 and Htt exon 1 less aggregation-prone, and increases the SDS-solubility of aggregates that do form. These regions thus appear to alter the aggregation frequency and type of polyglutamine-induced aggregation. These findings highlight the importance of flanking sequences in determining the propensity of unstable proteins to misfold.
A number of mouse models expressing mutant huntingtin (htt) with an expanded polyglutamine (polyQ) domain are useful for studying the pathogenesis of Huntington's disease (HD) and identifying appropriate therapies. However, these models exhibit neurological phenotypes that differ in their severity and nature. Understanding how transgenic htt leads to variable neuropathology in animal models would shed light on the pathogenesis of HD and help us to choose HD models for investigation. By comparing the expression of mutant htt at the transcriptional and protein levels in transgenic mice expressing N-terminal or full-length mutant htt, we found that the accumulation and aggregation of mutant htt in the brain is determined by htt context. HD mouse models demonstrating more severe phenotypes show earlier accumulation of N-terminal mutant htt fragments, which leads to the formation of htt aggregates that are primarily present in neuronal nuclei and processes, as well as glial cells. Similarly, transgenic monkeys expressing exon-1 htt with a 147-glutamine repeat (147Q) died early and showed abundant neuropil aggregates in swelling neuronal processes. Fractionation of HD150Q knock-in mice brains revealed an age-dependent accumulation of N-terminal mutant htt fragments in the nucleus and synaptosomes, and this accumulation was most pronounced in the striatum due to decreased proteasomal activity. Our findings suggest that the neuropathological phenotypes of HD stem largely from the accumulation of N-terminal mutant htt fragments and that this accumulation is determined by htt context and cell-type-dependent clearance of mutant htt.
Huntington's disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder caused by a polyglutamine expansion near the N-terminus of huntingtin. The mechanisms of polyglutamine neurotoxicity, and cellular responses are not fully understood. We have studied gene expression profiles by cDNA array using an inducible PC12 cell model expressing an N-terminal huntingtin fragment with expanded polyglutamine (Htt-N63-148Q). Mutant huntingtin Htt-N63 induced cell death and increased the mRNA and protein levels of activating transcription factor 3 (ATF3). Mutant Htt-N63 also significantly enhanced ATF3 transcriptional activity by a promoter-based reporter assay. Overexpression of ATF3 protects against mutant Htt-N63 toxicity and knocking down ATF3 expression reduced Htt-N63 toxicity in a stable PC12 cell line. These results indicated that ATF3 plays a critical role in toxicity induced by mutant Htt-N63 and may lead to a useful therapeutic target.
Activating transcription factor 3; Mutant huntingtin; Polyglutamine; Huntington's disease; Cell death