Dynamic expansions of toxic polyglutamine (polyQ)-encoding CAG repeats in ubiquitously expressed, but otherwise unrelated, genes cause a number of late-onset progressive neurodegenerative disorders, including Huntington disease and the spinocerebellar ataxias. As polyQ toxicity in these disorders increases with repeat length, the intergenerational expansion of unstable CAG repeats leads to anticipation, an earlier age-at-onset in successive generations. Crucially, disease associated alleles are also somatically unstable and continue to expand throughout the lifetime of the individual. Interestingly, the inherited polyQ length mediating a specific age-at-onset of symptoms varies markedly between disorders. It is widely assumed that these inter-locus differences in polyQ toxicity are mediated by protein context effects. Previously, we demonstrated that the tendency of expanded CAG•CTG repeats to undergo further intergenerational expansion (their ‘expandability’) also differs between disorders and these effects are strongly correlated with the GC content of the genomic flanking DNA. Here we show that the inter-locus toxicity of the expanded polyQ tracts of these disorders also correlates with both the expandability of the underlying CAG repeat and the GC content of the genomic DNA flanking sequences. Inter-locus polyQ toxicity does not correlate with properties of the mRNA or protein sequences, with polyQ location within the gene or protein, or steady state transcript levels in the brain. These data suggest that the observed inter-locus differences in polyQ toxicity are not mediated solely by protein context effects, but that genomic context is also important, an effect that may be mediated by modifying the rate at which somatic expansion of the DNA delivers proteins to their cytotoxic state.
Polyglutamine (polyQ) diseases are a class of dominantly-inherited neurodegenerative disorders caused by the expansion of a CAG repeat encoding glutamine within the coding region of the respective genes 1. The molecular and cellular pathways underlying polyQ-induced neurodegeneration are the focus of much research, and it is widely viewed that toxic activities of the protein, resulting from the abnormally long polyQ tract, cause pathogenesis 2, 3. We now provide evidence for a pathogenic role of the CAG repeat RNA in polyQ toxicity using Drosophila. In a Drosophila screen for modifiers of polyQ degeneration induced by the Spinocerebellar ataxia type 3 (SCA3) protein ataxin-3, we isolated an upregulation allele of muscleblind (mbl), a gene implicated in the RNA toxicity of CUG expansion diseases 4-6. Further analysis indicated that there may be a toxic role of the RNA in polyQ-induced degeneration. We tested the role of the RNA by altering the CAG repeat sequence to an interrupted CAACAG repeat within the polyQ-encoding region; this dramatically mitigated toxicity. In addition, expression of an untranslated CAG repeat of pathogenic length conferred neuronal degeneration. These studies reveal a role for the RNA in polyQ toxicity, highlighting common components in RNA-based and polyQ protein-based trinucleotide repeat expansion diseases.
Spinocerebellar ataxia type 6 (SCA6) is an inherited neurodegenerative disease caused by a polyglutamine (polyQ) expansion in the CaV2.1 voltage-gated calcium channel subunit (CACNA1A). There is currently no treatment for this debilitating disorder and thus a pressing need to develop preventative therapies. RNA interference (RNAi) has proven effective at halting disease progression in several models of spinocerebellar ataxia (SCA), including SCA types 1 and 3. However, in SCA6 and other dominantly inherited neurodegenerative disorders, RNAi-based strategies that selectively suppress expression of mutant alleles may be required. Using a CaV2.1 mini-gene reporter system, we found that pathogenic CAG expansions in CaV2.1 enhance splicing activity at the 3′end of the transcript, leading to a CAG repeat length-dependent increase in the levels of a polyQ-encoding CaV2.1 mRNA splice isoform and the resultant disease protein. Taking advantage of this molecular phenomenon, we developed a novel splice isoform-specific (SIS)-RNAi strategy that selectively targets the polyQ-encoding CaV2.1 splice variant. Selective suppression of transiently expressed and endogenous polyQ-encoding CaV2.1 splice variants was achieved in a variety of cell-based models including a human neuronal cell line, using a new artificial miRNA-like delivery system. Moreover, the efficacy of gene silencing correlated with effective intracellular recognition and processing of SIS-RNAi miRNA mimics. These results lend support to the preclinical development of SIS-RNAi as a potential therapy for SCA6 and other dominantly inherited diseases.
Nine human neurodegenerative diseases, including Huntington's disease and several spinocerebellar ataxia, are associated to the aggregation of proteins comprising an extended tract of consecutive glutamine residues (polyQs) once it exceeds a certain length threshold. This event is believed to be the consequence of the expansion of polyCAG codons during the replication process. This is in apparent contradiction with the fact that many polyQs-containing proteins remain soluble and are encoded by invariant genes in a number of eukaryotes. The latter suggests that polyQs expansion and/or aggregation might be counter-selected through a genetic and/or protein context. To identify this context, we designed a software that scrutinize entire proteomes in search for imperfect polyQs. The nature of residues flanking the polyQs and that of residues other than Gln within polyQs (insertions) were assessed. We discovered strong amino acid residue biases robustly associated to polyQs in the 15 eukaryotic proteomes we examined, with an over-representation of Pro, Leu and His and an under-representation of Asp, Cys and Gly amino acid residues. These biases are conserved amongst unrelated proteins and are independent of specific functional classes. Our findings suggest that specific residues have been co-selected with polyQs during evolution. We discuss the possible selective pressures responsible of the observed biases.
Spinocerebellar ataxia type 3 is one of the polyglutamine (polyQ) diseases, which are caused by a CAG-repeat expansion within the coding region of the associated genes. The CAG repeat specifies glutamine, and the expanded polyQ domain mutation confers dominant toxicity on the protein. Traditionally, studies have focused on protein toxicity in polyQ disease mechanisms. Recent findings, however, demonstrate that the CAG-repeat RNA, which encodes the toxic polyQ protein, also contributes to the disease in Drosophila. To provide insights into the nature of the RNA toxicity, we extracted brain-enriched RNA from flies expressing a toxic CAG-repeat mRNA (CAG100) and a non-toxic interrupted CAA/G mRNA repeat (CAA/G105) for microarray analysis. This approach identified 160 genes that are differentially expressed specifically in CAG100 flies. Functional annotation clustering analysis revealed several broad ontologies enriched in the CAG100 gene list, including iron ion binding and nucleotide binding. Intriguingly, transcripts for the Hsp70 genes, a powerful suppressor of polyQ and other human neurodegenerative diseases, were also upregulated. We therefore tested and showed that upregulation of heat shock protein 70 mitigates CAG-repeat RNA toxicity. We then assessed whether other modifiers of the pathogenic, expanded Ataxin-3 polyQ protein could also modify the CAG-repeat RNA toxicity. This approach identified the co-chaperone Tpr2, the transcriptional regulator Dpld, and the RNA-binding protein Orb2 as modifiers of both polyQ protein toxicity and CAG-repeat RNA-based toxicity. These findings suggest an overlap in the mechanisms of RNA and protein-based toxicity, providing insights into the pathogenicity of the RNA in polyQ disease.
Spinocerebellar ataxia type 3 (SCA3) also known as Machado-Joseph Disease (MJD), is one of nine polyglutamine (polyQ) diseases caused by a CAG-trinucelotide repeat expansion within the coding sequence of the ATXN3 gene. There are no disease-modifying treatments for polyQ diseases. Recent studies suggest that an imbalance in histone acetylation may be a key process leading to transcriptional dysregulation in polyQ diseases. Because of this possible imbalance, the application of histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors may be feasible for the treatment of polyQ diseases. To further explore the therapeutic potential of HDAC inhibitors, we constructed two independent preclinical trials with valproic acid (VPA), a promising therapeutic HDAC inhibitor, in both Drosophila and cell SCA3 models. We demonstrated that prolonged use of VPA at specific dose partly prevented eye depigmentation, alleviated climbing disability, and extended the average lifespan of SCA3/MJD transgenic Drosophila. We found that VPA could both increase the acetylation levels of histone H3 and histone H4 and reduce the early apoptotic rate of cells without inhibiting the aggregation of mutant ataxin-3 proteins in MJDtr-Q68- expressing cells. These results collectively support the premise that VPA is a promising therapeutic agent for the treatment of SCA3 and other polyQ diseases.
At least nine dominant neurodegenerative diseases are caused by expansion of CAG repeats in coding regions of specific genes that result in abnormal elongation of polyglutamine (polyQ) tracts in the corresponding gene products. When above a threshold that is specific for each disease the expanded polyQ repeats promote protein aggregation, misfolding and neuronal cell death. The length of the polyQ tract inversely correlates with the age at disease onset. It has been observed that interruption of the CAG tract by silent (CAA) or missense (CAT) mutations may strongly modulate the effect of the expansion and delay the onset age. We have carried out an extensive study in which we have complemented DNA sequence determination with cellular and biophysical models. By sequencing cloned normal and expanded SCA1 alleles taken from our cohort of ataxia patients we have determined sequence variations not detected by allele sizing and observed for the first time that repeat instability can occur even in the presence of CAG interruptions. We show that histidine interrupted pathogenic alleles occur with relatively high frequency (11%) and that the age at onset inversely correlates linearly with the longer uninterrupted CAG stretch. This could be reproduced in a cellular model to support the hypothesis of a linear behaviour of polyQ. We clarified by in vitro studies the mechanism by which polyQ interruption slows down aggregation. Our study contributes to the understanding of the role of polyQ interruption in the SCA1 phenotype with regards to age at disease onset, prognosis and transmission.
Spinocerebellar ataxia type 1 (SCA1) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder resulting in loss of coordination and balance. It is caused by an expanded repeated DNA sequence (CAG) in the gene ATXN1. The CAG repeat region is normally interrupted by the DNA sequence CAT. Loss of this interruption is believed to cause instability whereby the CAG repeat expands beyond a key threshold resulting, ultimately, in polyglutamine protein aggregation and cell death. Here we examine how interruptions influence pathology in patients and establish a cellular model to support our findings. We distinguish our patients into two sub-groups based on whether or not their expanded CAG repeat stretches contained an interruption. This is not possible with conventional diagnostic techniques. Differentiating the sub-group with no interruptions led to improved accuracy in predicting their age at onset. The other sub-group, with interruptions, reveals a delay in age at onset that shows greater alignment with the longest stretch of CAG repeats. These findings are significant for genetic counselling and prognosis. Our cellular model and in vitro studies confirmed the relationship between disease severity and uninterrupted repeat length and showed that interruptions do not significantly affect the polyglutamine protein aggregation, but do slow down the aggregation rate.
Expanded runs of consecutive trinucleotide CAG repeats encoding polyglutamine (polyQ) stretches are observed in the genes of a large number of patients with different genetic diseases such as Huntington's and several Ataxias. Protein aggregation, which is a key feature of most of these diseases, is thought to be triggered by these expanded polyQ sequences in disease-related proteins. However, polyQ tracts are a normal feature of many human proteins, suggesting that they have an important cellular function. To clarify the potential function of polyQ repeats in biological systems, we systematically analyzed available information stored in sequence and protein interaction databases. By integrating genomic, phylogenetic, protein interaction network and functional information, we obtained evidence that polyQ tracts in proteins stabilize protein interactions. This happens most likely through structural changes whereby the polyQ sequence extends a neighboring coiled-coil region to facilitate its interaction with a coiled-coil region in another protein. Alteration of this important biological function due to polyQ expansion results in gain of abnormal interactions, leading to pathological effects like protein aggregation. Our analyses suggest that research on polyQ proteins should shift focus from expanded polyQ proteins into the characterization of the influence of the wild-type polyQ on protein interactions.
Spinocerebellar ataxia type 1 (SCA1) is one an intriguing set of nine neurodegenerative diseases caused by the expansion of a unstable trinucleotide CAG repeat where the repeat is located within the coding of the affected gene, i.e. the polyglutamine (polyQ) diseases. A gain-of-function mechanism for toxicity in SCA1, like the other polyQ diseases, is thought to have a major role in pathogenesis. Yet, the specific nature of this gain-of-function is a matter of considerable discussion. An issue concerns whether toxicity stems from the native or normal function of the affected protein versus a novel function induced by polyQ expansion. For SCA1 considerable evidence is accumulating that pathology is mediated by a polyQ-induced exaggeration of a native function of the host protein Ataxin-1 (ATXN1) and that phosphorylation of S776 regulates its interaction with other cellular protein and thereby function. In addition, this post translational modification modulates toxicity of ATXN1 with an expanded polyglutamine.
Expansion of a CAG repeat in the coding region of exon 1 in the ATXN2 gene located in human chromosome 12q24.1 causes the neurodegenerative disease spinocerebellar ataxia type 2 (SCA2). In contrast to other polyglutamine (polyQ) disorders, the SCA2 repeat is not highly polymorphic in central European (CEU) controls with Q22 representing 90% of alleles, and Q23 contributing between 5–7% of alleles. Recently, the ATXN2 CAG repeat has been identified as a target of adaptive selection in the CEU population. Mouse lines deficient for atxn2 develop marked hyperphagia and obesity raising the possibility that loss-of-function mutations in the ATXN2 gene may be related to energy balance in humans. Some linkage studies of obesity related phenotypes such as antipsychotic induced weight gain have reported significant lod scores on chromosome 12q24. We tested the hypothesis that rare loss-of-function ATXN2 variants cause obesity analogous to rare mutations in the leptin, leptin receptor and MC4R genes.
We sequenced the coding region of ATXN2 including intron-exon boundaries in 92 severely obese children with a body mass index (BMI) >3.2 standard deviations above age- and gender-adjusted means. We confirmed five previously identified single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and three new SNPs resulting in two synonymous substitutions and one intronic polymorphism. Alleles encoding >Q22 were overrepresented in our sample of obese children and contributed 15% of alleles in children identified by their parents as white. SNP rs695872 closely flanking the CAG repeat showed a greatly increased frequency of C/C homozygotes and G/C heterozygotes compared with reported frequencies in the CEU population.
Although we did not identify variants leading to novel amino acid substitutions, nonsense or frameshift mutations, this study warrants further examination of variation in the ATXN2 gene in obesity and related phenotypes in a larger case-control study with emphasis on rs695872 and CAG repeat structure.
Nuclear aggregates of polyglutamine (polyQ)-expanded proteins are associated with a number of neurodegenerative diseases including Huntington’s disease (HD) and spinocerebellar ataxias (SCAs). The nuclear deposition of polyQ proteins correlates with rearrangements of nuclear matrix, transcriptional dysregulation, and cell death. To explore the requirement for polyQ tracks in educing such cellular responses, we examined whether a non-polyQ protein can deposit as nuclear aggregates and elicit similar responses. We report that a protein chimera (GFP170*) composed of the green fluorescent protein (GFP) fused to an internal fragment of the Golgi Complex Protein (GCP-170) forms nuclear aggregates analogous to those formed by polyQ proteins. Like the polyQ nuclear aggregates, GFP170* inclusions recruit molecular chaperones and proteasomal components, alter nuclear structures containing the promyelocytic leukemia protein (PML), recruit transcriptional factors such as CREB-binding protein (CBP) and p53, repress p53 transcriptional activity, and induce cell death. Our results indicate that nuclear aggregation and transcriptional effects are not unique to polyQ-containing proteins and may represent a general response to misfolded proteins in the nucleus.
Nuclear aggregates; Nuclear inclusions; Polyglutamine; Huntingtin; Ataxin; CBP; p53; GCP-170; Golgin 160
Several inherited neurodegenerative disorders are caused by CAG trinucleotide repeat expansions, which can be located either in the coding region or in the untranslated region (UTR) of the respective genes. Polyglutamine diseases (polyQ diseases) are caused by an expansion of a stretch of CAG repeats within the coding region, translating into a polyQ tract. The polyQ tract expansions result in conformational changes, eventually leading to aggregate formation. It is widely believed that the aggregation of polyQ proteins is linked with disease development. In addition, in the last couple of years, it has been shown that RNA-mediated mechanisms also have a profound role in neurotoxicity in both polyQ diseases and diseases caused by elongated CAG repeat motifs in their UTRs. Here, we review the different molecular mechanisms assigned to mRNAs with expanded CAG repeats. One aspect is the mRNA folding of CAG repeats. Furthermore, pathogenic mechanisms assigned to CAG repeat mRNAs are discussed. First, we discuss mechanisms that involve the sequestration of the diverse proteins to the expanded CAG repeat mRNA molecules. As a result of this, several cellular mechanisms are aberrantly regulated. These include the sequestration of MBNL1, leading to misregulated splicing; sequestration of nucleolin, leading to reduced cellular rRNA; and sequestration of proteins of the siRNA machinery, resulting in the production of short silencing RNAs that affect gene expression. Second, we discuss the effect of expanded CAG repeats on the subcellular localization, transcription and translation of the CAG repeat mRNA itself. Here we focus on the MID1 protein complex that triggers an increased translation of expanded CAG repeat mRNAs and a mechanism called repeat-associated non-ATG translation, which leads to proteins aberrantly translated from CAG repeat mRNAs. In addition, therapeutic approaches for CAG repeat disorders are discussed. Together, all the findings summarized here show that mutant mRNA has a fundamental role in the pathogenesis of CAG repeat diseases.
neurodegeneration; polyglutamine diseases; CAG repeats; RNA–protein interactions; RNA-mediated toxicity
Polyglutamine(polyQ)-expanded proteins are potential therapeutic targets for the treatment of polyQ expansion disorders such as Huntington’s disease (HD) and spinocerebellar ataxia type 3 (SCA3). Here we used an amino-terminal fragment of a mutant Huntingtin protein (Htt-N-82Q) as bait in an unbiased screen of a 60,000 peptoid library. Peptoid HQP09 was selected from the isolated hits and confirmed as a specific ligand of Htt-82Q and Atxn3-77Q mutant proteins in biochemical experiments. We identified three critical residues in the HQP09 sequence that are important for its activity and generated a minimal derivative, HQP09_9, which maintains the specific polyQ-binding activity. We demonstrated that HQP09 and HQP09_9 inhibited aggregation of Htt-N-53Q in vitro and exerted Ca2+-stabilizing and neuroprotective effects in experiments with primary striatal neuronal cultures derived from HD mice. We further demonstrated that intracerebroventricular delivery of HQP09 to an HD mouse model resulted in reduced accumulation of mutant Huntingtin aggregates and improved motor behavioral outcomes. These results suggest that HQP09 and similar peptoids hold promise as novel therapeutics for developing treatments for HD, SCA3 and other polyglutamine expansion disorders.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a devastating, rapidly progressive disease leading to paralysis and death. Recently, intermediate length polyglutamine (polyQ) repeats of 27–33 in ATAXIN-2 (ATXN2), encoding the ATXN2 protein, were found to increase risk for ALS. In ATXN2, polyQ expansions of ≥34, which are pure CAG repeat expansions, cause spinocerebellar ataxia type 2. However, similar length expansions that are interrupted with other codons, can present atypically with parkinsonism, suggesting that configuration of the repeat sequence plays an important role in disease manifestation in ATXN2 polyQ expansion diseases. Here we determined whether the expansions in ATXN2 associated with ALS were pure or interrupted CAG repeats, and defined single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) rs695871 and rs695872 in exon 1 of the gene, to assess haplotype association. We found that the expanded repeat alleles of 40 ALS patients and 9 long-repeat length controls were all interrupted, bearing 1–3 CAA codons within the CAG repeat. 21/21 expanded ALS chromosomes with 3CAA interruptions arose from one haplotype (GT), while 18/19 expanded ALS chromosomes with <3CAA interruptions arose from a different haplotype (CC). Moreover, age of disease onset was significantly earlier in patients bearing 3 interruptions vs fewer, and was distinct between haplotypes. These results indicate that CAG repeat expansions in ATXN2 associated with ALS are uniformly interrupted repeats and that the nature of the repeat sequence and haplotype, as well as length of polyQ repeat, may play a role in the neurological effect conferred by expansions in ATXN2.
Despite enormous progress in elucidating the biophysics of aggregation, no cause-and-effect relationship between protein aggregation and neurodegenerative disease has been unequivocally established. Here, we derived several risk-based stochastic kinetic models that assess genotype/phenotype correlations in patients with Huntington’s disease (HD) caused by the expansion of a CAG repeat. Fascinating disease-specific aspects of HD include the polyglutamine (polyQ)-length dependence of both age at symptoms onset and the propensity of the expanded polyQ protein to aggregate. In vitro, aggregation of polyQ peptides follows a simple nucleated growth polymerization pathway. Our models that reflect polyQ aggregation kinetics in a nucleated growth polymerization divided aggregate process into the length-dependent nucleation and the nucleation-dependent elongation. In contrast to the repeat-length dependent variability of age at onset, recent studies have shown that the extent of expansion has only a subtle effect on the rate of disease progression, suggesting possible differences in the mechanisms underlying the neurodegenerative process.
Using polyQ-length as an index, these procedures enabled us for the first time to establish a quantitative connection between aggregation kinetics and disease process, including onset and the rate of progression. Although the complexity of disease process in HD, the time course of striatal neurodegeneration can be precisely predicted by the mathematical model in which neurodegeneration occurs by different mechanisms for the initiation and progression of disease processes. Nucleation is sufficient to initiate neuronal loss as a series of random events in time. The stochastic appearance of nucleation in a cell population acts as the constant risk of neuronal cell damage over time, while elongation reduces the risk by nucleation in proportion to the increased extent of the aggregates during disease progression.
Our findings suggest that nucleation is a critical step in gaining toxic effects to the cell, and provide a new insight into the relationship between polyQ aggregation and neurodegenerative process in HD.
Huntington’s disease; Polyglutamine aggregation; SCA3; Stochastic kinetics model; Cumulative damage; One-hit model; Nucleated growth polymerization; Nucleation; Elongation
Single-stranded silencing RNAs (ss-siRNAs) provide an alternative approach to gene silencing. ss-siRNAs combine the simplicity and favorable biodistribution of antisense oligonucleotides with robust silencing through RNA interference (RNAi). Previous studies reported potent and allele-selective inhibition of human huntingtin expression by ss-siRNAs that target the expanded CAG repeats within the mutant allele. Mutant ataxin-3, the genetic cause of Machado–Joseph Disease, also contains an expanded CAG repeat. We demonstrate here that ss-siRNAs are allele-selective inhibitors of ataxin-3 expression and then redesign ss-siRNAs to optimize their selectivity. We find that both RNAi-related and non-RNAi-related mechanisms affect gene expression by either blocking translation or affecting alternative splicing. These results have four broad implications: (i) ss-siRNAs will not always behave similarly to analogous RNA duplexes; (ii) the sequences surrounding CAG repeats affect allele-selectivity of anti-CAG oligonucleotides; (iii) ss-siRNAs can function through multiple mechanisms and; and (iv) it is possible to use chemical modification to optimize ss-siRNA properties and improve their potential for drug discovery.
Spinocerebellar ataxia (SCA) types 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, and 17 as well as Huntington's disease are a group of neurodegenerative disorders caused by expanded CAG repeats encoding a long polyglutamine (polyQ) tract in the respective proteins. Evidence has shown that the accumulation of intranuclear and cytoplasmic misfolded polyQ proteins leads to apoptosis and cell death. Thus suppression of aggregate formation is expected to inhibit a wide range of downstream pathogenic events in polyQ diseases. In this study, we established a high-throughput aggregation screening system using 293 ATXN3/Q75-GFP cells and applied this system to test the aqueous extract of Paeonia lactiflora (P. lactiflora) and its constituents. We found that the aggregation can be significantly prohibited by P. lactiflora and its active compound paeoniflorin. Meanwhile, P. lactiflora and paeoniflorin upregulated HSF1 and HSP70 chaperones in the same cell models. Both of them further reduced the aggregation in neuronal differentiated SH-SY5Y ATXN3/Q75-GFP cells. Our results demonstrate how P. lactiflora and paeoniflorin are likely to work on polyQ-aggregation reduction and provide insight into the possible working mechanism of P. lactiflora in SCA3. We anticipate our paper to be a starting point for screening more potential herbs for the treatment of SCA3 and other polyQ diseases.
In Huntington's disease and other polyglutamine (polyQ) disorders, mutant proteins containing a long polyQ stretch are well documented as the trigger of numerous aberrant cellular processes that primarily lead to degeneration and, ultimately, the death of neuronal cells. However, mutant transcripts containing expanded CAG repeats may also be toxic and contribute to cellular dysfunction. The exact nature and importance of RNA toxicity in polyQ diseases are only beginning to be recognized, and the first insights have mainly resulted from studies using simple model systems. In this review, we briefly present the basic mechanisms of protein toxicity in polyQ disorders and RNA toxicity in myotonic dystrophy type 1 and discuss recent results suggesting that the pathogenesis of polyQ diseases may also be mediated by mutant transcripts. This review is focused on the experimental systems used thus far to demonstrate RNA toxicity in polyQ disorders and the design of new systems that will be more relevant to the human disease situation and capable of separating RNA toxicity from protein toxicity.
Polyglutamine disorders; Triplet repeats; Toxic RNA; Neurodegenerative diseases
The presence of aggregates of abnormally expanded polyglutamine (polyQ)-containing proteins are a pathological hallmark of a number of neurodegenerative diseases including Huntington’s disease (HD) and spinocerebellar ataxia-3 (SCA3). Previous studies in cellular, Drosophila, and mouse models of HD and SCA have shown that neurodegeneration can be prevented by manipulations that inhibit polyQ aggregation. We have shown that the UL97 kinase of the human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) prevents aggregation of the pp71 and pp65 viral tegument proteins. To explore whether UL97 may act as a general antiaggregation factor, we examined whether UL97 prevents aggregation of cellular non-polyQ and polyQ proteins. We report that UL97 prevents the deposition of aggregates of two non-polyQ proteins: a protein chimera (GFP170*) composed of the green fluorescent protein and a fragment of the Golgi Complex protein (GCP-170) and a chimera composed of the red fluorescent protein (RFP) fused to the Werner syndrome protein (WRN), a RecQ helicase and exonuclease involved in DNA repair. Furthermore, we show that UL97 inhibits aggregate deposition in cellular models of HD and SCA3. UL97 prevents the deposition of aggregates of the mutant huntingtin exon 1 containing 82 glutamine repeats (HttExon1-Q82) or full length ataxin-3 containing a 72 polyQ track (AT3-72Q). The kinase activity of UL97 appears critical, as the kinase-dead UL97 mutant (K335M) fails to prevent aggregate formation. We further show that UL97 disrupts nuclear PML bodies and decreases p53-mediated transcription. The universality of the antiaggregation effect of UL97 suggests that UL97 targets a key cellular factor that regulates cellular aggregation mechanisms. Our results identify UL97 as a novel means to modulate polyQ aggregation and suggest that UL97 can serve as a novel tool to probe the cellular mechanisms that contribute to the formation of aggregates in polyglutamine disorders.
UL97; Polyglutamine; Aggresome; Ataxin 3; Huntingtin; PML bodies; p53
Huntington’s disease (HD) is an autosomal-dominant neurodegenerative disorder caused by a poly-glutamine expansion in huntingtin, the protein encoded by the HD gene. PolyQ-expanded huntingtin is toxic to neurons, especially the medium spiny neurons (MSNs) of the striatum. At the same time, wild-type huntingtin has important -- indeed essential -- protective functions. Any effective molecular therapy must preserve the expression of wild-type huntingtin, while silencing the mutant allele. We hypothesized that an appropriate siRNA molecule would display the requisite specificity and efficacy. As RNA interference is incapable of distinguishing among alleles with varying numbers of CAG (glutamine) codons, another strategy is needed. We used HD fibroblasts in which the pathogenic mutation is linked to a polymorphic site: the Δ2642 deletion of one of four tandem GAG triplets. We silenced expression of the harmful Δ2642-marked polyQ-expanded huntingtin without compromising synthesis of its wild-type counterpart. Following this success in HD fibroblasts, we obtained similar results with neuroblastoma cells expressing both wild-type and mutant HD genes. As opposed to the effect of depleting wild-type huntingtin, specifically silencing the mutant species actually lowered caspase-3 activation and protected HD cells under stress conditions. These findings have therapeutic implications not only for HD, but also for other autosomal dominant diseases. This approach has great promise: it may lead to personalized genetic therapy, a holy grail in contemporary medicine.
Huntington’s disease; polymorphism; siRNA; allele-specific
Among dominant neurodegenerative disorders, Huntington’s disease (HD) is perhaps the best candidate for treatment with small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) [1–9]. Invariably fatal, HD is caused by expansion of a CAG repeat in the Huntingtin gene, creating an extended polyglutamine tract that makes the Huntingtin protein toxic . Silencing mutant Huntingtin mRNA should provide therapeutic benefit, but no siRNA strategy can yet distinguish among the normal and disease Huntingtin alleles and other mRNAs containing CAG repeats . siRNAs targeting the disease isoform of a heterozygous single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in Huntingtin provide an alternative [12–16], because such siRNAs should preserve expression of normal Huntingtin, which likely contributes to neuronal function [17–19]. We sequenced 22 predicted SNP sites in 225 human samples corresponding to HD and control subjects. We find that 48% of our patient population is heterozygous at a single SNP site; one isoform of this SNP is associated with HD. Several other SNP sites are frequently heterozygous. Consequently, five allele-specific siRNAs, corresponding to just three SNP sites, could be used to treat three-quarters of the United States and European HD patient populations. We have designed and validated selective siRNAs for the three SNP sites, laying the foundation for allele-specific RNAi therapy for HD.
Huntington's disease (HD) is a currently incurable neurodegenerative disease caused by the expansion of a CAG trinucleotide repeat within the huntingtin (HTT) gene. Therapeutic approaches include selectively inhibiting the expression of the mutated HTT allele while conserving function of the normal allele. We have evaluated a series of antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) targeted to the expanded CAG repeat within HTT mRNA for their ability to selectively inhibit expression of mutant HTT protein. Several ASOs incorporating a variety of modifications, including bridged nucleic acids and phosphorothioate internucleotide linkages, exhibited allele-selective silencing in patient-derived fibroblasts. Allele-selective ASOs did not affect the expression of other CAG repeat-containing genes and selectivity was observed in cell lines containing minimal CAG repeat lengths representative of most HD patients. Allele-selective ASOs left HTT mRNA intact and did not support ribonuclease H activity in vitro. We observed cooperative binding of multiple ASO molecules to CAG repeat-containing HTT mRNA transcripts in vitro. These results are consistent with a mechanism involving inhibition at the level of translation. ASOs targeted to the CAG repeat of HTT provide a starting point for the development of oligonucleotide-based therapeutics that can inhibit gene expression with allelic discrimination in patients with HD.
Locked nucleic acid (LNA); allele-selective inhibition; Huntington's Disease; huntingtin; antisense oligonucleotide; CAG repeat; triplet repeat
Huntington’s disease like-2 (HDL2) is a phenocopy of Huntington’s disease caused by CTG/CAG repeat expansion at the Junctophilin-3 (JPH3) locus. The mechanisms underlying HDL2 pathogenesis remain unclear. Here we developed a BAC transgenic mouse model of HDL2 (BAC-HDL2) that exhibits progressive motor deficits, selective neurodegenerative pathology and ubiquitin-positive nuclear inclusions (NIs). Molecular analyses reveal a novel promoter at the transgene locus driving the expression of a CAG repeat transcript (HDL2-CAG) from the strand antisense to JPH3, which encodes an expanded polyglutamine (polyQ) protein. Importantly, BAC-HDL2 but not control BAC mice accumulate polyQ-containing NIs in a pattern strikingly similar to those in the patients. Furthermore, BAC mice with genetic silencing of the expanded CUG transcript still express HDL2-CAG transcript and manifest polyQ pathogenesis. Finally, studies of HDL2 mice and patients revealed CBP sequestration into NIs and evidence for interference of CBP-mediated transcriptional activation. These results suggest overlapping polyQ-mediated pathogenic mechanisms in HD and HDL2
Misfolding and abnormal aggregation of proteins in the brain are implicated in the pathogenesis of various neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and the polyglutamine (polyQ) diseases. In the polyQ diseases, an abnormally expanded polyQ stretch triggers misfolding and aggregation of the disease-causing proteins, eventually resulting in neurodegeneration. In this paper, we introduce our therapeutic strategy against the polyQ diseases using polyQ binding peptide 1 (QBP1), a peptide that we identified by phage display screening. We showed that QBP1 specifically binds to the expanded polyQ stretch and inhibits its misfolding and aggregation, resulting in suppression of neurodegeneration in cell culture and animal models of the polyQ diseases. We further demonstrated the potential of protein transduction domains (PTDs) for in vivo delivery of QBP1. We hope that in the near future, chemical analogues of aggregation inhibitor peptides including QBP1 will be developed against protein misfolding-associated neurodegenerative diseases.
Polyglutamine (polyQ) extension in the coding sequence of mutant huntingtin causes neuronal degeneration associated with the formation of insoluble polyQ aggregates in Huntington's disease. We constructed an array of CAG/CAA triplet repeats, coding for a range of 25-300 glutamine residues, which was used to generate expression constructs with minimal flanking sequence. Normal-length (25 glutamine residues) polyQ did not aggregate when transfected alone. Remarkably, when co-transfected with extended (100-300 glutamine residues) polyQ tracts, normal-length polyQ-containing peptides were trapped in insoluble detergent-resistant aggregates. Aggregates formed in the cytoplasm but were visible in the nucleus only when a strong nuclear localization signal was present. Intermolecular interactions between polyQ tracts mediated the localization of heterogeneous aggregates into the nucleolus by nucleolin protein. Our results suggest that extended polyQ can interact with cellular polyQ-containing proteins, transport them to ectopic cellular locations, and form heterogeneous polyQ aggregates. We provide evidence for a recruitment mechanism for pathogenesis in the polyQ neurodegenerative disorders. In susceptible cells, extended polyQ tracts in huntingtin might interact with and sequester or deplete certain endogenous polyQ-containing cellular proteins.