Amyloid formation by mutant huntingtin: Threshold, progressivity and recruitment of normal polyglutamine proteins

C. Chris Huang, Peter W. Faber, Francesca Persichetti, Vivek Mittal, Jean Paul Vonsattel, Marcy E. MacDonald, James F. Gusella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

228 Scopus citations


Huntington's disease (HD) is caused by an expanded CAG trinucleotide repeat encoding a tract of consecutive glutamines near the amino terminus of huntingtin, a large protein of unknown function. It has been proposed that the expanded polyglutamine stretch confers a new property on huntingtin and thereby causes cell and region-specific neurodegeneration. Genotypephenotype correlations predict that this novel property appears above a threshold length (~38 glutamines), becomes progressively more evident with increasing polyglutamine length, is completely dominant over normal huntingtin and is not appreciably worsened by a double genetic dose in HD homozygotes. Recently, an amino terminal fragment of mutant huntingtin has been found to form self-initiated fibrillar aggregates in vitro. We have tested the capacity for aggregation to assess whether this property matches the criteria expected for a fundamental role in HD pathogenesis. We find that that in vitro aggregation displays a threshold and progressivity for polyglutamine length remarkably similar to the HD disease process. Moreover, the mutant huntingtin amino terminus is capable of recruiting into aggregates normal glutamine tract proteins, such as the amino terminal segments of both normal huntingtin and of TATA-binding protein (TBP). Our examination of in vivo aggregates from HD post-mortem brains indicates that they contain an amino terminal segment of huntingtin of between 179 and 595 residues. They also contain non-huntingtin protein, as evidenced by immunostaining for TBP. Interestingly, like the in vitro aggregates, aggregates from HD brain display Congo red staining with green birefringence characteristic of amyloid. Our data support the view that the expanded polyglutamine segment confers on huntingtin a new property that plays a determining role in HD pathogenesis and could be a target for treatment. Moreover, the new property might have its toxic consequences by interaction with one or more normal polyglutamine- containing proteins essential for the survival of target neurons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)217-233
Number of pages17
JournalSomatic Cell and Molecular Genetics
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Cell Biology


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