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Serine residues 13 and 16 are key modulators of mutant huntingtin induced toxicity in Drosophila

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Poly-glutamine expansion near the N-terminus of the huntingtin protein (HTT) is the prime determinant of Huntington's disease (HD) pathology; however, post-translational modifications and protein context are also reported to influence poly-glutamine induced HD toxicity. The impact of phosphorylating serine 13/16 of mutant HTT (mHTT) on HD has been documented in cell culture and murine models. However, endogenous processing of the human protein in mammalian systems complicates the interpretations. Therefore, to study the impact of S13/16 phosphorylation on the subcellular behavior of HTT under a controlled genetic background with minimal proteolytic processing of the human protein, we employed Drosophila as the model system. We ectopically expressed full-length (FL) and exon1 fragment of human HTT with phosphomimetic and resistant mutations at serines 13 and 16 in different neuronal populations. Phosphomimetic mHTT aggravates and the phosphoresistant mutation ameliorates mHTT-induced toxicity in the context of both FL- and exon1- mHTT in Drosophila although in all cases FL appears less toxic than exon1. Our observations strongly indicate that the phosphorylation status of S13/16 can affect HD pathology in Drosophila and these residues can be potential targets for affecting HD pathogenesis.

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