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Effects of flanking sequences and cellular context on subcellular behavior and pathology of mutant HTT


Huntington's disease (HD) is caused by an expansion of a poly glutamine (polyQ) stretch in the huntingtin protein (HTT) that is necessary to cause pathology and formation of HTT aggregates. Here we ask whether expanded polyQ is sufficient to cause pathology and aggregate formation. By addressing the sufficiency question, one can identify cellular processes and structural parameters that influence HD pathology and HTT subcellular behavior (i.e. aggregation state and subcellular location). Using Drosophila, we compare the effects of expressing mutant full-length human HTT (fl-mHTT) to the effects of mutant human HTTexon1 and to two commonly used synthetic fragments, HTT171 and shortstop (HTT118). Expanded polyQ alone is not sufficient to cause inclusion formation since full-length HTT and HTTex1 with expanded polyQ are both toxic although full-length HTT remains diffuse while HTTex1 forms inclusions. Further, inclusions are not sufficient to cause pathology since HTT171-120Q forms inclusions but is benign and co-expression of HTT171-120Q with non-aggregating pathogenic fl-mHTT recruits fl-mHTT to aggregates and rescues its pathogenicity. Additionally, the influence of sequences outside the expanded polyQ domain is revealed by finding that small modifications to the HTT118 or HTT171 fragments can dramatically alter their subcellular behavior and pathogenicity. Finally, mutant HTT subcellular behavior is strongly modified by different cell and tissue environments (e.g. fl-mHTT appears as diffuse nuclear in one tissue and diffuse cytoplasmic in another but toxic in both). These observations underscore the importance of cellular and structural context for the interpretation and comparison of experiments using different fragments and tissues to report the effects of expanded polyQ.

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