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Concept: Huntingtin

171

A growing number of progressive heredodegenerative conditions mimic the presentation of Huntington’s disease (HD). Differentiating among these HD-like syndromes is necessary when a patient with a combination of movement disorders, cognitive decline, behavioural abnormalities and progressive disease course proves negative to the genetic testing for HD causative mutations, that is, IT15 gene trinucleotide-repeat expansion. The differential diagnosis of HD-like syndromes is complex and may lead to unnecessary and costly investigations. We propose here a guide to this differential diagnosis focusing on a limited number of clinical features (‘red flags’) that can be identified through accurate clinical examination, collection of historical data and a few routine ancillary investigations. These features include the ethnic background of the patient, the involvement of the facio-bucco-lingual and cervical district by the movement disorder, the co-occurrence of cerebellar features and seizures, the presence of peculiar gait patterns and eye movement abnormalities, and an atypical progression of illness. Additional help may derive from the cognitive-behavioural presentation of the patient, as well as by a restricted number of ancillary investigations, mainly MRI and routine blood tests. These red flags should be constantly updated as the phenotypic characterisation and identification of more reliable diagnostic markers for HD-like syndromes progress over the following years.

Concepts: Gene, Genetic disorder, Medical terms, Medical diagnosis, Huntington's disease, Presentation of Mary, Differential diagnosis, Huntingtin

169

Huntington’s disease (HD) is a neuropsychiatric disorder characterized by choreiform movement of the limbs, cognitive disability, psychosis and dementia. It is invariably associated with an abnormally long CAG expansion within the IT15 gene on human chromosome 4. Although the mutant huntingtin protein is ubiquitously expressed in HD patients, cellular degeneration occurs predominantly in neurons within the corpus striatum and cerebral cortex. The Ras homolog Rhes is expressed very selectively in the precise brain areas affected by HD. Recent in vitro work suggests that Rhes may be a co-factor with mutant huntingtin in cell death. The objective of the present study was to examine whether the inhibition of Rhes would attenuate or delay the symptoms of HD in vivo. We used a transgenic mouse model of HD crossed with Rhes knockout mice to show that the behavioral symptoms of HD are regulated by Rhes. HD(+)/Rhes(-/-) mice showed significantly delayed expression of HD-like symptoms in this in vivo model. Drugs that block or inhibit the actions of Rhes may be useful as the first treatments for HD.

Concepts: Gene, Gene expression, Chromosome, Cerebral cortex, Cerebrum, Huntington's disease, Huntingtin, Chromosome 4

169

The identities of toxic aggregate species in Huntington’s disease pathogenesis remain ambiguous. While polyQ-expanded huntingtin (Htt) is known to accumulate in compact inclusion bodies inside neurons, this is widely thought to be a protective coping response that sequesters misfolded conformations or aggregated states of the mutated protein. To define the spatial distributions of fluorescently-labeled Htt-exon1 species in the cell model PC12m, we employed highly sensitive single-molecule super-resolution fluorescence imaging. In addition to inclusion bodies and the diffuse pool of monomers and oligomers, fibrillar aggregates ~100 nm in diameter and up to ~1-2 µm in length were observed for pathogenic polyQ tracts (46 and 97 repeats) after targeted photo-bleaching of the inclusion bodies. These short structures bear a striking resemblance to fibers described in vitro. Definition of the diverse Htt structures in cells will provide an avenue to link the impact of therapeutic agents to aggregate populations and morphologies.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Aggregate, Oligomer, Huntington's disease, Huntingtin, Trinucleotide repeat disorder

81

Huntington’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder caused by a polyglutamine repeat in the Huntingtin gene (HTT). Although suppressing the expression of mutant HTT (mHTT) has been explored as a therapeutic strategy to treat Huntington’s disease, considerable efforts have gone into developing allele-specific suppression of mHTT expression, given that loss of Htt in mice can lead to embryonic lethality. It remains unknown whether depletion of HTT in the adult brain, regardless of its allele, could be a safe therapy. Here, we report that permanent suppression of endogenous mHTT expression in the striatum of mHTT-expressing mice (HD140Q-knockin mice) using CRISPR/Cas9-mediated inactivation effectively depleted HTT aggregates and attenuated early neuropathology. The reduction of mHTT expression in striatal neuronal cells in adult HD140Q-knockin mice did not affect viability, but alleviated motor deficits. Our studies suggest that non-allele-specific CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene editing could be used to efficiently and permanently eliminate polyglutamine expansion-mediated neuronal toxicity in the adult brain.

Concepts: Medicine, Neuron, Gene, Neurology, Neurodegenerative disorders, Striatum, Huntington's disease, Huntingtin

32

The primary cause of Huntington’s disease (HD) is expression of huntingtin with a polyglutamine expansion. Despite an absence of consensus on the mechanism(s) of toxicity, diminishing the synthesis of mutant huntingtin will abate toxicity if delivered to the key affected cells. With antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) that catalyze RNase H-mediated degradation of huntingtin mRNA, we demonstrate that transient infusion into the cerebrospinal fluid of symptomatic HD mouse models not only delays disease progression but mediates a sustained reversal of disease phenotype that persists longer than the huntingtin knockdown. Reduction of wild-type huntingtin, along with mutant huntingtin, produces the same sustained disease reversal. Similar ASO infusion into nonhuman primates is shown to effectively lower huntingtin in many brain regions targeted by HD pathology. Rather than requiring continuous treatment, our findings establish a therapeutic strategy for sustained HD disease reversal produced by transient ASO-mediated diminution of huntingtin synthesis.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetic disorder, RNA, Cerebrospinal fluid, Huntington's disease, Huntingtin, Polyglutamine tract

17

Huntington’s disease (HD) is an inherited neurodegenerative disease caused by a CAG expansion in the HTT gene. Using yeast two-hybrid methods, we identified a large set of proteins that interact with huntingtin (HTT) interacting proteins. This network, comprised of HTT interacting proteins (HIPs) and proteins interacting with these primary nodes, contains 3,235 interactions among 2,141 highly interconnected proteins. Analysis of functional annotations of these proteins indicates that primary and secondary HIPs are enriched in pathways implicated in HD, including mTOR, Rho GTPase signaling and oxidative stress response. To validate roles for HIPs in mutant HTT toxicity, we show that the Rho GTPase signaling components, BAIAP2, EZR, PIK3R1, PAK2 and RAC1 are modifiers of mutant HTT toxicity. We also demonstrate that Htt co-localizes with BAIAP2 in filopodia and that mutant HTT interferes with filopodial dynamics. These data indicate that HTT is involved directly in membrane dynamics, cell attachment and motility. Furthermore, they implicate dysregulation in these pathways as pathological mechanisms in HD.

Concepts: Protein, Gene, Signal transduction, Cell biology, Interaction, Neurodegenerative disorders, Huntington's disease, Huntingtin

15

Huntington’s disease (HD) is a progressive and fatal neurodegenerative disorder caused by an expanded CAG repeat in the huntingtin gene. Although HD is monogenic, its molecular manifestation appears highly complex and involves multiple cellular processes. The recent application of high throughput platforms such as microarrays and mass-spectrometry has indicated multiple pathogenic routes. The massive data generated by these techniques together with the complexity of the pathogenesis, however, pose considerable challenges to researchers. Network-based methods can provide valuable tools to consolidate newly generated data with existing knowledge, and to decipher the interwoven molecular mechanisms underlying HD. To facilitate research on HD in a network-oriented manner, we have developed HDNetDB, a database that integrates molecular interactions with many HD-relevant datasets. It allows users to obtain, visualize and prioritize molecular interaction networks using HD-relevant gene expression, phenotypic and other types of data obtained from human samples or model organisms. We illustrated several HDNetDB functionalities through a case study and identified proteins that constitute potential cross-talk between HD and the unfolded protein response (UPR). HDNetDB is publicly accessible at http://hdnetdb.sysbiolab.eu .

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Cell, Bacteria, Molecular biology, Huntington's disease, Huntingtin

13

Quantitation of huntingtin protein in the brain is needed, both as a marker of Huntington disease (HD) progression and for use in clinical gene silencing trials. Measurement of huntingtin in cerebrospinal fluid could be a biomarker of brain huntingtin, but traditional protein quantitation methods have failed to detect huntingtin in cerebrospinal fluid. Using micro-bead based immunoprecipitation and flow cytometry (IP-FCM), we have developed a highly sensitive mutant huntingtin detection assay. The sensitivity of huntingtin IP-FCM enables accurate detection of mutant huntingtin protein in the cerebrospinal fluid of HD patients and model mice, demonstrating that mutant huntingtin levels in cerebrospinal fluid reflect brain levels, increasing with disease stage and decreasing following brain huntingtin suppression. This technique has potential applications as a research tool and as a clinical biomarker.

Concepts: Medicine, Gene, Brain, Basal ganglia, Flow cytometry, Cerebrospinal fluid, Huntington's disease, Huntingtin

13

Histone deacetylase (HDAC) 4 is a transcriptional repressor that contains a glutamine-rich domain. We hypothesised that it may be involved in the molecular pathogenesis of Huntington’s disease (HD), a protein-folding neurodegenerative disorder caused by an aggregation-prone polyglutamine expansion in the huntingtin protein. We found that HDAC4 associates with huntingtin in a polyglutamine-length-dependent manner and co-localises with cytoplasmic inclusions. We show that HDAC4 reduction delayed cytoplasmic aggregate formation, restored Bdnf transcript levels, and rescued neuronal and cortico-striatal synaptic function in HD mouse models. This was accompanied by an improvement in motor coordination, neurological phenotypes, and increased lifespan. Surprisingly, HDAC4 reduction had no effect on global transcriptional dysfunction and did not modulate nuclear huntingtin aggregation. Our results define a crucial role for the cytoplasmic aggregation process in the molecular pathology of HD. HDAC4 reduction presents a novel strategy for targeting huntingtin aggregation, which may be amenable to small-molecule therapeutics.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Histone deacetylase, Neurology, Neurodegenerative disorders, Huntington's disease, Huntingtin

10

Huntington disease (HD) is a neurodegenerative disorder caused by a CAG expansion within the huntingtin gene that encodes a polymorphic glutamine tract at the amino terminus of the huntingtin protein. HD is one of nine polyglutamine expansion diseases. The clinical threshold of polyglutamine expansion for HD is near 37 repeats, but the mechanism of this pathogenic length is poorly understood. Using Förster resonance energy transfer, we describe an intramolecular proximity between the N17 domain and the downstream polyproline region that flanks the polyglutamine tract of huntingtin. Our data support the hypothesis that the polyglutamine tract can act as a flexible domain, allowing the flanking domains to come into close spatial proximity. This flexibility is impaired with expanded polyglutamine tracts, and we can detect changes in huntingtin conformation at the pathogenic threshold for HD. Altering the structure of N17, either via phosphomimicry or with small molecules, also affects the proximity between the flanking domains. The structural capacity of N17 to fold back toward distal regions within huntingtin requires an interacting protein, protein kinase C and casein kinase 2 substrate in neurons 1 (PACSIN1). This protein has the ability to bind both N17 and the polyproline region, stabilizing the interaction between these two domains. We also developed an antibody-based FRET assay that can detect conformational changes within endogenous huntingtin in wild-type versus HD fibroblasts. Therefore, we hypothesize that wild-type length polyglutamine tracts within huntingtin can form a flexible domain that is essential for proper functional intramolecular proximity, conformations, and dynamics.

Concepts: Proteins, Signal transduction, Protein kinase, Huntington's disease, Protein kinases, Huntingtin, Polyglutamine tract, PACSIN1