N-terminal Huntingtin Knock-In Mice: Implications of Removing the N-terminal Region of Huntingtin for Therapy

Xudong Liu, etc
PLoS Genetics, 2016

The Huntington’s disease (HD) protein, huntingtin (HTT), is a large protein consisting of 3144 amino acids and has conserved N-terminal sequences that are followed by a polyglutamine (polyQ) repeat. Loss of Htt is known to cause embryonic lethality in mice, whereas polyQ expansion leads to adult neuronal degeneration. Whether N-terminal HTT is essential for neuronal development or contributes only to late-onset neurodegeneration remains unknown. We established HTT knock-in mice (N160Q-KI) expressing the first 208 amino acids of HTT with 160Q, and they show age-dependent HTT aggregates in the brain and neurological phenotypes. Importantly, the N-terminal mutant HTT also preferentially accumulates in the striatum, the brain region most affected in HD, indicating the importance of N-terminal HTT in selective neuropathology. That said, homozygous N160Q-KI mice are also embryonic lethal, suggesting that N-terminal HTT alone is unable to support embryonic development. Using Htt knockout neurons, we found that loss of Htt selectively affects the survival of developing neuronal cells, but not astrocytes, in culture. This neuronal degeneration could be rescued by a truncated HTT lacking the first 237 amino acids, but not by N-terminal HTT (1–208 amino acids). Also, the rescue effect depends on the region in HTT known to be involved in intracellular trafficking. Thus, the N-terminal HTT region may not be essential for the survival of developing neurons, but when carrying a large polyQ repeat, can cause selective neuropathology. These findings imply a possible therapeutic benefit of removing the N-terminal region of HTT containing the polyQ repeat to treat the neurodegeneration in HD.

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PLoS Genetics
Emory / Chinese Academy of Science