Polyglutamine pathogenesis

Christopher A. Ross, Jonathan D. Wood, Gabriele Schilling, Matthew F. Peters, Frederick C. Nucifora, Jillian K. Cooper, Alan H. Sharp, Russell L. Margolis, David R. Borchelt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


An increasing number of neurodegenerative disorders have been found to be caused by expanding CAG triplet repeats that code for polyglutamine. Huntington's disease (HD) is the most common of these disorders and dentatorubral-pallidoluysian atrophy (DRPLA) is very similar to HD, but is caused by mutation in a different gene, making them good models to study. In this review, we will concentrate on the roles of protein aggregation, nuclear localization and proteolytic processing in disease pathogenesis. In cell model studies of HD, we have found that truncated N-terminal portions of huntingtin (the HD gene product) with expanded repeats form more aggregates than longer or full length huntingtin polypeptides. These shorter fragments are also more prone to aggregate in the nucleus and cause more cell toxicity. Further experiments with huntingtin constructs harbouring exogenous nuclear import and nuclear export signals have implicated the nucleus in direct cell toxicity. We have made mouse models of HD and DRPLA using an N-terminal truncation of huntingtin (N171) and full-length atrophin-1 (the DRPLA gene product), respectively. In both models, diffuse neuronal nuclear staining and nuclear inclusion bodies are observed in animals expressing the expanded glutamine repeat protein, further implicating the nucleus as a primary site of neuronal dysfunction. Neuritic pathology is also observed in the HD mice. In the DRPLA mouse model, we have found that truncated fragments of atrophin-1 containing the glutamine repeat accumulate in the nucleus, suggesting that proteolysis may be critical for disease progression. Taken together, these data lead towards a model whereby proteolytic processing, nuclear localization and protein aggregation all contribute to pathogenesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1005-1011
Number of pages7
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1386
StatePublished - Jun 29 1999


  • Dentatorubral-pallidoluysian atrophy
  • Huntington's disease
  • Neuronal toxicity
  • Transgenic mouse models

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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