Serine 421 regulates mutant huntingtin toxicity and clearance in mice

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Abstract

Huntington’s disease (HD) is a progressive, adult-onset neurodegenerative disease caused by a polyglutamine (polyQ) expansion in the N-terminal region of the protein huntingtin (HTT). There are no cures or disease-modifying therapies for HD. HTT has a highly conserved Akt phosphorylation site at serine 421, and prior work in HD models found that phosphorylation at S421 (S421-P) diminishes the toxicity of mutant HTT (mHTT) fragments in neuronal cultures. However, whether S421-P affects the toxicity of mHTT in vivo remains unknown. In this work, we used murine models to investigate the role of S421-P in HTT-induced neurodegeneration. Specifically, we mutated the human mHTT gene within a BAC to express either an aspartic acid or an alanine at position 421, mimicking tonic phosphorylation (mHTT-S421D mice) or preventing phosphorylation (mHTT-S421A mice), respectively. Mimicking HTT phosphorylation strongly ameliorated mHTT-induced behavioral dysfunction and striatal neurodegeneration, whereas neuronal dysfunction persisted when S421 phosphorylation was blocked. We found that S421 phosphorylation mitigates neurodegeneration by increasing proteasome-dependent turnover of mHTT and reducing the presence of a toxic mHTT conformer. These data indicate that S421 is a potent modifier of mHTT toxicity and offer in vivo validation for S421 as a therapeutic target in HD.

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