Nanoscale studies link amyloid maturity with polyglutamine diseases onset.
ABSTRACT: The presence of expanded poly-glutamine (polyQ) repeats in proteins is directly linked to the pathogenesis of several neurodegenerative diseases, including Huntington's disease. However, the molecular and structural basis underlying the increased toxicity of aggregates formed by proteins containing expanded polyQ repeats remain poorly understood, in part due to the size and morphological heterogeneity of the aggregates they form in vitro. To address this knowledge gap and technical limitations, we investigated the structural, mechanical and morphological properties of fibrillar aggregates at the single molecule and nanometer scale using the first exon of the Huntingtin protein as a model system (Exon1). Our findings demonstrate a direct correlation of the morphological and mechanical properties of Exon1 aggregates with their structural organization at the single aggregate and nanometric scale and provide novel insights into the molecular and structural basis of Huntingtin Exon1 aggregation and toxicity.
Project description:In Huntington disease (HD), an expanded polyglutamine (polyQ?>?37) sequence within huntingtin (htt) exon1 leads to enhanced disease risk. It has proved difficult, however, to determine whether the toxic form generated by polyQ expansion is a misfolded or avid-binding monomer, an ?-helix-rich oligomer, or a ?-sheet-rich amyloid fibril. Here we describe an engineered htt exon1 analog featuring a short polyQ sequence that nonetheless quickly forms amyloid fibrils and causes HD-like toxicity in rat neurons and Drosophila. Additional modifications within the polyQ segment produce htt exon1 analogs that populate only spherical oligomers and are non-toxic in cells and flies. Furthermore, in mixture with expanded-polyQ htt exon1, the latter analogs in vitro suppress amyloid formation and promote oligomer formation, and in vivo rescue neurons and flies expressing mhtt exon1 from dysfunction and death. Thus, in our experiments, while htt exon1 toxicity tracks with aggregation propensity, it does so in spite of the toxic construct's possessing polyQ tracts well below those normally considered to be disease-associated. That is, aggregation propensity proves to be a more accurate surrogate for toxicity than is polyQ repeat length itself, strongly supporting a major toxic role for htt exon1 aggregation in HD. In addition, the results suggest that the aggregates that are most toxic in these model systems are amyloid-related. These engineered analogs are novel tools for mapping properties of polyQ self-assembly intermediates and products that should similarly be useful in the analysis of other expanded polyQ diseases. Small molecules with similar amyloid inhibitory properties might be developed into effective therapeutic agents.
Project description:Huntington's disease (HD) is an inherited neurodegenerative disease caused by abnormally long CAG-repeats in the huntingtin gene that encode an expanded polyglutamine (polyQ) domain near the N-terminus of the huntingtin (htt) protein. Expanded polyQ domains are directly correlated to disease-related htt aggregation. Htt is found highly associated with a variety of cellular and subcellular membranes that are predominantly comprised of lipids. Since cholesterol homeostasis is altered in HD, we investigated how varying cholesterol content modifies the interactions between htt and lipid membranes. A combination of Langmuir trough monolayer techniques, vesicle permeability and binding assays, and in situ atomic force microscopy were used to directly monitor the interaction of a model, synthetic htt peptide and a full-length htt-exon1 recombinant protein with model membranes comprised of total brain lipid extract (TBLE) and varying amounts of exogenously added cholesterol. As the cholesterol content of the membrane increased, the extent of htt insertion decreased. Vesicles containing extra cholesterol were resistant to htt-induced permeabilization. Morphological and mechanical changes in the bilayer associated with exposure to htt were also drastically altered by the presence of cholesterol. Disrupted regions of pure TBLE bilayers were grainy in appearance and associated with a large number of globular aggregates. In contrast, morphological changes induced by htt in bilayers enriched in cholesterol were plateau-like with a smooth appearance. Collectively, these observations suggest that the presence and amount of cholesterol in lipid membranes play a critical role in htt binding and aggregation on lipid membranes.
Project description:Expansion of the polyglutamine (polyQ) track of the Huntingtin (HTT) protein above 36 is associated with a sharply enhanced risk of Huntington's disease (HD). Although there is general agreement that HTT toxicity resides primarily in N-terminal fragments such as the HTT exon1 protein, there is no consensus on the nature of the physical states of HTT exon1 that are induced by polyQ expansion, nor on which of these states might be responsible for toxicity. One hypothesis is that polyQ expansion induces an alternative, toxic conformation in the HTT exon1 monomer. Alternative hypotheses posit that the toxic species is one of several possible aggregated states. Defining the nature of the toxic species is particularly challenging because of facile interconversion between physical states as well as challenges to identifying these states, especially in vivo. Here we describe the use of fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS) to characterize the detailed time and repeat length dependent self-association of HTT exon1-like fragments both with chemically synthesized peptides in vitro and with cell-produced proteins in extracts and in living cells. We find that, in vitro, mutant HTT exon1 peptides engage in polyQ repeat length dependent dimer and tetramer formation, followed by time dependent formation of diffusible spherical and fibrillar oligomers and finally by larger, sedimentable amyloid fibrils. For expanded polyQ HTT exon1 expressed in PC12 cells, monomers are absent, with tetramers being the smallest molecular form detected, followed in the incubation time course by small, diffusible aggregates at 6-9 hours and larger, sedimentable aggregates that begin to build up at 12 hrs. In these cell cultures, significant nuclear DNA damage appears by 6 hours, followed at later times by caspase 3 induction, mitochondrial dysfunction, and cell death. Our data thus defines limits on the sizes and concentrations of different physical states of HTT exon1 along the reaction profile in the context of emerging cellular distress. The data provide some new candidates for the toxic species and some new reservations about more well-established candidates. Compared to other known markers of HTT toxicity, nuclear DNA damage appears to be a relatively early pathological event.
Project description:Huntington disease (HD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder caused by dominant polyglutamine (polyQ) expansion within the N terminus of huntingtin (Htt) protein. Abnormal metal accumulation in the striatum of HD patients has been reported for many years, but a causative relationship has not yet been established. Furthermore, if metal is indeed involved in HD, the underlying mechanism needs to be explored. Here using a Drosophila model of HD, wherein Htt exon1 with expanded polyQ (Htt exon1-polyQ) is introduced, we show that altered expression of genes involved in copper metabolism significantly modulates the HD progression. Intervention of dietary copper levels also modifies HD phenotypes in the fly. Copper reduction to a large extent decreases the level of oligomerized and aggregated Htt. Strikingly, substitution of two potential copper-binding residues of Htt, Met8 and His82, completely dissociates the copper-intensifying toxicity of Htt exon1-polyQ. Our results therefore indicate HD entails two levels of toxicity: the copper-facilitated protein aggregation as conferred by a direct copper binding in the exon1 and the copper-independent polyQ toxicity. The existence of these two parallel pathways converging into Htt toxicity also suggests that an ideal HD therapy would be a multipronged approach that takes both these actions into consideration.
Project description:Huntington disease (HD) is a neurodegenerative disorder caused by an expansion of a polyglutamine (polyQ) domain in the N-terminal region of huntingtin (htt). PolyQ expansion above 35-40 results in disease associated with htt aggregation into inclusion bodies. It has been hypothesized that expanded polyQ domains adopt multiple potentially toxic conformations that belong to different aggregation pathways. Here, we used atomic force microscopy to analyze the effect of a panel of anti-htt antibodies (MW1-MW5, MW7, MW8, and 3B5H10) on aggregate formation and the stability of a mutant htt-exon1 fragment. Two antibodies, MW7 (polyproline-specific) and 3B5H10 (polyQ-specific), completely inhibited fibril formation and disaggregated preformed fibrils, whereas other polyQ-specific antibodies had widely varying effects on aggregation. These results suggest that expanded polyQ domains adopt multiple conformations in solution that can be readily distinguished by monoclonal antibodies, which has important implications for understanding the structural basis for polyQ toxicity and the development of intrabody-based therapeutics for HD.
Project description:Huntington's disease is caused by an abnormally long polyglutamine tract in the huntingtin protein. This leads to the generation and deposition of N-terminal exon1 fragments of the protein in intracellular aggregates. We combined electron tomography and quantitative fluorescence microscopy to analyze the structural and material properties of huntingtin exon1 assemblies in mammalian cells, in yeast, and in vitro. We found that huntingtin exon1 proteins can form reversible liquid-like assemblies, a process driven by huntingtin's polyQ tract and proline-rich region. In cells and in vitro, the liquid-like assemblies converted to solid-like assemblies with a fibrillar structure. Intracellular phase transitions of polyglutamine proteins could play a role in initiating irreversible pathological aggregation.
Project description:Proteins containing polyglutamine (polyQ) regions are found in almost all eukaryotes, albeit with various frequencies. In humans, proteins such as huntingtin (Htt) with abnormally expanded polyQ regions cause neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington's disease (HD). To study how the presence of endogenous polyQ aggregation modulates polyQ aggregation and toxicity, we expressed polyQ expanded Htt fragments (polyQ Htt) in Schizosaccharomyces pombe In stark contrast to other unicellular fungi, such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, S. pombe is uniquely devoid of proteins with more than 10 Q repeats. We found that polyQ Htt forms aggregates within S. pombe cells only with exceedingly long polyQ expansions. Surprisingly, despite the presence of polyQ Htt aggregates in both the cytoplasm and nucleus, no significant growth defect was observed in S. pombe cells. Further, PCR analysis showed that the repetitive polyQ-encoding DNA region remained constant following transformation and after multiple divisions in S. pombe, in contrast to the genetic instability of polyQ DNA sequences in other organisms. These results demonstrate that cells with a low content of polyQ or other aggregation-prone proteins can show a striking resilience with respect to polyQ toxicity and that genetic instability of repetitive DNA sequences may have played an important role in the evolutionary emergence and exclusion of polyQ expansion proteins in different organisms.Polyglutamine (polyQ) proteins encoded by repetitive CAG DNA sequences serve a variety of normal biological functions. Yet some proteins with abnormally expanded polyQ regions cause neurodegeneration through unknown mechanisms. To study how distinct cellular environments modulate polyQ aggregation and toxicity, we expressed CAG-expanded huntingtin fragments in Schizosaccharomyces pombe In stark contrast to many other eukaryotes, S. pombe is uniquely devoid of proteins containing long polyQ tracts. Our results show that S. pombe cells, despite their low content of endogenous polyQ proteins, exhibit striking and unexpected resilience with respect to polyQ toxicity and that genetic instability of repetitive DNA sequences may have played an important role in the emergence and expansion of polyQ domains in eukaryotic evolution.
Project description: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.
Project description:Repeat length disease thresholds vary among the 10 expanded polyglutamine (polyQ) repeat diseases, from about 20 to about 50 glutamine residues. The unique amino acid sequences flanking the polyQ segment are thought to contribute to these repeat length thresholds. The specific portions of the flanking sequences that modulate polyQ properties are not always clear, however. This ambiguity may be important in Huntington's disease (HD), for example, where in vitro studies of aggregation mechanisms have led to distinctly different mechanistic models. Most in vitro studies of the aggregation of the huntingtin (HTT) exon1 fragment implicated in the HD mechanism have been conducted on inexact molecules that are imprecise either on the N-terminus (recombinantly produced peptides) or on the C-terminus (chemically synthesized peptides). In this paper, we investigate the aggregation properties of chemically synthesized HTT exon1 peptides that are full-length and complete, containing both normal and expanded polyQ repeat lengths, and compare the results directly to previously investigated molecules containing truncated C-termini. The results on the full-length peptides are consistent with a two-step aggregation mechanism originally developed based on studies of the C-terminally truncated analogues. Thus, we observe relatively rapid formation of spherical oligomers containing from 100 to 600 HTT exon1 molecules and intermediate formation of short protofibril-like structures containing from 500 to 2600 molecules. In contrast to this relatively rapid assembly, mature HTT exon1 amyloid requires about one month to dissociate in vitro, which is similar to the time required for neuronal HTT exon1 aggregates to disappear in vivo after HTT production is discontinued.
Project description:Huntington's disease is caused by expansion of a polyglutamine (polyQ) repeat in the huntingtin protein. A structural basis for the apparent transition between normal and disease-causing expanded polyQ repeats of huntingtin is unknown. The "linear lattice" model proposed random-coil structures for both normal and expanded polyQ in the preaggregation state. Consistent with this model, the affinity and stoichiometry of the anti-polyQ antibody MW1 increased with the number of glutamines. An opposing "structural toxic threshold" model proposed a conformational change above the pathogenic polyQ threshold resulting in a specific toxic conformation for expanded polyQ. Support for this model was provided by the anti-polyQ antibody 3B5H10, which was reported to specifically recognize a distinct pathologic conformation of soluble expanded polyQ. To distinguish between these models, we directly compared binding of MW1 and 3B5H10 to normal and expanded polyQ repeats within huntingtin exon 1 fusion proteins. We found similar binding characteristics for both antibodies. First, both antibodies bound to normal, as well as expanded, polyQ in huntingtin exon 1 fusion proteins. Second, an expanded polyQ tract contained multiple epitopes for fragments antigen-binding (Fabs) of both antibodies, demonstrating that 3B5H10 does not recognize a single epitope specific to expanded polyQ. Finally, small-angle X-ray scattering and dynamic light scattering revealed similar binding modes for MW1 and 3B5H10 Fab-huntingtin exon 1 complexes. Together, these results support the linear lattice model for polyQ binding proteins, suggesting that the hypothesized pathologic conformation of soluble expanded polyQ is not a valid target for drug design.