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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The predominantly HEAT-like motif structure of huntingtin and its association and coincident nuclear entry with dorsal, an NF-kB/Rel/dorsal family transcription factor

Hiroki Takano and James F Gusella*

Author affiliations

Molecular Neurogenetics Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital and Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, MGH-East Building 149, 13th Street, Charlestown, Massachusetts 02129

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Citation and License

BMC Neuroscience 2002, 3:15  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-3-15

Published: 14 October 2002



Huntington's disease (HD) pathogenesis is due to an expanded polyglutamine tract in huntingtin, but the specificity of neuronal loss compared with other polyglutamine disorders also implies a role for the protein's unknown inherent function. Huntingtin is moderately conserved, with 10 HEAT repeats reported in its amino-terminal half. HD orthologues are evident in vertebrates and Drosophila, but not in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Caenorhabditis elegans or Arabidopsis thaliana, a phylogenetic profile similar to the NF-kB/Rel/dorsal family transcription factors, suggesting a potential functional relationship.


We initially tested the potential for a relationship between huntingtin and dorsal by overexpression experiments in Drosophila S2 cells. Drosophila huntingtin complexes via its carboxyl-terminal region with dorsal, and the two enter the nucleus concomitantly, partly in a lipopolysaccharide (LPS)- and Nup88-dependent manner. Similarly, in HeLa cell extracts, human huntingtin co-immunoprecipitates with NF-kB p50 but not with p105. By cross-species comparative analysis, we find that the carboxyl-terminal segment of huntingtin that mediates the association with dorsal possesses numerous HEAT-like sequences related to those in the amino-terminal segment. Thus, Drosophila and vertebrate huntingtins are composed predominantly of 28 to 36 degenerate HEAT-like repeats that span the entire protein.


Like other HEAT-repeat filled proteins, huntingtin is made up largely of degenerate HEAT-like sequences, suggesting that it may play a scaffolding role in the formation of particular protein-protein complexes. While many proteins have been implicated in complexes with the amino-terminal region of huntingtin, the NF-kB/Rel/dorsal family transcription factors merit further examination as direct or indirect interactors with huntingtin's carboxyl-terminal segment.