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Open Access Research article

Reversal of a full-length mutant huntingtin neuronal cell phenotype by chemical inhibitors of polyglutamine-mediated aggregation

Jin Wang1, Silvia Gines12, Marcy E MacDonald1 and James F Gusella13*

Author Affiliations

1 Molecular Neurogenetics Unit, Center for Human Genetic Research, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston MA 02129, USA

2 Departament de Biologia Cellular i Anatomia Patològica, Facultat de Medicina, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona 08036, Spain

3 Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Boston MA 02115, USA

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BMC Neuroscience 2005, 6:1  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-6-1

Published: 13 January 2005

Abstract

Background

Huntington's disease (HD) is an inherited neurodegenerative disorder triggered by an expanded polyglutamine tract in huntingtin that is thought to confer a new conformational property on this large protein. The propensity of small amino-terminal fragments with mutant, but not wild-type, glutamine tracts to self-aggregate is consistent with an altered conformation but such fragments occur relatively late in the disease process in human patients and mouse models expressing full-length mutant protein. This suggests that the altered conformational property may act within the full-length mutant huntingtin to initially trigger pathogenesis. Indeed, genotype-phenotype studies in HD have defined genetic criteria for the disease initiating mechanism, and these are all fulfilled by phenotypes associated with expression of full-length mutant huntingtin, but not amino-terminal fragment, in mouse models. As the in vitro aggregation of amino-terminal mutant huntingtin fragment offers a ready assay to identify small compounds that interfere with the conformation of the polyglutamine tract, we have identified a number of aggregation inhibitors, and tested whether these are also capable of reversing a phenotype caused by endogenous expression of mutant huntingtin in a striatal cell line from the HdhQ111/Q111 knock-in mouse.

Results

We screened the NINDS Custom Collection of 1,040 FDA approved drugs and bioactive compounds for their ability to prevent in vitro aggregation of Q58-htn 1–171 amino terminal fragment. Ten compounds were identified that inhibited aggregation with IC50 < 15 μM, including gossypol, gambogic acid, juglone, celastrol, sanguinarine and anthralin. Of these, both juglone and celastrol were effective in reversing the abnormal cellular localization of full-length mutant huntingtin observed in mutant HdhQ111/Q111 striatal cells.

Conclusions

At least some compounds identified as aggregation inhibitors also prevent a neuronal cellular phenotype caused by full-length mutant huntingtin, suggesting that in vitro fragment aggregation can act as a proxy for monitoring the disease-producing conformational property in HD. Thus, identification and testing of compounds that alter in vitro aggregation is a viable approach for defining potential therapeutic compounds that may act on the deleterious conformational property of full-length mutant huntingtin.