Huntington's disease (HD) is an autosomal dominant neurodegenerative disorder characterized behaviorally by chorea, incoordination, and shortened lifespan and neuropathologically by huntingtin inclusions and neuronal degeneration. In order to facilitate studies of pathogenesis and therapeutics, we have generated a new inducible mouse model of HD expressing full-length huntingtin (Htt) using a tetracycline-regulated promoter. In double transgenic mice Htt was expressed widely in the brain under the control of the tet-transactivator (tTA) driven by the prion promoter PrP (in the absence of doxycycline). Mice expressing full-length mutant Htt, but not full-length normal Htt, displayed a progressive behavioral phenotype, consisting of slowed and irregular voluntary movements, gait ataxia, tremor and jerky movements, incoordination, and weight loss, with a shortened lifespan. Neuropathology included prominent intranuclear inclusions in cortex and striatum as well as cytoplasmic aggregates. This phenotype is very similar to the phenotypes of previous transgenic mice expressing N-terminal fragments of mutant Htt. The current HD-transgenic mice had nuclear accumulation of Htt, particularly an approximately 60-kDa fragment, which appears to represent an N-terminal cleavage product. This fragment is smaller than calpain or caspase-derived cleavage products of Htt, but it is comparable to a product, termed cp-A, which accumulates in nuclei of cells in a previously described cell model. This new mouse model may be useful in the future for pathogenic and preclinical therapeutic studies related to HD. The data suggest that proteolytic processing could be a part of the pathogenesis of HD, potentially representing an attractive therapeutic target.
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