Huntington's disease (HD) is caused by a polyglutamine expansion in the Huntingtin (Htt) protein. Proteolytic cleavage of Htt into toxic N-terminal fragments is believed to be a key aspect of pathogenesis. The best characterized putative cleavage event is at amino acid 586, hypothesized to be mediated by caspase 6.Acorollary of the caspase 6 cleavage hypothesis is that the caspase 6 fragment should be a toxic fragment. To test this hypothesis, and further characterize the role of this fragment, we have generated transgenic mice expressing the N-terminal 586 aa of Htt with a polyglutamine repeat length of 82 (N586-82Q), under the control of the prion promoter. N586-82Q mice show a clear progressive rotarod deficit by 4 months of age, and are hyperactive starting at 5 months, later changing to hypoactivity before early mortality.MRIstudies reveal widespread brain atrophy, and histologic studies demonstrate an abundance of Htt aggregates, mostly cytoplasmic, which are predominantly composed of the N586-82Q polypeptide. Smaller soluble N-terminal fragments appear to accumulate over time, peaking at 4 months, and are predominantly found in the nuclear fraction. This model appears to have a phenotype more severe than current full-length Htt models, but less severe than HD mouse models expressing shorter Htt fragments. These studies suggest that the caspase 6 fragment may be a transient intermediate, that fragment size is a factor contributing to the rate of disease progression, and that short soluble nuclear fragments may be most relevant to pathogenesis.
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