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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Jul 18;103(29):11045-50. Epub 2006 Jul 10.

Flanking sequences profoundly alter polyglutamine toxicity in yeast.

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  • 1Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA.


Protein misfolding is the molecular basis for several human diseases. How the primary amino acid sequence triggers misfolding and determines the benign or toxic character of the misfolded protein remains largely obscure. Among proteins that misfold, polyglutamine (polyQ) expansion proteins provide an interesting case: Each causes a distinct neurodegenerative disease that selectively affects different neurons. However, all are broadly expressed and most become toxic when the glutamine expansion exceeds approximately 39 glutamine residues. The disease-causing polyQ expansion proteins differ profoundly in the amino acids flanking the polyQ region. We therefore hypothesized that these flanking sequences influence the specific toxic character of each polyQ expansion protein. Using a yeast model, we find that sequences flanking the polyQ region of human huntingtin exon I can convert a benign protein to a toxic species and vice versa. Further, we observe that flanking sequences can direct polyQ misfolding to at least two morphologically distinct types of polyQ aggregates. Very tight aggregates always are benign, whereas amorphous aggregates can be toxic. We thereby establish a previously undescribed systematic characterization of the influence of flanking amino acid sequences on polyQ toxicity.

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