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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1999 Jan 5;96(1):179-84.

Polyglutamine-mediated dysfunction and apoptotic death of a Caenorhabditis elegans sensory neuron.

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  • 1Cancer Center, Harvard Medical School, Charlestown, MA 02129, USA.


The effect of expressing human huntingtin fragments containing polyglutamine (polyQ) tracts of varying lengths was assessed in Caenorhabditis elegans ASH sensory neurons in young and old animals. Expression of a huntingtin fragment containing a polyQ tract of 150 residues (Htn-Q150) led to progressive ASH neurodegeneration but did not cause cell death. Progressive cell death and enhanced neurodegeneration were observed in ASH neurons that coexpressed Htn-Q150 and a subthreshold dose of a toxic OSM-10::green fluorescent protein (OSM-10::GFP) fusion protein. Htn-Q150 huntingtin protein fragments formed protein aggregates in ASH neurons, and the number of ASH neurons containing aggregates increased as animals aged. ASH neuronal cell death required ced-3 caspase function, indicating that the observed cell death is apoptotic. Of interest, ced-3 played a critical role in Htn-Q150-mediated neurodegeneration but not in OSM10::GFP-mediated ASH neurodegeneration. ced-3 function was important but not essential for the formation of protein aggregates. Finally, behavioral assays indicated that ASH neurons, coexpressing Htn-Q150 and OSM10::GFP, were functionally impaired at 3 days before the detection of neurodegeneration, cell death, and protein aggregates.

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