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Am J Hum Genet. 2001 Feb;68(2):313-24. Epub 2000 Dec 20.

Wild-type huntingtin reduces the cellular toxicity of mutant huntingtin in vivo.

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Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V5Z 4H4.


We have developed yeast artificial chromosome (YAC) transgenic mice expressing normal (YAC18) and mutant (YAC46 or YAC72) human huntingtin (htt), in a developmental- and tissue-specific manner, that is identical to endogenous htt. YAC72 mice develop selective degeneration of medium spiny projection neurons in the lateral striatum, similar to what is observed in Huntington disease. Mutant human htt expressed by YAC transgenes can compensate for the absence of endogenous htt and can rescue the embryonic lethality that characterizes mice homozygous for targeted disruption of the endogenous Hdh gene (-/-). YAC72 mice lacking endogenous htt (YAC72 -/-) manifest a novel phenotype characterized by infertility, testicular atrophy, aspermia, and massive apoptotic cell death in the testes. The testicular cell death in YAC72 -/- mice can be markedly reduced by increasing endogenous htt levels. YAC72 mice with equivalent levels of both wild-type and mutant htt (YAC72 +/+) breed normally and have no evidence of increased testicular cell death. Similar findings are seen in YAC46 -/- mice compared with YAC46 +/+ mice, in which wild-type htt can completely counteract the proapoptotic effects of mutant htt. YAC18 -/- mice display no evidence of increased cellular apoptosis, even in the complete absence of endogenous htt, demonstrating that the massive cellular apoptosis observed in YAC46 -/- mice and YAC72 -/- mice is polyglutamine-mediated toxicity from the mutant transgene. These data provide the first direct in vivo evidence of a role for wild-type htt in decreasing the cellular toxicity of mutant htt.

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