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J Neural Transm (Vienna). 2010 Jan;117(1):77-83. doi: 10.1007/s00702-009-0328-4. Epub 2009 Oct 16.

Abnormal morphology of peripheral cell tissues from patients with Huntington disease.

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Neurogenetics Unit, IRCCS Neuromed and Centre for Rare Diseases, Località Camerelle, 86077, Pozzilli (IS), Italy.


We investigated the genotype-dependency of morphological abnormalities in peripheral cells from Huntington disease (HD) patients. Cell cultures derived from skin and muscle biopsies showed a different set of abnormalities depending on the genotype (i.e. heterozygous and homozygous for CAG mutations) and the tissue (i.e. fibroblasts and myoblasts). In general, homozygotes' cell lines showed massive ultrastructural damage of specific cell organelles compared with age matched control. These consist of vacuolization, deranged crests and matrix found within giant mitochondria. In addition, enlarged endoplasmic reticulum and the occurrence of numerous autophagic vacuoles, which were similar to those occurring in neurons within affected brain areas, were described. Despite a comparable dose-dependency on mitochondrial changes, this kind of alterations differ in fibroblasts compared with myoblasts. In fact, the internal mitochondrial structure was merely lost in myoblasts, while it shows pathological re-organization within fibroblasts, where altered crests appear as multilamellar circles. These data indicate that ultrastructural abnormalities from peripheral tissues of HD patients can be used as potential disease markers which are easier to get than autoptic brains. Moreover, the occurrence of ultrastructural cell pathology reminiscent of neuronal degeneration in HD, suggests the use of human peripheral cells as a tool to investigate the pathogenic cascade subsequent to huntingtin dysregulation.

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