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PLoS Comput Biol. 2010 Sep 23;6(9). pii: e1000944. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000944.

Experimental and computational analysis of polyglutamine-mediated cytotoxicity.

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Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.


Expanded polyglutamine (polyQ) proteins are known to be the causative agents of a number of human neurodegenerative diseases but the molecular basis of their cytoxicity is still poorly understood. PolyQ tracts may impede the activity of the proteasome, and evidence from single cell imaging suggests that the sequestration of polyQ into inclusion bodies can reduce the proteasomal burden and promote cell survival, at least in the short term. The presence of misfolded protein also leads to activation of stress kinases such as p38MAPK, which can be cytotoxic. The relationships of these systems are not well understood. We have used fluorescent reporter systems imaged in living cells, and stochastic computer modeling to explore the relationships of polyQ, p38MAPK activation, generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), proteasome inhibition, and inclusion body formation. In cells expressing a polyQ protein inclusion, body formation was preceded by proteasome inhibition but cytotoxicity was greatly reduced by administration of a p38MAPK inhibitor. Computer simulations suggested that without the generation of ROS, the proteasome inhibition and activation of p38MAPK would have significantly reduced toxicity. Our data suggest a vicious cycle of stress kinase activation and proteasome inhibition that is ultimately lethal to cells. There was close agreement between experimental data and the predictions of a stochastic computer model, supporting a central role for proteasome inhibition and p38MAPK activation in inclusion body formation and ROS-mediated cell death.

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