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PLoS One. 2013 Aug 13;8(8):e72698. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0072698. eCollection 2013.

Functions of huntingtin in germ layer specification and organogenesis.

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Roslyn and Leslie Goldstein Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York, USA.

Erratum in

  • PLoS One. 2013;8(9). doi:10.1371/annotation/edee8dfa-6b2a-44f4-866a-098f186e27f0.


Huntington's disease (HD) is a neurodegenerative disease caused by abnormal polyglutamine expansion in the huntingtin protein (Htt). Although both Htt and the HD pathogenic mutation (mHtt) are implicated in early developmental events, their individual involvement has not been adequately explored. In order to better define the developmental functions and pathological consequences of the normal and mutant proteins, respectively, we employed embryonic stem cell (ESC) expansion, differentiation and induction experiments using huntingtin knock-out (KO) and mutant huntingtin knock-in (Q111) mouse ESC lines. In KO ESCs, we observed impairments in the spontaneous specification and survival of ectodermal and mesodermal lineages during embryoid body formation and under inductive conditions using retinoic acid and Wnt3A, respectively. Ablation of BAX improves cell survival, but failed to correct defects in germ layer specification. In addition, we observed ensuing impairments in the specification and maturation of neural, hepatic, pancreatic and cardiomyocyte lineages. These developmental deficits occurred in concert with alterations in Notch, Hes1 and STAT3 signaling pathways. Moreover, in Q111 ESCs, we observed differential developmental stage-specific alterations in lineage specification and maturation. We also observed changes in Notch/STAT3 expression and activation. Our observations underscore essential roles of Htt in the specification of ectoderm, endoderm and mesoderm, in the specification of neural and non-neural organ-specific lineages, as well as cell survival during early embryogenesis. Remarkably, these developmental events are differentially deregulated by mHtt, raising the possibility that HD-associated early developmental impairments may contribute not only to region-specific neurodegeneration, but also to non-neural co-morbidities.

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