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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Sep 29;112(39):E5427-33. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1516217112. Epub 2015 Sep 8.

Transcellular spreading of huntingtin aggregates in the Drosophila brain.

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Laboratory of Genetics, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706


A key feature of many neurodegenerative diseases is the accumulation and subsequent aggregation of misfolded proteins. Recent studies have highlighted the transcellular propagation of protein aggregates in several major neurodegenerative diseases, although the precise mechanisms underlying this spreading and how it relates to disease pathology remain unclear. Here we use a polyglutamine-expanded form of human huntingtin (Htt) with a fluorescent tag to monitor the spreading of aggregates in the Drosophila brain in a model of Huntington's disease. Upon expression of this construct in a defined subset of neurons, we demonstrate that protein aggregates accumulate at synaptic terminals and progressively spread throughout the brain. These aggregates are internalized and accumulate within other neurons. We show that Htt aggregates cause non-cell-autonomous pathology, including loss of vulnerable neurons that can be prevented by inhibiting endocytosis in these neurons. Finally we show that the release of aggregates requires N-ethylmalemide-sensitive fusion protein 1, demonstrating that active release and uptake of Htt aggregates are important elements of spreading and disease progression.


Huntington's disease; disease model; expanded triplet repeat; neurodegeneration; transmission

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