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Curr Opin Struct Biol. 1996 Dec;6(6):848-58.

Glutamine repeats and inherited neurodegenerative diseases: molecular aspects.

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MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK.


Several dominantly inherited, late onset, neurodegenerative diseases are due to expansion of CAG repeats, leading to expansion of glutamine repeats in the affected proteins. These proteins are of very different sizes and, with one exception, show no sequence homology to known proteins or to each other; their functions are unknown. In some, the glutamine repeat starts near the N-terminus, in another near the middle and in another near the C-terminus, but regardless of these differences, no disease has been observed in individuals with fewer than 37 repeats, and absence of disease has never been found in those with more than 41 repeats. Protein constructs with more than 41 repeats are toxic to E. coli and to CHO cells in culture, and they elicit ataxia in transgenic mice. These observations argue in favour of a distinct change of structure associated with elongation beyond 37-41 glutamine repeats. The review describes experiments designed to find out what these structures might be and how they could influence the properties of the proteins of which they form part. Poly-L-glutamines form pleated sheets of beta-strands held together by hydrogen bonds between their amides. Incorporation of glutamine repeats into a small protein of known structure made it associate irreversibly into oligomers. That association took place during the folding of the protein molecules and led to their becoming firmly interlocked by either strand- or domain-swapping. Thermodynamic considerations suggest that elongation of glutamine repeats beyond a certain length may lead to a phase change from random coils to hydrogen-bonded hairpins. Possible mechanisms of expansion of CAG repeats are discussed in the light of looped DNA model structures.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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