Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Pitt researchers describe molecular '2-step' leading to protein clumps of Huntington's disease

In a paper published in the early online version of Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine deconstruct the first steps in an intricate molecular dance that might lead to the formation of pathogenic protein clumps in Huntington's disease, and possibly other movement-related neurological disorders.

Huntington's is one of 10 diseases in which a certain protein, different for each disease, contains polyglutamine, a stretch of repeating blocks of the amino acid glutamine, explained Ronald Wetzel, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Structural Biology and member of the Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The affected protein in Huntington's disease is called huntingtin.

Most people have a huntingtin protein whose polyglutamine segment contains 20 or so glutamines, and even a polyglutamine with as many as 35 repeats may not cause Huntington's symptoms. But the risk of developing Huntington's disease rises sharply in individuals whose polyglutamine sequences are only slightly larger. A block of 40 repeats, for example, is associated with a very high likelihood of having the disease.

"To a protein chemist, this is a fascinating situation," Dr. Wetzel said. "Polyglutamine doesn't seem to play a sophisticated role in these proteins, and it doesn't have a defined structure. Yet by changing its length to only a very slight extent, it takes on some new physical properties that somehow initiate diseases."

One consequence of the lengthening is protein aggregation, or clumping, a feature that consistently appears in brain cells of patients who have one of these neurodegenerative diseases. Many research groups, including Dr. Wetzel's, study how polyglutamine expansion alters the huntingtin protein's behavior.

In its most recent studies, the Pitt team worked out the details of how the aggregation behavior of huntingtin depends, in a surprisingly intricate way, on the neighboring segments of amino acid sequence flanking the polyglutamine.

They found that longer polyglutamine sequences have the ability to disrupt the structure of a neighboring region, 17 amino acids long, at the beginning of the protein known as the N-terminus. That sets the stage for new physical interactions with the rest of the huntingtin protein that drive it to aggregate.

"If the N-terminus is not there, huntingtin makes clumps very slowly, even if the polyglutamine stretch is rather long," Dr. Wetzel noted. "When the N-terminus is disrupted by its polyglutamine neighbor, it takes a lead role in the aggregation process, with the polyglutamine then following to consolidate and stabilize the clumps – a kind of 'aggregation two-step'."

The choreography might be similar in other polyglutamine diseases, meaning physical disruption of neighboring regions may influence the tendency for the protein to clump, he added. More research is needed to establish whether the aggregates cause disease or are merely a marker for it, and to try to develop treatments that can redirect the protein dance or perhaps halt it entirely. "For those of us interested in developing therapeutics," Dr. Wetzel notes, "the strong role played by the N-terminus in initiating aggregation gives us another possible molecular target."

Huntington's disease is an inherited disease in which progressive degeneration of certain brain neurons causes uncontrolled writhing, twisting and jerking movements, and cognitive and psychiatric problems. It was once called Huntington's "chorea", from a Greek word for dance.

Anita Srikameswaran | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>