Recent insights into the molecular pathogenesis of Huntington disease

Semin Neurol. 1999;19(4):385-95. doi: 10.1055/s-2008-1040853.


Huntington disease (HD) is a neurodegenerative disorder caused by a CAG repeat expansion in the HD gene resulting in expression of an uninterrupted polyglutamine stretch within the N-terminus of its protein product huntingtin (htt). In this article we review the clinical, genetic, and neuropathological features of HD and discuss recent insights into the pathogenesis of HD. Examining the role of CAG repeat size on age of onset and penetrance in HD using a refined database of human HD patients has provided further support for the importance of the CAG repeat in the pathogenesis of HD and information leading to a predictive model for the likelihood of being affected by a specific age for a particular CAG expansion. In a YAC transgenic mouse model that replicates key elements of the HD phenotype, the development of selective striatal neurodegeneration is coincident with cleavage of htt and translocation of the N-terminal htt fragment into the nucleus. We also review in vitro evidence that htt is a substrate for cleavage by a group of cysteine proteases involved in apoptotic death-the caspases, and that caspase cleavage of htt results in the generation of a toxic N-terminal fragment. Inhibiting caspase cleavage of huntingtin eliminates the toxicity of the mutant htt protein. These results suggest that cleavage of huntingtin resulting in production of a truncated N-terminal fragment may be a crucial step in the pathogenesis of Huntington disease and that inhibition of this process may be a potential therapeutic strategy for this currently untreatable disorder.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caspase Inhibitors
  • Caspases / physiology
  • Chromosomes, Artificial, Yeast / genetics
  • Databases as Topic
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Huntington Disease / genetics*
  • Huntington Disease / physiopathology
  • Huntington Disease / therapy
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic / genetics
  • Neurology / trends*


  • Caspase Inhibitors
  • Caspases