Polyglutamine diseases and molecular chaperones

IUBMB Life. 2003 Jun;55(6):337-45. doi: 10.1080/1521654032000114339.


The polyglutamine diseases, a group of diseases currently thought to consist of nine inherited neurodegenerative diseases, are caused by the expansion of unstable CAG trinucleotide repeats that code for polyglutamine tracts in the responsible genes. These diseases are now recognized as being of a type with conformationally abnormal or amyloid-related proteins, and thus are called 'conformational diseases'. Recently, many studies using cell cultures and model organisms have suggested that the two major machineries for protein quality control (the molecular chaperone and the protein degradation machineries) play important roles in the pathogenesis of the polyglutamine diseases. Interestingly, molecular chaperones have been shown to behave in totally different ways in these studies, namely in suppressing as well as enhancing neurodegeneration or cell death. These apparently opposite actions of molecular chaperones suggest that a certain balance between the activities of molecular chaperones and the expression level of polyglutamine is an important determinant of the pathogenesis. In this review, we summarize recent findings on such ambiguous effects of molecular chaperones on polyglutamine diseases, and discuss possible mechanisms by which molecular chaperones, especially VCP, are involved in the pathogenesis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Molecular Chaperones / genetics
  • Molecular Chaperones / metabolism*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / genetics*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / metabolism*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / pathology
  • Neurotoxins
  • Peptides* / toxicity
  • Trinucleotide Repeats / genetics


  • Molecular Chaperones
  • Neurotoxins
  • Peptides
  • polyglutamine