The microtubule motor cytoplasmic dynein and its activator dynactin drive vesicular transport and mitotic spindle organization. Dynactin is ubiquitously expressed in eukaryotes, but a G59S mutation in the p150Glued subunit of dynactin results in the specific degeneration of motor neurons. This mutation in the conserved cytoskeleton-associated protein, glycine-rich (CAP-Gly) domain lowers the affinity of p150Glued for microtubules and EB1. Cell lines from patients are morphologically normal but show delayed recovery after nocodazole treatment, consistent with a subtle disruption of dynein/dynactin function. The G59S mutation disrupts the folding of the CAP-Gly domain, resulting in aggregation of the p150Glued protein both in vitro and in vivo, which is accompanied by an increase in cell death in a motor neuron cell line. Overexpression of the chaperone Hsp70 inhibits aggregate formation and prevents cell death. These data support a model in which a point mutation in p150Glued causes both loss of dynein/dynactin function and gain of toxic function, which together lead to motor neuron cell death.