Background: Huntington's disease (HD) is an autosomal dominant neurodegenerative disease that is caused by the expansion of a polyglutamine (polyQ) stretch within Huntingtin (htt), the protein product of the HD gene. Although studies in vitro have suggested that the mutant htt can act in a potentially dominant negative fashion by sequestering wild-type htt into insoluble protein aggregates, the role of the length of the normal htt polyQ stretch, and the adjacent proline-rich region (PRR) in modulating HD mouse model pathogenesis is currently unknown.
Results: We describe the generation and characterization of a series of knock-in HD mouse models that express versions of the mouse HD gene (Hdh) encoding N-terminal hemaglutinin (HA) or 3xFlag epitope tagged full-length htt with different polyQ lengths (HA7Q-, 3xFlag7Q-, 3xFlag20Q-, and 3xFlag140Q-htt) and substitution of the adjacent mouse PRR with the human PRR (3xFlag20Q- and 3xFlag140Q-htt). Using co-immunoprecipitation and immunohistochemistry analyses, we detect no significant interaction between soluble full-length normal 7Q- htt and mutant (140Q) htt, but we do observe N-terminal fragments of epitope-tagged normal htt in mutant htt aggregates. When the sequences encoding normal mouse htt's polyQ stretch and PRR are replaced with non-pathogenic human sequence in mice also expressing 140Q-htt, aggregation foci within the striatum, and the mean size of htt inclusions are increased, along with an increase in striatal lipofuscin and gliosis.
Conclusion: In mice, soluble full-length normal and mutant htt are predominantly monomeric. In heterozygous knock-in HD mouse models, substituting the normal mouse polyQ and PRR with normal human sequence can exacerbate some neuropathological phenotypes.