Competing models exist in the literature for the relationship between mutant Huntingtin exon 1 (Httex1) inclusion formation and toxicity. In one, inclusions are adaptive by sequestering the proteotoxicity of soluble Httex1. In the other, inclusions compromise cellular activity as a result of proteome co-aggregation. Using a biosensor of Httex1 conformation in mammalian cell models, we discovered a mechanism that reconciles these competing models. Newly formed inclusions were composed of disordered Httex1 and ribonucleoproteins. As inclusions matured, Httex1 reconfigured into amyloid, and other glutamine-rich and prion domain-containing proteins were recruited. Soluble Httex1 caused a hyperpolarized mitochondrial membrane potential, increased reactive oxygen species, and promoted apoptosis. Inclusion formation triggered a collapsed mitochondrial potential, cellular quiescence, and deactivated apoptosis. We propose a revised model where sequestration of soluble Httex1 inclusions can remove the trigger for apoptosis but also co-aggregate other proteins, which curtails cellular metabolism and leads to a slow death by necrosis.
Keywords: Huntington’s disease; P bodies; RNA granule; flow cytometry; ribosome quality control; stress granule; translation.
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