Design and characterization of mutant and wildtype huntingtin proteins produced from a toolkit of scalable eukaryotic expression systems

J Biol Chem. 2019 Apr 26;294(17):6986-7001. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA118.007204. Epub 2019 Mar 6.


The gene mutated in individuals with Huntington's disease (HD) encodes the 348-kDa huntingtin (HTT) protein. Pathogenic HD CAG-expansion mutations create a polyglutamine (polyQ) tract at the N terminus of HTT that expands above a critical threshold of ∼35 glutamine residues. The effect of these HD mutations on HTT is not well understood, in part because it is difficult to carry out biochemical, biophysical, and structural studies of this large protein. To facilitate such studies, here we have generated expression constructs for the scalable production of HTT in multiple eukaryotic expression systems. Our set of HTT expression clones comprised both N- and C-terminally FLAG-tagged HTT constructs with polyQ lengths representative of the general population, HD patients, and juvenile HD patients, as well as the more extreme polyQ expansions used in some HD tissue and animal models. Our expression system yielded milligram quantities of pure recombinant HTT protein, including many of the previously mapped post-translational modifications. We characterized both apo and HTT-HTT-associated protein 40 (HAP40) complex samples produced with this HD resource, demonstrating that this toolkit can be used to generate physiologically meaningful HTT complexes. We further demonstrate that these resources can produce sufficient material for protein-intensive experiments, such as small-angle X-ray scattering, providing biochemical insight into full-length HTT protein structure. The work outlined and the tools generated here lay a foundation for further biochemical and structural work on the HTT protein and for studying its functional interactions with other biomolecules.

Keywords: Huntington disease; biophysics; molecular dynamics; neurodegeneration; protein expression; protein purification; small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • Gene Expression*
  • Humans
  • Huntingtin Protein / genetics*
  • Huntingtin Protein / metabolism
  • Mutation*
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational
  • Spodoptera


  • HTT protein, human
  • Huntingtin Protein

Associated data

  • PDB/6ez8