Wild-type and mutant huntingtins function in vesicle trafficking in the secretory and endocytic pathways

Exp Neurol. 1998 Jul;152(1):34-40. doi: 10.1006/exnr.1998.6832.


Huntingtin is a cytoplasmic protein that is found in neurons and somatic cells. In patients with Huntington's disease (HD), the NH2-terminal region of huntingtin has an expanded polyglutamine tract. An abnormal protein interaction by mutant huntingtin has been proposed as a mechanism for HD pathogenesis. Huntingtin associates with vesicle membranes and interacts with proteins involved in vesicle trafficking. It is unclear where along vesicle transport pathways wild-type and mutant huntingtins are found and whether polyglutamine expansion affects this localization. To distinguish wild-type and mutant huntingtin, fibroblasts from normals and HD patients with two mutant alleles (homozygotes) were examined. Immunofluorescence confocal microscopy showed that mutant huntingtin localized with clathrin in membranes of the trans Golgi network and in clathrin-coated and noncoated endosomal vesicles in the cytoplasm and along plasma membranes. Separation of organelles in Nycodenz gradients showed that in normal and HD homozygote patient cells, huntingtin was present in membrane fractions enriched in clathrin. Similar results were obtained in fibroblasts from heterozyote juvenile HD patients who had a highly expanded polyglutamine tract in the HD allele. Western blot analysis of membrane fractions from rat brain showed that wild-type huntingtin was present in fractions that contained purified clathrin-coated membranes or a mixture of clathrin-coated and noncoated membranes. Electron microscopy of huntingtin immunoreactivity in rat brain revealed labeling along dendritic plasma membranes in association with clathrin-coated pits and clusters of noncoated endosomal vesicles 40-60 nm in diameter. These data suggest that wild-type and mutant huntingtin can influence vesicle transport in the secretory and endocytic pathways through associations with clathrin-coated vesicles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Animals
  • Blotting, Western
  • Brain Chemistry / genetics
  • Brain Chemistry / physiology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Clathrin / metabolism
  • Endocytosis / physiology*
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Huntingtin Protein
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Mutation / physiology
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism*
  • Nuclear Proteins / genetics
  • Nuclear Proteins / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Subcellular Fractions / metabolism
  • Synaptic Vesicles / physiology*


  • Clathrin
  • HTT protein, human
  • Htt protein, rat
  • Huntingtin Protein
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Nuclear Proteins