The mechanisms by which mutant huntingtin induces neurodegeneration were investigated using a cellular model that recapitulates features of neurodegeneration seen in Huntington's disease. When transfected into cultured striatal neurons, mutant huntingtin induces neurodegeneration by an apoptotic mechanism. Antiapoptotic compounds or neurotrophic factors protected neurons against mutant huntingtin. Blocking nuclear localization of mutant huntingtin suppressed its ability to form intranuclear inclusions and to induce neurodegeneration. However, the presence of inclusions did not correlate with huntingtin-induced death. The exposure of mutant huntingtin-transfected striatal neurons to conditions that suppress the formation of inclusions resulted in an increase in mutant huntingtin-induced death. These findings suggest that mutant huntingtin acts within the nucleus to induce neurodegeneration. However, intranuclear inclusions may reflect a cellular mechanism to protect against huntingtin-induced cell death.