Kennedy's disease: caspase cleavage of the androgen receptor is a crucial event in cytotoxicity

J Neurochem. 1999 Jan;72(1):185-95. doi: 10.1046/j.1471-4159.1999.0720185.x.


X-linked spinal and bulbar muscular atrophy (SBMA), Kennedy's disease, is a degenerative disease of the motor neurons that is associated with an increase in the number of CAG repeats encoding a polyglutamine stretch within the androgen receptor (AR). Recent work has demonstrated that the gene products associated with open reading frame triplet repeat expansions may be substrates for the cysteine protease cell death executioners, the caspases. However, the role that caspase cleavage plays in the cytotoxicity associated with expression of the disease-associated alleles is unknown. Here, we report the first conclusive evidence that caspase cleavage is a critical step in cytotoxicity; the expression of the AR with an expanded polyglutamine stretch enhances its ability to induce apoptosis when compared with the normal AR. The AR is cleaved by a caspase-3 subfamily protease at Asp146, and this cleavage is increased during apoptosis. Cleavage of the AR at Asp146 is critical for the induction of apoptosis by AR, as mutation of the cleavage site blocks the ability of the AR to induce cell death. Further, mutation of the caspase cleavage site at Asp146 blocks the ability of the SBMA AR to form perinuclear aggregates. These studies define a fundamental role for caspase cleavage in the induction of neural cell death by proteins displaying expanded polyglutamine tracts, and therefore suggest a strategy that may be useful to treat neurodegenerative diseases associated with polyglutamine repeat expansions.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Carcinogens / pharmacology
  • Caspases / chemistry
  • Caspases / metabolism*
  • Catalytic Domain / genetics
  • Cell Death / physiology
  • Cell Nucleus / enzymology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytotoxins / metabolism
  • Enzyme Activation / genetics
  • Fetus / cytology
  • Gene Expression
  • Kidney / cytology
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / enzymology*
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / genetics
  • Mutagenesis / physiology
  • Neurons / chemistry
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / enzymology*
  • Peptides / metabolism
  • Receptors, Androgen / genetics
  • Receptors, Androgen / metabolism*
  • Testosterone / pharmacology
  • Transfection
  • Trinucleotide Repeats


  • Carcinogens
  • Cytotoxins
  • Peptides
  • Receptors, Androgen
  • polyglutamine
  • Testosterone
  • Caspases