19 October 2001. One hypothesis for how polyglutamine (poly-Q) repeats in the
huntingtin protein might cause disease holds that they somehow perturb gene expression.
This notion is getting more traction from a paper in yesterday's Nature, which
shows not only that mutant huntingtin inhibits enzymes key to preparing genes
for transcription, but also that drugs counteracting this effect were able to
stem neurodegeneration in a fly model of Huntington's disease.
Joan Steffan, working with Leslie Thompson at University of California, Irvine,
and colleagues elsewhere, report that the poly-Q containing peptide directly
binds to the acetyltransferase domain of the proteins CREB-binding protein (CBP)
and p300/CBP-associated factor (P/CAF). Both these proteins are general transcription
factors, and they add acetyl groups to histone proteins strung around DNA like
a beaded necklace. Generally speaking, acetyl transferases increase gene transcription
and occur in a balance with opposing histone deacetylases.
The authors reasoned that if poly-Q's inhibition of histone acetylation was
pathogenic, then lowering histone deacetylation accordingly should be therapeutic.
They fed a diet laden with pharmacological histone deacetylase inhibitors to
poly-Q-expressing mutant Drosophila and found the inhibitors indeed slowed neurodegeneration
of the flies' compound eyes and increased the animals' shortened life span.
Some of the inhibitors used in this study are either FDA-approved or in phase-1
clinical trials for cancer (Marks
et al., Richon
"It seems strange that the impairment of transcription factors expressed from
early development throughout an embryo can cause adult-onset diseases that affect
only neurons. But concerns about the validity of the findings should be laid
to rest by the discovery that a polyglutamine expansion in a key transcription
factor, TBP, directly causes a nerve-cell-specific disease, spinocerebellar
ataxia 17 (Nakamura
K et al.)", writes Gillian Bates at Guy's Hospital London in an accompanying
News and Views article.-Gabrielle Strobel.
Reference:Steffan JS, Bodai L, Pallos J, Poelman M, McCampbell A, Apostol BL, Kazantsev A, Schmidt E, Zhu YZ, Greenwald M, Kurokawa R, Housman DE, Jackson GR, Marsh JL, Thompson LM. Histone deacetylase inhibitors arrest polyglutamine-dependent neurodegeneration in Drosophila. Nature. 2001 Oct 18;413(6857):739-43. Abstract