Research ArticleNeurodegeneration

Huntingtin promotes mTORC1 signaling in the pathogenesis of Huntington’s disease

Sci. Signal.  28 Oct 2014:
Vol. 7, Issue 349, pp. ra103
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.2005633

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Abstract

In patients with Huntington’s disease (HD), the protein huntingtin (Htt) has an expanded polyglutamine (poly-Q) tract. HD results in early loss of medium spiny neurons in the striatum, which impairs motor and cognitive functions. Identifying the physiological role and molecular functions of Htt may yield insight into HD pathogenesis. We found that Htt promotes signaling by mTORC1 [mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) complex 1] and that this signaling is potentiated by poly-Q–expanded Htt. Knocking out Htt in mouse embryonic stem cells or human embryonic kidney cells attenuated amino acid–induced mTORC1 activity, whereas overexpressing wild-type or poly-Q–expanded Htt in striatal neuronal cells increased basal mTOR activity. Striatal cells expressing endogenous poly-Q–expanded Htt showed an increase in the number and size of mTOR puncta on the perinuclear regions compared to cells expressing wild-type Htt. Pull-down experiments indicated that amino acids stimulated the interaction of Htt and the guanosine triphosphatase (GTPase) Rheb (a protein that stimulates mTOR activity), and that Htt forms a ternary complex with Rheb and mTOR. Pharmacologically inhibiting PI3K (phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase) or knocking down Rheb abrogated mTORC1 activity induced by expression of a poly-Q–expanded amino-terminal Htt fragment. Moreover, striatum-specific deletion of TSC1, encoding tuberous sclerosis 1, a negative regulator of mTORC1, accelerated the onset of motor coordination abnormalities and caused premature death in an HD mouse model. Together, our findings demonstrate that mutant Htt contributes to the pathogenesis of HD by enhancing mTORC1 activity.

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