Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Failure to destroy toxic protein -- not buildup of protein itself -- contributes to Huntington's disease

Date:
July 21, 2013
Source:
NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Summary:
Recycling is not only good for the environment, it's good for the brain. A study using rat cells indicates that quickly clearing out defective proteins in the brain may prevent loss of brain cells.

This is an image of a striatal neuron with activated Dendra2 protein.
Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Steven Finkbeiner, University of California, San Francisco.

Recycling is not only good for the environment, it's good for the brain. A study using rat cells indicates that quickly clearing out defective proteins in the brain may prevent loss of brain cells.

Related Articles


Results of a study in Nature Chemical Biology suggest that the speed at which damaged proteins are cleared from neurons may affect cell survival and may explain why some cells are targeted for death in neurodegenerative disorders. The research was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health.

One of the mysteries surrounding neurodegenerative diseases is why some nerve cells are marked for destruction whereas their neighbors are spared. It is especially puzzling because the protein thought to be responsible for cell death is found throughout the brain in many of these diseases, yet only certain brain areas or cell types are affected.

In Huntington's disease and many other neurodegenerative disorders, proteins that are misfolded (have abnormal shapes), accumulate inside and around neurons and are thought to damage and kill nearby brain cells. Normally, cells sense the presence of malformed proteins and clear them away before they do any damage. This is regulated by a process called proteostasis, which the cell uses to control protein levels and quality.

In the study, Andrey S. Tsvetkov and his colleagues from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and Duke University, Durham, N.C., showed that differences in the rate of proteostasis may be the clue to understanding why certain nerve cells die in Huntington's, a genetic brain disorder that leads to uncontrolled movements and death.

To measure how quickly proteins are cleared away from cells, the researchers developed a new technique called optical pulse-labeling, allowing them to follow specific proteins in individual living cells. To test the technique, they grew brain cells in a dish and turned on Dendra2, a photoswitchable protein that glows from green to red after being hit by a specific type of light. Both the red and green glow can be followed until the protein is cleared from the cell. In this way, the researchers could track the lifetime of newly produced Dendra2 (which glows green) and older, photoswitched Dendra2 (which glows red) until the protein was cleared away from the cell.

"Before this new technique, there was no way to look at individual neurons and their capacity to handle proteins. This method provides a real-time readout of how fast proteins are turned over in neurons and gives us a look at some of the mechanisms involved," said Margaret Sutherland, Ph.D., program director at NINDS.

The researchers followed Dendra2 in a set of striatal neurons, which they obtained from rats. The striatum (where striatal neurons are located) is a brain region involved in a number of brain functions including planning movements and is most heavily affected in Huntington's disease. They discovered that the mean lifetime of the protein (how long it remained in the cell) varied three- to fourfold, suggesting that rates of proteostasis were different among individual neurons. In other words, some cells may process an identical protein much slower than others.

Then, the researchers investigated how cells deal with different forms of huntingtin, the protein involved in Huntington's. They fused Dendra2 on the end of a normal or mutant version of huntingtin to track how long the protein remained in cells. The mutant version of huntingtin is longer, and contains three building blocks of the protein repeated an abnormal number of times. These repeats in huntingtin are what cause it to misfold, eventually leading to neuron death and the symptoms of the disease. As predicted, in their experiments, the mutant form of huntingtin caused more rat cells to die than did the normal form of the protein.

The researchers found that the amount of time the mutant protein remained in the cell predicted neuronal survival: shorter mean lifetimes of mutant huntingtin were associated with longer neuronal survival. A shorter mean lifetime indicates that a protein does not remain in the cell for a long time, and that proteostasis is working effectively to clear it away. This suggests that improving proteostasis in Huntington's brains may improve neuronal survival.

To test this idea, the researchers activated Nrf2, a protein known to regulate protein processing. When Nrf2 was turned on, the mean lifetime of huntingtin was shortened, and the neuron lived longer.

"Nrf2 seems like a potentially exciting therapeutic target. It is profoundly neuroprotective in our Huntington's model and it accelerates the clearance of mutant huntingtin," said Dr. Steven Finkbeiner, senior author of the paper.

Although both striatal and cortical neurons are affected by mutant huntingtin, striatal neurons are more susceptible to cell death. The investigators found that striatal neurons were not as effective as cortical neurons in recognizing and clearing away the mutant protein.

"One surprising finding from these experiments was the significance of single cells' ability to clear mutant huntingtin. It turned out that this ability largely predicted their susceptibility, whether that neuron came from the most vulnerable region of the brain -- the striatum, or the cortex, which is less vulnerable," said Dr. Finkbeiner. The findings indicate that the toxicity of the damaged proteins may cause neurodegeneration by interfering with the proteostasis system, affecting how quickly they are cleared from neurons.

"The results should remind us that focusing on the disease-causing proteins is only one side of the coin. To understand why some cells die and others are spared, we may need to recognize that there are major, largely unrecognized cell-specific differences in the ways that various types of neurons recognize and dispose of disease-causing proteins," continued Dr. Finkbeiner.

The researchers explored potential mechanisms behind differences in proteostasis. One way that cells normally get rid of proteins is through autophagy -- a process in which proteins are packed up into spheres and then broken down. Results in this paper suggested that neurons increased the rate of autophagy when they sensed that the mutant form of huntingtin was accumulating, indicating the autophagy system may be a drug target.

"These findings provide evidence that our brains have powerful coping mechanisms to deal with disease-causing proteins. The fact that some of these diseases don't cause symptoms we can detect until the fourth or fifth decade of life, even when the gene has been present since birth, suggests that those mechanisms are pretty good," said Dr. Finkbeiner.

Future research is needed to determine why coping mechanisms fail as brain cells age and how neurons in the healthy brain keep the proteostasis system functioning.

"New research methods that help us understand how individual neurons function will increase our understanding of central nervous system disorders and help identify new treatments. It is critical to continue working on the methods such as those described in this paper," said Dr. Sutherland.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Andrey S Tsvetkov, Montserrat Arrasate, Sami Barmada, D Michael Ando, Punita Sharma, Benjamin A Shaby, Steven Finkbeiner. Proteostasis of polyglutamine varies among neurons and predicts neurodegeneration. Nature Chemical Biology, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nchembio.1308

Cite This Page:

NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. "Failure to destroy toxic protein -- not buildup of protein itself -- contributes to Huntington's disease." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 July 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130721161753.htm>.
NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2013, July 21). Failure to destroy toxic protein -- not buildup of protein itself -- contributes to Huntington's disease. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 31, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130721161753.htm
NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. "Failure to destroy toxic protein -- not buildup of protein itself -- contributes to Huntington's disease." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130721161753.htm (accessed March 31, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Solitair Device Aims to Takes Guesswork out of Sun Safety

Solitair Device Aims to Takes Guesswork out of Sun Safety

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Mar. 31, 2015) — The Solitair device aims to take the confusion out of how much sunlight we should expose our skin to. Small enough to be worn as a tie or hair clip, it monitors the user&apos;s sun exposure by taking into account their skin pigment, location and schedule. Matthew Stock reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Soda, Salt and Sugar: The Next Generation of Taxes

Soda, Salt and Sugar: The Next Generation of Taxes

Washington Post (Mar. 30, 2015) — Denisa Livingston, a health advocate for the Dinι Community Advocacy Alliance, and the Post&apos;s Abby Phillip discuss efforts around the country to make unhealthy food choices hurt your wallet as much as your waistline. Video provided by Washington Post
Powered by NewsLook.com
UnitedHealth Buys Catamaran

UnitedHealth Buys Catamaran

Reuters - Business Video Online (Mar. 30, 2015) — The $12.8 billion merger will combine the U.S.&apos; third and fourth largest pharmacy benefit managers. Analysts say smaller PBMs could also merge. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
S. Leone in New Anti-Ebola Lockdown

S. Leone in New Anti-Ebola Lockdown

AFP (Mar. 28, 2015) — Sierra Leone imposed a three-day nationwide lockdown Friday for the second time in six months in a bid to prevent a resurgence of the deadly Ebola virus. Duration: 01:17 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins