Huntington disease (HD) is caused by the CAG (Q) expansion in exon 1 of the IT15 gene encoding a polyglutamine (poly-Q) stretch of the Huntingtin protein (Htt). In the wild type protein, the repeats specify a stretch of up 34 Q in the N-terminal portion of Htt. In the pathological protein (mHtt) the poly-Q tract is longer. Proteolytic cleavage of the protein liberates an N-terminal fragment containing the expanded poly-Q tract becomes harmful to cells, in particular to striatal neurons. The fragments cause the transcriptional dysfunction of genes that are essential for neuronal survival. Htt, however, could also have non-transcriptional effects, e.g. it could directly alter Ca2+ homeostasis and/or mitochondrial morphology and function. Ca2+ dyshomeostasis and mitochondrial dysfunction are considered important in the molecular aetiology of the disease. Here we have analyzed the effect of the overexpression of Htt fragments (18Q, wild type form, wtHtt and 150Q mutated form, mHtt) on Ca2+ homeostasis in striatal neuronal precursor cells (Q7/7). We have found that the transient overexpression of the Htt fragments increases Ca2+ transients in the mitochondria of cells stimulated with Ca2+-mobilizing agonists. The bulk Ca2+ transients in the cytosol were unaffected, but the Ca2+ content of the endoplasmic reticulum was significantly decreased in the case of mHtt expression. To rule out possible transcriptional effects due to the presence of mHtt, we have measured the mRNA level of a subunit of the respiratory chain complex II, whose expression is commonly altered in many HD models. No effects on the mRNA level was found suggesting that, in our experimental condition, transcriptional action of Htt is not occurring and that the effects on Ca2+ homeostasis were dependent to non-transcriptional mechanisms.
Abnormalities in brain cholesterol homeostasis have been reported in Huntington’s disease (HD), an adult-onset neurodegenerative disorder caused by an expansion in the number of CAG repeats in the huntingtin (HTT) gene. However, the results have been contradictory with respect to whether cholesterol levels increase or decrease in HD models. Biochemical and mass spectrometry methods show reduced levels of cholesterol precursors and cholesterol in HD cells and in the brains of several HD animal models. Abnormal brain cholesterol homeostasis was also inferred from studies in HD patients. In contrast, colorimetric and enzymatic methods indicate cholesterol accumulation in HD cells and tissues. Here we used several methods to investigate cholesterol levels in cultured cells in the presence or absence of mutant HTT protein.
Colorimetric and enzymatic methods with low sensitivity gave variable results, whereas results from a sensitive analytical method, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, were more reliable. Sample preparation, high cell density and cell clonality also influenced the detection of intracellular cholesterol.
Detection of cholesterol in HD samples by colorimetric and enzymatic assays should be supplemented by detection using more sensitive analytical methods. Care must be taken to prepare the sample appropriately. By evaluating lathosterol levels using isotopic dilution mass spectrometry, we confirmed reduced cholesterol biosynthesis in knock-in cells expressing the polyQ mutation in a constitutive or inducible manner.
*Correspondence should be addressed to Elena Cattaneo: firstname.lastname@example.org