Polyglutamine protein aggregation and toxicity are linked to the cellular stress response

K. J. Cowan, M. I. Diamond, W. J. Welch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


Chronic exposure of cells to expanded polyglutamine proteins results in eventual cell demise. We constructed mouse cell lines expressing either the full-length androgen receptor (AR), or truncated forms of AR containing 25 or 65 glutamines to study the cellular consequences of chronic low-level exposure to these proteins. Expression of the polyglutamine-expanded truncated AR protein, but not the full-length expanded protein, resulted in the formation of cytoplasmic and nuclear aggregates and eventual cell death. Nuclear aggregates preferentially stained positive for heat shock protein (hsp)72, a sensitive indicator of a cellular stress response. Biochemical studies revealed that the presence of nuclear aggregates correlated with activation of the c-jun NH2-terminal kinase (JNK). Different metabolic insults, including heat shock treatment, and exposure to sodium arsenite or menadione, proved more toxic to those cells expressing the polyglutamine-expanded truncated protein than to cells expressing the non-expanded form. Cells containing cytoplasmic polyglutamine-protein aggregates exhibited a delayed expression of hsp72 after heat shock. Once expressed, hsp72 failed to localize normally and instead was sequestered within the protein aggregates. This was accompanied by an inability of the aggregate-containing cells to cease their stress response as evidenced by the continued presence of activated JNK. Finally, activation of the cellular stress response increased the overall extent of polyglutamine protein aggregation, especially within the nucleus. Inclusion of a JNK inhibitor reduced this stress-dependent increase in nuclear aggregates. Abnormal stress responses may contribute to enhanced cell vulnerability in cells expressing polyglutamine-expanded proteins and may increase the propensity of such cells to form cytoplasmic and nuclear inclusions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1377-1391
Number of pages15
JournalHuman molecular genetics
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 15 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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