Deficiency of huntingtin has pleiotropic effects in the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum.

Michael Myre, Amanda Lumsden, Morgan Thompson, Wilma Wasco, Marcy MacDonald, James Gusella

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    47 Citations (Scopus)


    Huntingtin is a large HEAT repeat protein first identified in humans, where a polyglutamine tract expansion near the amino terminus causes a gain-of-function mechanism that leads to selective neuronal loss in Huntington's disease (HD). Genetic evidence in humans and knock-in mouse models suggests that this gain-of-function involves an increase or deregulation of some aspect of huntingtin's normal function(s), which remains poorly understood. As huntingtin shows evolutionary conservation, a powerful approach to discovering its normal biochemical role(s) is to study the effects caused by its deficiency in a model organism with a short life-cycle that comprises both cellular and multicellular developmental stages. To facilitate studies aimed at detailed knowledge of huntingtin's normal function(s), we generated a null mutant of hd, the HD ortholog in Dictyostelium discoideum. Dictyostelium cells lacking endogenous huntingtin were viable but during development did not exhibit the typical polarized morphology of Dictyostelium cells, streamed poorly to form aggregates by accretion rather than chemotaxis, showed disorganized F-actin staining, exhibited extreme sensitivity to hypoosmotic stress, and failed to form EDTA-resistant cell-cell contacts. Surprisingly, chemotactic streaming could be rescued in the presence of the bivalent cations Ca2+ or Mg2+ but not pulses of cAMP. Although hd- cells completed development, it was delayed and proceeded asynchronously, producing small fruiting bodies with round, defective spores that germinated spontaneously within a glassy sorus. When developed as chimeras with wild-type cells, hd- cells failed to populate the pre-spore region of the slug. In Dictyostelium, huntingtin deficiency is compatible with survival of the organism but renders cells sensitive to low osmolarity, which produces pleiotropic cell autonomous defects that affect cAMP signaling and as a consequence development. Thus, Dictyostelium provides a novel haploid organism model for genetic, cell biological, and biochemical studies to delineate the functions of the HD protein.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere1002052
    Pages (from-to)Art: 1002052
    Number of pages17
    JournalPloS Genetics
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2011


    Dive into the research topics of 'Deficiency of huntingtin has pleiotropic effects in the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum.'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this