Accumulation of N-terminal fragments of mutant huntingtin (mHTT) in the cytoplasm, nuclei and axons of neurons is a hallmark of Huntington's disease (HD), although how these fragments negatively impact neurons remains unclear. We followed the distribution of mHTT in the striata of transgenic R6/2-J2 HD mice as their motor function declined. The fraction of cells with diffuse, perinuclear or intranuclear mHTT changed in parallel with decreasing motor function. In transgenic mice, medium spiny neurons (MSNs) that exhibited perinuclear inclusions expressed cell-cycle markers typically not seen in the striata of normal mice, and these cells are preferentially lost as disease progresses. Electron microscopy reveals that perinuclear inclusions disrupt the nuclear envelope. The progression of perinuclear inclusions being accompanied by cell-cycle activation and culminating in cell death was also observed in 1° cortical neurons. These observations provide a strong correlation between the subcellular location of mHTT, disruption of the nucleus, re-entry into the cell-cycle and eventual neuronal death. They also highlight the fact that the subcellular distribution of mHTT is highly dynamic such that the distribution of mHTT observed depends greatly on the stage of the disease being examined.
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