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Biological chemistry

The unresolved puzzle why alanine extensions cause disease.


PMID 23612654

Abstract

The prospective increase in life expectancy will be accompanied by a rise in the number of elderly people who suffer from ill health caused by old age. Many diseases caused by aging are protein misfolding diseases. The molecular mechanisms underlying these disorders receive constant scientific interest. In addition to old age, mutations also cause congenital protein misfolding disorders. Chorea Huntington, one of the most well-known examples, is caused by triplet extensions that can lead to more than 100 glutamines in the N-terminal region of huntingtin, accompanied by huntingtin aggregation. So far, nine disease-associated triplet extensions have also been described for alanine codons. The extensions lead primarily to skeletal malformations. Eight of these proteins represent transcription factors, while the nuclear poly-adenylate binding protein 1, PABPN1, is an RNA binding protein. Additional alanines in PABPN1 lead to the disease oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy (OPMD). The alanine extension affects the N-terminal domain of the protein, which has been shown to lack tertiary contacts. Biochemical analyses of the N-terminal domain revealed an alanine-dependent fibril formation. However, fibril formation of full-length protein did not recapitulate the findings of the N-terminal domain. Fibril formation of intact PABPN1 was independent of the alanine segment, and the fibrils displayed biochemical properties that were completely different from those of the N-terminal domain. Although intranuclear inclusions have been shown to represent the histochemical hallmark of OPMD, their role in pathogenesis is currently unclear. Several cell culture and animal models have been generated to study the molecular processes involved in OPMD. These studies revealed a number of promising future therapeutic strategies that could one day improve the quality of life for the patients.