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Huntingtin Interactions with Membrane Phospholipids: Strategic Targets for Therapeutic Intervention?


The Huntington's disease gene encodes the protein huntingtin (Htt), a soluble protein that largely distributes to the cytoplasm where about half the protein is found in association with membranes. Early studies on Huntington's disease patients suggested changes in membrane phospholipids. Furthermore, changes in phospholipid biosynthetic enzymes have been found in HD cell models using genetic methods. Recent investigations prove that Htt associates with membranes by direct interactions with phospholipids in membranes. Htt contains at least two membrane binding domains, which may work in concert with each other, to target to the appropriate intracellular membranes for diverse functions. Htt has a particular affinity for a specific class of phospholipids called phosphatidylinositol phosphates; individual species of these phospholipids propagate signals promoting cell survival and regulating changes in morphology. Mutant Htt fragments can disrupt synthetic phospholipid bilayers and full-length mutant Htt shows increased binding to numerous phospholipids, supporting the idea that mutant Htt can introduce pathology at the level of phospholipid interactions. There is a great potential to develop therapeutic agents since numerous enzymes regulate the both the biosynthesis/metabolism of lipids and the post-translational modifications of Htt that direct membrane interactions. Understanding the relationship of Htt with membrane phospholipids, and the impact of mutant Htt on membrane-related functions and lipid metabolism, may help identify new modes of therapeutic intervention for Huntington's disease.