Blackwell Publishing Journal Backfiles 1879-2005
Spinocerebellar ataxia type-3, also known as Machado-Joseph Disease, is one of many inherited neurodegenerative disorders caused by polyglutamine-encoding CAG repeat expansions in otherwise unrelated disease genes. Polyglutamine disorders are characterized by disease protein misfolding and aggregation; often within the nuclei of affected neurons. Although the precise mechanism of polyglutamine-mediated cell death remains elusive, evidence suggests that proteolysis of polyglutamine disease proteins by caspases contributes to pathogenesis. Using cellular models we now show that the endogenous spinocerebellar ataxia type-3 disease protein, ataxin-3, is proteolyzed in apoptotic paradigms, resulting in the loss of full-length ataxin-3 and the corresponding appearance of an approximately 28-kDa fragment containing the glutamine repeat. Broad-spectrum caspase inhibitors block ataxin-3 proteolysis and studies suggest that caspase-1 is a primary mediator of cleavage. Site-directed mutagenesis experiments eliminating three, six or nine potential caspase cleavage sites in the protein suggest redundancy in the site(s) at which cleavage can occur, as previously described for other disease proteins; but also map a major cleavage event to a cluster of aspartate residues within the ubiquitin-binding domain of ataxin-3 near the polyglutamine tract. Finally, caspase-mediated cleavage of expanded ataxin-3 resulted in increased ataxin-3 aggregation, suggesting a potential role for caspase-mediated proteolysis in spinocerebellar ataxia type-3 pathogenesis.
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