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Huntingtin HTT1a is generated in a CAG repeat-length-dependent manner in human tissues.

Molecular Medicine 2024 March 9
BACKGROUND: The disease-causing mutation in Huntington disease (HD) is a CAG trinucleotide expansion in the huntingtin (HTT) gene. The mutated CAG tract results in the production of a small RNA, HTT1a, coding for only exon 1 of HTT. HTT1a is generated by a block in the splicing reaction of HTT exon 1 to exon 2 followed by cleavage in intron 1 and polyadenylation. Translation of HTT1a leads to the expression of the highly toxic HTT exon 1 protein fragment. We have previously shown that the levels of HTT1a expression in mouse models of HD is dependent on the CAG repeat length. However, these data are lacking for human tissues.

METHODS: To answer this question, we developed highly sensitive digital PCR assays to determine HTT1a levels in human samples. These assays allow the absolute quantification of transcript numbers and thus also facilitate the comparison of HTT1a levels between tissues, cell types and across different studies. Furthermore, we measured CAG repeat sizes for every sample used in the study. Finally, we analysed our data with ANOVA and linear modelling to determine the correlation of HTT1a expression levels with CAG repeat sizes.

RESULTS: In summary, we show that HTT1a is indeed expressed in a CAG repeat-length-dependent manner in human post mortem brain tissues as well as in several peripheral cell types. In particular, PBMCs show a statistically significant positive correlation of HTT1a expression with CAG repeat length, and elevated HTT1a expression levels even in the adult-onset CAG repeat range.

CONCLUSIONS: Our results show that HTT1a expression occurs throughout a wide range of tissues and likely with all CAG lengths. Our data from peripheral sample sources demonstrate that HTT1a is indeed generated throughout the body in a CAG repeat-length-dependent manner. Therefore, the levels of HTT1a might be a sensitive marker of disease state and/or progression and should be monitored over time, especially in clinical trials targeting HTT expression.

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