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Mutant huntingtin causes metabolic imbalance by disruption of hypothalamic neurocircuits

Hult S*, Soylu R*, Björklund T, Belgardt B F, Mauer J, Brüning J C, Kirik D and Petersén Å.

Translational Neuroendocrine Research Unit, Department of Experimental Medical Sciences, Lund University, Lund 22184, Sweden.

Cell Metabolism 13: 428-439 (2011) *equal contribution


In Huntington's disease (HD), the mutant huntingtin protein is ubiquitously expressed. The disease was considered to be limited to the basal ganglia, but recent studies have suggested a more widespread pathology involving hypothalamic dysfunction. Here we tested the hypothesis that expression of mutant huntingtin in the hypothalamus causes metabolic abnormalities. First, we showed that bacterial artificial chromosome-mediated transgenic HD (BACHD) mice developed impaired glucose metabolism and pronounced insulin and leptin resistance. Selective hypothalamic expression of a short fragment of mutant huntingtin using adeno-associated viral vectors was sufficient to recapitulate these metabolic disturbances. Finally, selective hypothalamic inactivation of the mutant gene prevented the development of the metabolic phenotype in BACHD mice. Our findings establish a causal link between mutant huntingtin expression in the hypothalamus and metabolic dysfunction, and indicate that metabolic parameters are powerful readouts to assess therapies aimed at correcting dysfunction in HD by silencing huntingtin expression in the brain.