Aggregate formation and the impairment of long-term synaptic facilitation by ectopic expression of mutant huntingtin in Aplysia neurons

Huntington's disease (HD) is caused by an expansion of a polyglutamine (polyQ) tract within huntingtin (htt) protein. To examine the cytotoxic effects of polyQ-expanded htt, we overexpressed an enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP)-tagged N-terminal fragment of htt with 150 glutamine residues (Nhtt150Q-EGFP) in Aplysia neurons. A combined confocal and electron microscopic study showed that Aplysia neurons expressing Nhtt150Q-EGFP displayed numerous abnormal aggregates (diameter 0.5-5 microm) of filamentous structures, which were formed rapidly (approximately 2 h) but which were sustained for at least 18 days in the cytoplasm. Furthermore, the overexpression of Nhtt150Q-EGFP in sensory cells impaired 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT)-induced long-term synaptic facilitation in sensori-motor synapses without affecting basal synaptic strength or short-term facilitation. This study demonstrates the stability of polyQ-based aggregates and their specific effects on long-term synaptic plasticity.