In Huntington disease, polyglutamine expansion of the protein huntingtin (Htt) leads to selective neurodegenerative loss of medium spiny neurons throughout the striatum by an unknown apoptotic mechanism. Binding of Hip-1, a protein normally associated with Htt, is reduced by polyglutamine expansion. Free Hip-1 binds to a hitherto unknown polypeptide, Hippi (Hip-1 protein interactor), which has partial sequence homology to Hip-1 and similar tissue and subcellular distribution. The availability of free Hip-1 is modulated by polyglutamine length within Htt, with disease-associated polyglutamine expansion favouring the formation of pro-apoptotic Hippi-Hip-1 heterodimers. This heterodimer can recruit procaspase-8 into a complex of Hippi, Hip-1 and procaspase-8, and launch apoptosis through components of the 'extrinsic' cell-death pathway. We propose that Htt polyglutamine expansion liberates Hip-1 so that it can form a caspase-8 recruitment complex with Hippi. This novel non-receptor-mediated pathway for activating caspase-8 might contribute to neuronal death in Huntington disease.
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