Huntington's disease is an inherited and incurable neurodegenerative disorder caused by an abnormal polyglutamine (polyQ) expansion in huntingtin (encoded by HTT). PolyQ length determines disease onset and severity, with a longer expansion causing earlier onset. The mechanisms of mutant huntingtin-mediated neurotoxicity remain unclear; however, mitochondrial dysfunction is a key event in Huntington's disease pathogenesis. Here we tested whether mutant huntingtin impairs the mitochondrial fission-fusion balance and thereby causes neuronal injury. We show that mutant huntingtin triggers mitochondrial fragmentation in rat neurons and fibroblasts of individuals with Huntington's disease in vitro and in a mouse model of Huntington's disease in vivo before the presence of neurological deficits and huntingtin aggregates. Mutant huntingtin abnormally interacts with the mitochondrial fission GTPase dynamin-related protein-1 (DRP1) in mice and humans with Huntington's disease, which, in turn, stimulates its enzymatic activity. Mutant huntingtin-mediated mitochondrial fragmentation, defects in anterograde and retrograde mitochondrial transport and neuronal cell death are all rescued by reducing DRP1 GTPase activity with the dominant-negative DRP1 K38A mutant. Thus, DRP1 might represent a new therapeutic target to combat neurodegeneration in Huntington's disease.
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