Huntington's disease (HD) is a neurodegenerative disorder caused by abnormal polyglutamine expansion in the amino-terminal end of the huntingtin protein (Htt) and characterized by progressive striatal and cortical pathology. Previous reports have shown that Htt is essential for embryogenesis, and a recent study by our group revealed that the pathogenic form of Htt (mHtt) causes impairments in multiple stages of striatal development. In this study, we have examined whether HD-associated striatal developmental deficits are reflective of earlier maturational alterations occurring at the time of neurulation by assessing differential roles of Htt and mHtt during neural induction and early neurogenesis using an in vitro mouse embryonic stem cell (ESC) clonal assay system. We demonstrated that the loss of Htt in ESCs (KO ESCs) severely disrupts the specification of primitive and definitive neural stem cells (pNSCs, dNSCs, respectively) during the process of neural induction. In addition, clonally derived KO pNSCs and dNSCs displayed impaired proliferative potential, enhanced cell death and altered multi-lineage potential. Conversely, as observed in HD knock-in ESCs (Q111 ESCs), mHtt enhanced the number and size of pNSC clones, which exhibited enhanced proliferative potential and precocious neuronal differentiation. The transition from Q111 pNSCs to fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF2)-responsive dNSCs was marked by potentiation in the number of dNSCs and altered proliferative potential. The multi-lineage potential of Q111 dNSCs was also enhanced with precocious neurogenesis and oligodendrocyte progenitor elaboration. The generation of Q111 epidermal growth factor (EGF)-responsive dNSCs was also compromised, whereas their multi-lineage potential was unaltered. These abnormalities in neural induction were associated with differential alterations in the expression profiles of Notch, Hes1 and Hes5. These cumulative observations indicate that Htt is required for multiple stages of neural induction, whereas mHtt enhances this process and promotes precocious neurogenesis and oligodendrocyte progenitor cell elaboration.
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