Impairment of the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) has long been considered an attractive hypothesis to explain the selective dysfunction and death of neurons in polyglutamine disorders such as Huntington's disease (HD). The fact that inclusion bodies in HD mouse models and patient brains are rich in ubiquitin and proteasome components suggests that the UPS may be hindered directly or indirectly by inclusion bodies or their misfolded monomeric or oligomeric precursors. However, studies into UPS function in various polyglutamine disease models have yielded conflicting results, suggesting mutant polyglutamine tracts may exert different effects on the UPS depending on protein context, expression level, subcellular localisation and cell-type. To investigate UPS function in a well-characterised mouse model of HD, we have crossed R6/2 HD mice with transgenic UPS reporter mice expressing the GFPu construct. The GFPu construct comprises GFP fused to a constitutive degradation signal (CL-1) that promotes its rapid degradation under conditions of a healthy UPS. Using a combination of immunoblot analysis, fluorescence and immunofluorescence microscopy studies, we found that steady-state GFPu levels were not detectably different between R6/2 and non-R6/2 brain. We observed no correlation between inclusion body formation and GFPu accumulation, suggesting no direct relationship between protein aggregation and global UPS inhibition in R6/2 mice. These findings suggest that while certain branches of the UPS can be impaired by mutant polyglutamine proteins, such proteins do not necessarily cause total blockade of UPS-dependent degradation. It is therefore likely that the relationship between mutant polyglutamine proteins and the UPS is more complex than originally anticipated.
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