Mutant huntingtin does not cross the mitochondrial outer membrane

James Hamilton, Tatiana Brustovetsky, Rajesh Khanna, Nickolay Brustovetsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mutant huntingtin (mHTT) is associated with mitochondria, but the exact mitochondrial location of mHTT has not been definitively established. Recently, it was reported that mHTT is present in the intermembrane space and inhibits mitochondrial protein import by interacting with TIM23, a major component of mitochondrial protein import machinery, but evidence for functional ramifications were not provided. We assessed mHTT location using synaptic and nonsynaptic mitochondria isolated from brains of YAC128 mice and subjected to alkali treatment or limited trypsin digestion. Mitochondria were purified either with discontinuous Percoll gradient or with anti-TOM22-conjugated iron microbeads. We also used mitochondria isolated from postmortem brain tissues of unaffected individuals and HD patients. Our results demonstrate that mHTT is located on the cytosolic side of the mitochondrial outer membrane (MOM) but does not cross it. This refutes the hypothesis that mHTT may interact with TIM23 and inhibit mitochondrial protein import. The levels of expression of nuclear-encoded, TIM23-transported mitochondrial proteins ACO2, TUFM, IDH3A, CLPP and mitochondrially encoded and synthesized protein mtCO1 were similar in mitochondria from YAC128 mice and their wild-type littermates as well as in mitochondria from postmortem brain tissues of unaffected individuals and HD patients, supporting the lack of deficit in mitochondrial protein import. Regardless of purification technique, mitochondria from YAC128 and WT mice had similar respiratory activities and mitochondrial membrane potentials. Thus, our data argue against mHTT crossing the MOM and entering into the mitochondrial intermembrane space, making it highly unlikely that mHTT interacts with TIM23 and inhibits protein import in intact mitochondria.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2962-2975
Number of pages14
JournalHuman Molecular Genetics
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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