Profilin reduces aggregation and phase separation of huntingtin N-terminal fragments by preferentially binding to soluble monomers and oligomers

Ammon E. Posey, Kiersten M. Ruff, Tyler S. Harmon, Scott L. Crick, Aimin Li, Marc I. Diamond, Rohit V. Pappu

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Huntingtin N-terminal fragments (Htt-NTFs) with expanded polyglutamine tracts form a range of neurotoxic aggregates that are associated with Huntington’s disease. Here, we show that aggregation of Htt-NTFs, irrespective of polyglutamine length, yields at least three phases (designated M, S, and F) that are delineated by sharp concentration thresholds and distinct aggregate sizes and morphologies. We found that monomers and oligomers make up the soluble M phase, 25-nm spheres dominate in the soluble S phase, and long, linear fibrils make up the insoluble F phase. Previous studies showed that profilin, an abundant cellular protein, reduces Htt-NTF aggregation and toxicity in cells. We confirm that profilin achieves its cellular effects through direct binding to the C-terminal proline-rich region of Htt-NTFs. We show that profilin preferentially binds to Htt-NTF M-phase species and destabilizes aggregation and phase separation by shifting the concentration boundaries for phase separation to higher values through a process known as polyphasic linkage. Our experiments, aided by coarse-grained computer simulations and theoretical analysis, suggest that preferential binding of profilin to the M-phase species of Htt-NTFs is enhanced through a combination of specific interactions between profilin and polyproline segments and auxiliary interactions between profilin and polyglutamine tracts. Polyphasic linkage may be a general strategy that cells utilize to regulate phase behavior of aggregation-prone proteins. Accordingly, detailed knowledge of phase behavior and an understanding of how ligands modulate phase boundaries may pave the way for developing new therapeutics against a variety of aggregation-prone proteins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3734-3746
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2018


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology

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