Herp Promotes Degradation of Mutant Huntingtin: Involvement of the Proteasome and Molecular Chaperones

  • Huanhuan Luo
  • Liying Cao
  • Xuan Liang
  • Ana Du
  • Ting Peng
  • He Li


In neurodegenerative diseases, pathogenic proteins tend to misfold and form aggregates that are difficult to remove and able to induce excessive endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress, leading to neuronal injury and apoptosis. Homocysteine-induced endoplasmic reticulum protein (Herp), an E3 ubiquitin ligase, is an important early marker of ER stress and is involved in the ubiquitination and degradation of many neurodegenerative proteins. However, in Huntington’s disease (HD), a typical polyglutamine disease, whether Herp is also involved in the metabolism and degradation of the pathogenic protein, mutant huntingtin, has not been reported. Therefore, we studied the relationship between Herp and N-terminal fragments of huntingtin (HttN-20Q and HttN-160Q). We found that Herp was able to bind to the overexpressed Htt N-terminal, and this interaction was enhanced by expansion of the polyQ fragment. Confocal microscopy demonstrated that Herp was co-localized with the HttN-160Q aggregates in the cytoplasm and tightly surrounded the aggregates. Overexpression of Herp significantly decreased the amount of soluble and insoluble HttN-160Q, promoted its ubiquitination, and inhibited its cytotoxicity. In contrast, knockdown of Herp resulted in more HttN-160Q protein, less ubiquitination, and stronger cytotoxicity. Inhibition of the autophagy-lysosomal pathway (ALP) had no effect on the function of Herp. However, blocking the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway (UPP) inhibited the reduction in soluble HttN-160Q caused by Herp. Interestingly, blocking the UPP did not weaken the ability of Herp to reduce HttN-160Q aggregates. Deletions of the N-terminal of Herp weakened its ability to inhibit HttN-160Q aggregation but did not result in a significant increase in its soluble form. However, loss of the C-terminal led to a significant increase in soluble HttN-160Q, but Herp still maintained the ability to inhibit aggregate formation. We further found that the expression level of Herp was significantly increased in HD animal and cell models. Our findings suggest that Herp is a newly identified huntingtin-interacting protein that is able to reduce the cytotoxicity of mutant huntingtin by inhibiting its aggregation and promoting its degradation. The N-terminal of Herp serves as the molecular chaperone to inhibit protein aggregation, while its C-terminal functions as an E3 ubiquitin ligase to promote the degradation of misfolded proteins through the UPP. Increased expression of Herp in HD models may be a pro-survival mechanism under stress.


Homocysteine-induced endoplasmic reticulum protein Huntingtin Huntington’s disease Protein misfolding E3 ubiquitin ligase Ubiquitylation Molecular chaperone 



We are grateful to Weixi Wang, Shiming Yang, and Yinong Zhang for their help in our work.

Funding Information

This work was supported by a grant from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 81371417) and the Scientific Research and Launch of Xinxiang Medical University (No. 505125).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed Consent

All authors consent for the publication of this study.

Supplementary material

12035_2018_900_MOESM1_ESM.jpg (1.3 mb)
Fig. S1 (JPEG 1301 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Histology and Embryology, School of Basic Medical Sciences, Tongji Medical CollegeHuazhong University of Science and TechnologyWuhanPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Department of Histology and EmbryologyXinxiang Medical UniversityXinxiangPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.Collaborative Innovation Center for Brain ScienceHuazhong University of Science and TechnologyWuhanPeople’s Republic of China
  4. 4.Department of Histology and EmbryologyHubei University of MedicineShiyanPeople’s Republic of China

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