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Genes associated with several neurological diseases are characterized by the presence of an abnormally long trinucleotide repeat sequence. By way of example, Huntington's disease (HD), is characterized by selective neuronal degeneration associated with the expansion of a polyglutamine-encoding CAG tract. Normally, this CAG tract is comprised of 11-34 repeats, but in HD it is expanded to > 37 repeats in affected individuals. The mechanism by which CAG repeats cause neuronal degeneration is unknown, but it has been speculated that the expansion primarily causes abnormal protein functioning, which in turn causes HD pathology. Other mechanisms, however, have not been ruled out. Interactions between RNA and RNA-binding proteins have previously been shown to play a role in the expression of several eukaryotic genes. Herein, we report the association of cytoplasmic proteins with normal length and extended CAG repeats, using gel shift and UV crosslinking assays. Cytoplasmic protein extracts from several rat brain regions, including the striatum and cortex, sites of neuronal degeneration in HD, contain a 63-kD RNA-binding protein that specifically interacts with these CAG-repeat sequences. These protein-RNA interactions are dependent on the length of the CAG repeat, with longer repeats binding substantially more protein. Two CAG repeat-binding proteins are present in human cortex and striatum; one comigrates with the rat protein at 63 kD, while the other migrates at 49 kD. These data suggest mechanisms by which RNA-binding proteins may be involved in the pathological course of trinucleotide repeat-associated neurological diseases.