Fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS) is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects carriers of premutation alleles (55-200 CGG repeats) of the fragile X mental retardation 1 (FMR1) gene. The presence of elevated levels of expanded mRNA found in premutation carriers is believed to be the basis for the pathogenesis in FXTAS, but the exact mechanisms by which the mRNA causes toxicity are not known. In particular, it is not clear whether there is a threshold for a CGG-repeat number below which no cellular dysregulation occurs, or whether toxicity depends on mRNA concentration. We have developed a doxycycline-inducible episomal system that allows us to study separately the effects of CGG-repeat number and mRNA concentration (at fixed CGG-repeat length) in neuroblastoma-derived SK cells. Our findings show that there is a CGG-repeat size threshold for toxicity that lies between 62 and 95 CGG repeats. Interestingly, for repeat sizes of 95 CGG and above, there is a clear negative correlation between mRNA concentration and cell viability. Taken together, our results provide evidence for an RNA-toxicity model with primary dependence on CGG-repeat size and secondary dependence on mRNA concentration, thus formally ruling out any simple titration model that operates in the absence of either protein-binding cooperativity or some form of length-dependent RNA structural transition.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology