Fragile-X syndrome is a trinucleotide-repeat-expansion disorder in which the clinical phenotype is believed to result from transcriptional silencing of the fragile-X mental retardation 1 (FMR1) gene as the number of CGG repeats exceeds ~200. For premutation alleles (~55-200 repeats), no abnormalities in FMR1-gene expression have been described, despite growing evidence of clinical involvement in premutation carriers. To address this (apparent) paradox, we have determined, for 16 carrier males (55-192 repeats), the relative levels of leukocyte FMR1 mRNA, by use of automated fluorescence-detection reverse transcriptase-PCR, and the percent of lymphocytes that are immunoreactive for FMR1 protein (FMRP). For some alleles with > 100 repeats, there was a reduction in the number of FMRP-positive cells. Unexpectedly, FMR1 mRNA levels were elevated at least fivefold within this same range. No significant increase in FMR1 mRNA stability was observed in a lymphoblastoid cell line (160 repeats) derived from one of the carrier males, suggesting that the increased message levels are due to an increased rate of transcription. Current results support a mechanism of involvement in premutation carriers, in which reduced translational efficiency is at least partially compensated through increased transcriptional activity. Thus, diminished translational efficiency may be important throughout much of the premutation range, with a mechanistic switch occurring in the full-mutation range as the FMR1 gene is silenced.
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