The unstable (CTG)(n) trinucleotide repeat associated with myotonic dystrophy: What it does and where it came from

Ralf Krahe, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Myotonic dystrophy (DM), an autosomal dominant disorder mapping to human chromosome 19q13.3, is the most common neuromuscular disease in human adults. Following the identification of the mutation underlying the DM phenotype, an unstable (CTG)$\sb{n}$ trinucleotide repeat in the 3$\prime$ untranslated region (UTR) of a gene encoding a ser/thr protein kinase named DM protein kinase (DMPK), the study was targeted at two questions: (1) the identification of the disease-causing mechanism(s) of the unstable repeat, and at a more basic level, (2) the identification of the origin and the mechanism(s) involved in repeat instability. The first goal was to identify the pathophysiological mechanisms of the (CTG)$\sb{n}$ repeat. The normal repeat is transcribed but not translated; therefore, initial studies centered on the effect on RNA transcript levels. The vast majority of DM affecteds are heterozygous for the mutant expansion, so that the normal allele interferes with the analysis of the mutant allele. A quantitative allele-specific RT-PCR procedure was developed and applied to a spectrum of patient tissue samples and cell lines. Equal levels of unprocessed pre-mRNA were determined for the wild type (+) and disease (DM) alleles in skeletal muscle and cell lines of heterozygous DM patients, indicating that any nucleosome binding has no effect at the level of transcriptional initiation and transcription of the mutant DMPK locus. In contrast, processed mRNA levels from the DM allele were reduced relative to the + allele as the size of the expansion increased. The unstable repeat, therefore, impairs post-transcriptional processing of DM allele transcripts. This phenomenon has profound effects on overall DMPK locus steady-state transcript levels in cells missing a wild type allele and does not appear to be mediated by imprinting, decreased mRNA stability, generation of aberrant splice forms, or absence of polyadenylation of the mutant allele. In Caucasian DM subjects, the unstable repeat is in complete linkage disequlibrium with a single haplotype composed of nine alleles within and flanking DMPK over a physical distance of 30 kb. A detailed haplotype analysis of the DM region was conducted on a Nigerian (Yoruba) DM family, the only indigenous sub-Saharan DM case reported to date. Each affected member of this family had an expanded (CTG)$\sb{n}$ repeat in one of their DMPK alleles. However, unlike all other DM populations studied thus far, disassociation of the (CTG)$\sb{n}$ repeat expansion from other alleles of the putative predisposing haplotype was found. Thus, the expanded (CTG)$\sb{n}$ repeat in this family was the result of an independent mutational event. Consequently, the origin of DM is unlikely the result of a single mutational event, and the hypothesis that a single ancestral haplotype predisposes to repeat expansion is not compelling. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Krahe, Ralf, "The unstable (CTG)(n) trinucleotide repeat associated with myotonic dystrophy: What it does and where it came from" (1995). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9535039.