The common form of myotonic dystrophy (DM1) is associated with the expression of expanded CTG DNA repeats as RNA (CUG(exp) RNA). To test whether CUG(exp) RNA creates a global splicing defect, we compared the skeletal muscle of two mouse models of DM1, one expressing a CTG(exp) transgene and another homozygous for a defective muscleblind 1 (Mbnl1) gene. Strong correlation in splicing changes for approximately 100 new Mbnl1-regulated exons indicates that loss of Mbnl1 explains >80% of the splicing pathology due to CUG(exp) RNA. In contrast, only about half of mRNA-level changes can be attributed to loss of Mbnl1, indicating that CUG(exp) RNA has Mbnl1-independent effects, particularly on mRNAs for extracellular matrix proteins. We propose that CUG(exp) RNA causes two separate effects: loss of Mbnl1 function (disrupting splicing) and loss of another function that disrupts extracellular matrix mRNA regulation, possibly mediated by Mbnl2. These findings reveal unanticipated similarities between DM1 and other muscular dystrophies.
Microsatellite expansions cause a number of dominantly-inherited neurological diseases. Expansions in coding-regions cause protein gain-of-function effects, while non-coding expansions produce toxic RNAs that alter RNA splicing activities of MBNL and CELF proteins. Bi-directional expression of the spinocerebellar ataxia type 8 (SCA8) CTG CAG expansion produces CUG expansion RNAs (CUG(exp)) from the ATXN8OS gene and a nearly pure polyglutamine expansion protein encoded by ATXN8 CAG(exp) transcripts expressed in the opposite direction. Here, we present three lines of evidence that RNA gain-of-function plays a significant role in SCA8: 1) CUG(exp) transcripts accumulate as ribonuclear inclusions that co-localize with MBNL1 in selected neurons in the brain; 2) loss of Mbnl1 enhances motor deficits in SCA8 mice; 3) SCA8 CUG(exp) transcripts trigger splicing changes and increased expression of the CUGBP1-MBNL1 regulated CNS target, GABA-A transporter 4 (GAT4/Gabt4). In vivo optical imaging studies in SCA8 mice confirm that Gabt4 upregulation is associated with the predicted loss of GABAergic inhibition within the granular cell layer. These data demonstrate that CUG(exp) transcripts dysregulate MBNL/CELF regulated pathways in the brain and provide mechanistic insight into the CNS effects of other CUG(exp) disorders. Moreover, our demonstration that relatively short CUG(exp) transcripts cause RNA gain-of-function effects and the growing number of antisense transcripts recently reported in mammalian genomes suggest unrecognized toxic RNAs contribute to the pathophysiology of polyglutamine CAG CTG disorders.
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