Frataxin deficiency in Friedreich's ataxia results from transcriptional downregulation of the FXN gene caused by expansion of the intronic trinucleotide GAA repeats. The authors used multiple transcriptomic approaches to determine the molecular mechanism of transcription inhibition caused by long GAAs. Transcription of FXN in patient cells is prematurely terminated upstream of the expanded repeats leading to formation of a novel, truncated and stable RNA. This FXN early terminated transcript, (FXN-ett) undergoes alternative, non-productive splicing and does not contribute to the synthesis of functional frataxin. The level the FXN-ett RNA directly correlates with the length of the longer of the two expanded GAA tracts. Targeting GAAs with antisense oligonucleotides or excision of the repeats eliminates the transcription impediment, diminishes expression of the aberrant FXN-ett, while increasing levels of FXN mRNA and frataxin. Non-productive transcription may represent a common phenomenon and attractive therapeutic target in diseases caused by repeat-mediated transcription aberrations.
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