"My primary research interest is to characterize the regulatory pathways controlling muscle-specific gene expression and delineate how they become subverted in disease using Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy (FSHD) as a paradigm.
FSHD is the third most common myopathy and is characterized by degeneration of selective skeletal muscle groups. FSHD is an autosomal dominant disorder that unlike other neuromuscular diseases it is not linked to a classical mutation within a protein-coding gene. Instead, FSHD patients carry deletions of tandem repeats, termed D4Z4, located on chromosome 4q35.
Until recently, an incomplete knowledge of the biochemical pathogenesis of FSHD and lack of an animal model has hampered the development of effective therapies. I found that the 4q35 genes FRG1, FRG2, and ANT1 are inappropriately over-expressed selectively in FSHD skeletal muscle. I identified a silencing element within D4Z4 that contains a binding site for a transcriptional repressing complex. I showed that deletion of this element leads to over-expression of 4q35 genes in FSHD muscle.
To identify the gene(s) responsible for FSHD, I generated transgenic mice over-expressing FRG1, FRG2 or ANT1 in muscle. FRG1 mice developed a muscular dystrophy with features characteristic of FSHD whereas FRG2 and ANT1 mice appeared normal. My results also suggest that FRG1 is involved in pre-mRNA splicing. I found that in muscle of FRG1 mice and FSHD patients, specific pre-mRNAs are aberrantly alternatively spliced.
I propose that FSHD results from over-expression of FRG1 in muscle, which leads to aberrant splicing of specific pre-mRNAs.
My results not only shed new light on the pathogenesis of one of the most important myopathies, but have also provided an interesting model of disease caused by altered chromatin structure and transcription imbalance. This project will generate novel insights into the regulation of muscle-specific gene expression and the molecular pathogenesis of FSHD."
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