Elevated Fmr1 mRNA levels and reduced protein expression in a mouse model with an unmethylated Fragile X full mutation
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The human FMR1 gene contains a CGG repeat in its 5′ untranslated region. The repeat length in the normal population is polymorphic (5–55 CGG repeats). Lengths beyond 200 CGGs (full mutation) result in the absence of the FMR1 gene product, FMRP, through abnormal methylation and gene silencing. This causes Fragile X syndrome, the most common inherited form of mental retardation. Elderly carriers of the premutation, defined as a repeat length between 55 and 200 CGGs, can develop a progressive neurodegenerative syndrome: Fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS). In FXTAS, FMR1 mRNA levels are elevated and it has been hypothesised that FXTAS is caused by a pathogenic RNA gain-offunction mechanism. We have developed a knock in mouse model carrying an expanded CGG repeat (98 repeats), which shows repeat instability and displays biochemical, phenotypic and neuropathological characteristics of FXTAS. Here, we report further repeat instability, up to 230 CGGs. An expansion bias was observed, with the largest expansion being 43 CGG units and the largest contraction 80 CGG repeats. In humans, this length would be considered a full mutation and would be expected to result in gene silencing. Mice carrying long repeats (∼230 CGGs) display elevated mRNA levels and decreased FMRP levels, but absence of abnormal methylation, suggesting that modelling the Fragile X full mutation in mice requires additional repeats or other genetic manipulation.