The FMR1 gene and fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome
The CGG-repeat present in the 5′UTR of the FMR1 gene is unstable upon transmission to the next generation. The repeat is up to 55 CGGs long in the normal population. In fragile X patients, a repeat length exceeding 200 CGGs (full mutation: FM) generally leads to methylation of the repeat and the promoter region, which is accompanied by silencing of the FMR1 gene. The gene product FMRP is involved in regulation of transport and translation of certain mRNA in the dendrite, thereby affecting synaptic plasticity. This is central to learning and memory processes. The absence of FMRP seen in FM is the cause of the mental retardation seen in fragile X patients. The premutation (PM) is defined as 55-200CGGs. Female PM carriers are at risk of developing primary ovarian insufficiency. Recently it was discovered that elderly PM carriers might develop a progressive neurodegenerative disorder called fragile X-associated tremor/ ataxia syndrome. Although arising from the mutations in the same gene, distinct mechanisms lead to fragile X syndrome (absence of FMRP) and FXTAS (toxic RNA gain of function). The pathogenic mechanisms thought to underlie these disorders are discussed, with a specific emphasis on FXTAS. This review gives insight on the implications of all possible repeat length categories seen in fragile X families.