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Molecular Events Underlying Congenital DM

Recent studies suggest that the molecular basis of congenital myotonic dystrophy (CDM) differs from that of myotonic dystrophy (DM) type 1 (DM1). Epigenetic changes upstream of the DMPK locus appear to be a co-requirement, along with a threshold repeat expansion length, as a trigger for CDM. Yet, the basis for the considerable phenotypic differences between DM1 and CDM, downstream of genotypes, is poorly understood.

Understanding the divergence of the CDM and DM1 phenotypes may be found in the timing of the critical molecular events—while DM1 is driven by MBNL depletion and reversion to developmentally-regulated alternative splicing events, the severe phenotype of CDM may be linked to disruption of prenatal transitions in alternative splicing essential to normal muscle tissue development. However, little information has been available to support that hypothesis.

Thomas and colleagues (University of Florida and Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine) tested the hypothesis that prenatal depletion of MBNL and disruption of RNA alternative processing pathways critical to myogenesis (and likely other tissue-specific events) explains the severity of CDM. An MDF fellow, Łukasz Sznajder, contributed to this work.

These investigators utilized RNAseq to compare pre-mRNA processing in skeletal muscle biopsies of CDM, DM1, and individuals carrying DM1 pre-mutations. Their data show that alternative splicing events were highly conserved between DM1 and CDM, but consistently showed greater severity in CDM. Similarly, polyAseq identified a pattern of alternative polyadenylation in CDM samples that was similar to DM1, but also more severe.

Working from the model that in utero alternative splicing contributes to the severity of CDM, the team used existing RNAseq data sets to conduct in silico evaluations of RNA processing during in vitro differentiation of human primary myoblasts. They found that RNAs relevant to CDM showed prenatal isoform transitions that were predicted by the models of in utero consequences of expanded CUG repeats.

To extend their in silico findings, the investigators tested (a) the role MBNL plays in regulating RNA processing during myogenesis and (b) the linkage between RNA processing defects and CDM-like phenotypes using double (Mbnl1, Mbnl2) and triple MBNL (Mbnl1, Mbnl2, Mbnl3) knockout mice. In aggregate, these studies showed that double knockout mice developed a severe splicopathy and congenital myopathy, while data from the triple knockout suggests that Mbnl1 and Mbnl2 loss represents the primary cause of the spliceopathy, but the deletion of Mbnl3 is responsible for more subtle alterations in hundreds of additional splicing events. Both models also showed dramatic changes in gene expression profiles (particularly in stress-related pathways that have been linked to CDM), with, again, greater severity in the triple knockout. 

Taken together, these studies provide important insights into how molecular pathogeneic mechanisms may distinguish CDM and DM1, specifically that the breadth and timing of expanded CUG repeat toxicity and the resulting RNA processing defects contribute to the severity of CDM. Splicing changes in RNAs essential for the development of skeletal muscle were shown to be both MBNL-dependent and to occur in utero, and thus were linked to perturbations of myogenesis and the ensuing congenital myopathy. The novel mouse models developed here provide an important framework for future mechanistic studies to understand the divergence of CDM and DM1 phenotypes and to inform therapy development strategies.

This peer-reviewed research article was accompanied by an editorial by Drs. Jagannathan and Bradley, appearing in the same issue of the journal. This editorial is also referenced below.

References:

Disrupted prenatal RNA processing and myogenesis in congenital myotonic dystrophy.
Thomas JD, Sznajder ŁJ, Bardhi O, Aslam FN, Anastasiadis ZP, Scotti MM, Nishino I, Nakamori M, Wang ET, Swanson MS.
Genes Dev. 2017 Jul 11. doi: 10.1101/gad.300590.117. [Epub ahead of print]

Congenital myotonic dystrophy-an RNA-mediated disease across a developmental continuum.
Jagannathan S, Bradley RK.
Genes Dev. 2017 Jun 1;31(11):1067-1068. doi: 10.1101/gad.302893.117.

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