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J Med Genet. 2000 Nov;37(11):842-50.

Increase of FMRP expression, raised levels of FMR1 mRNA, and clonal selection in proliferating cells with unmethylated fragile X repeat expansions: a clue to the sex bias in the transmission of full mutations?

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  • 1Department of Human Genetics, University Hospital, 89070 Ulm, Germany.


Fragile X syndrome is a triplet repeat disorder caused by expansions of a CGG repeat in the fragile X mental retardation gene (FMR1) to more than 220 triplets (full mutation) that usually coincide with hypermethylation and transcriptional silencing. The disease phenotype results from deficiency or loss of FMR1 protein (FMRP) and occurs in both sexes. The underlying full mutations arise exclusively on transmission from a mother who carries a premutation allele (60-200 CGGs). While the absolute requirement of female transmission could result from different mechanisms, current evidence favours selection or contraction processes acting at gametogenesis of pre- and full mutation males. To address these questions experimentally, we used a model system of cultured fibroblasts from a male who presented heterogeneous unmethylated expansions in the pre- and full mutation size range. On continual cell proliferation to 30 doublings we re-examined the behaviour of the expanded repeats on Southern blots and also determined the expression of the FMR1 gene by FMRP immunocytochemistry, western analysis, and RT-PCR. With increasing population doublings, expansion patterns changed and showed accumulation of shorter alleles. The FMRP levels were below normal but increased continuously while the cells that were immunoreactive for FMRP accumulated. The level of FMR1 mRNA was raised with even higher levels of mRNA measured at higher passages. Current results support the theory of a selection advantage of FMRP positive over FMRP deficient cells. During extensive proliferation of spermatogonia in fragile X males, this selection mechanism would eventually replace all full mutations by shorter alleles allowing more efficient FMRP translation. At the proliferation of oogonia of carrier females, the same mechanism would, in theory, favour transmission of any expanded FMR1 allele on inactive X chromosomes.

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