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Hum Genet. 2012 Mar;131(3):325-40. doi: 10.1007/s00439-011-1100-z. Epub 2011 Oct 9.

Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD): an enigma unravelled?

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  • 1School of Medicine, Institute of Medical Genetics, Cardiff University, Cardiff, CF14 4XN, UK.


Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) is the third most common muscular dystrophy after the dystrophinopathies and myotonic dystrophy and is associated with a typical pattern of muscle weakness. Most patients with FSHD carry a large deletion in the polymorphic D4Z4 macrosatellite repeat array at 4q35 and present with 1-10 repeats whereas non-affected individuals possess 11-150 repeats. An almost identical repeat array is present at 10q26 and the high sequence identity between these two arrays can cause difficulties in molecular diagnosis. Each 3.3-kb D4Z4 unit contains a DUX4 (double homeobox 4) gene that, among others, is activated upon contraction of the 4q35 repeat array due to the induction of chromatin remodelling of the 4qter region. A number of 4q subtelomeric sequence variants are now recognised, although FSHD only occurs in association with three 'permissive' haplotypes, each of which is associated with a polyadenylation signal located immediately distal of the last D4Z4 unit. The resulting poly-A tail appears to stabilise DUX4 mRNAs transcribed from this most distal D4Z4 unit in FSHD muscle cells. Synthesis of both the DUX4 transcripts and protein in FSHD muscle cells induces significant cell toxicity. DUX4 is a transcription factor that may target several genes which results in a deregulation cascade which inhibits myogenesis, sensitises cells to oxidative stress and induces muscle atrophy, thus recapitulating many of the key molecular features of FSHD.

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