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Clin Epigenetics. 2012 Jan 30;4(1):2. doi: 10.1186/1868-7083-4-2.

Is Friedreich ataxia an epigenetic disorder?

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Section on Gene Structure and Disease, Laboratory of Cell and Molecular Biology, National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892-0830, USA.


Friedreich ataxia (FRDA) is a debilitating and frequently fatal neurological disorder that is recessively inherited. It belongs to the group of genetic disorders known as the Repeat Expansion Diseases, in which pathology arises from the deleterious consequences of the inheritance of a tandem repeat array whose repeat number exceeds a critical threshold. In the case of FRDA, the repeat unit is the triplet GAA•TTC and the tandem array is located in the first intron of the frataxin (FXN) gene. Pathology arises because expanded alleles make lower than normal levels of mature FXN mRNA and thus reduced levels of frataxin, the FXN gene product. The repeats form a variety of unusual DNA structures that have the potential to affect gene expression in a number of ways. For example, triplex formation in vitro and in bacteria leads to the formation of persistent RNA:DNA hybrids that block transcription. In addition, these repeats have been shown to affect splicing in model systems. More recently, it has been shown that the region flanking the repeats in the FXN gene is enriched for epigenetic marks characteristic of transcriptionally repressed regions of the genome. However, exactly how repeats in an intron cause the FXN mRNA deficit in FRDA has been the subject of much debate. Identifying the mechanism or mechanisms responsible for the FXN mRNA deficit in FRDA is important for the development of treatments for this currently incurable disorder. This review discusses evidence for and against different models for the repeat-mediated mRNA deficit.

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