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Brain Res. 2016 Sep 15;1647:19-29. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2016.04.004. Epub 2016 Apr 6.

There has been an awakening: Emerging mechanisms of C9orf72 mutations in FTD/ALS.

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Department of Genetics, Stanford University School of Medicine, 300 Pasteur Drive, M322 Alway Building, Stanford, CA 94305, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Biomedical Science, Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Nagoya City University, 3-1 Tanabedori, Mizuhoku, Nagoya, Aichi 467-8603, Japan. Electronic address:


The discovery of C9orf72 mutations as the most common genetic cause of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD) has awakened a surge of interest in deciphering how mutations in this mysterious gene cause disease and what can be done to stop it. C9orf72 harbors a hexanucleotide repeat, GGGGCC, in a non-coding region of the gene and a massive expansion of this repeat causes ALS, FTD, or both (FTD/ALS). Many questions lie ahead. What does this gene normally do? What is the consequence of an enormous GGGGCC repeat expansion on that gene's function? Could that hexanucleotide repeat expansion have additional pathological actions unrelated to C9orf72 function? There has been tremendous progress on all fronts in the quest to define how C9orf72 mutations cause disease. Many new experimental models have been constructed and unleashed in powerful genetic screens. Studies in mouse and human patient samples, including iPS-derived neurons, have provided unprecedented insights into pathogenic mechanisms. Three major hypotheses have emerged and are still being hotly debated in the field. These include (1) loss of function owing to decrease in the abundance of C9orf72 protein and its ability to carryout its still unknown cellular role; (2) RNA toxicity from bidirectionally transcribed sense (GGGGCC) and antisense (GGCCCC) transcripts that accumulate in RNA foci and might sequester critical RNA-binding proteins; (3) proteotoxicity from dipeptide repeat proteins produced by an unconventional form of translation from the expanded nucleotide repeats. Here we review the evidence in favor and against each of these three hypotheses. We also suggest additional experiments and considerations that we propose will help clarify which mechanism(s) are most important for driving disease and therefore most critical for considering during the development of therapeutic interventions. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled SI:RNA Metabolism in Disease.


ALS, FTD; C9orf72; Dipeptide repeat protein; RNA

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