Fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder recognized in fragile X premutation carriers. Using Drosophila, we previously identified elongated non-coding CGG repeats in FMR1 allele as the pathogenic cause of FXTAS. Here, we use this same FXTAS Drosophila model to conduct a chemical screen that reveals small molecules that can ameliorate the toxic effects of fragile X premutation ribo-CGG (rCGG) repeats, among them several known phospholipase A2 (PLA2) inhibitors. We show that specific inhibition of PLA2 activity could mitigate the neuronal deficits caused by fragile X premutation rCGG repeats, including lethality and locomotion deficits. Furthermore, through a genetic screen, we identified a PLA2
Drosophila ortholog that specifically modulates rCGG repeat-mediated neuronal toxicity. Our results demonstrate the utility of Drosophila models for unbiased small molecule screens and point to PLA2 as a possible therapeutic target to treat FXTAS.
Fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS) is a neurodegenerative disorder associated with fragile X premutation carriers. Previous studies have shown that fragile X rCGG repeats are sufficient to cause neurodegeneration and that the rCGG-repeat-binding proteins Pur α and heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein (hnRNP) A2/B1 could modulate rCGG-mediated neuronal toxicity. Mobile genetic elements or their remnants populate the genomes, and the activities of these elements are tightly controlled for the fitness of host genomes in different organisms. Here we provide both biochemical and genetic evidence to show that the activation of a specific retrotransposon, gypsy, can modulate rCGG-mediated neurodegeneration in an FXTAS Drosophila model. We find that one of the rCGG-repeat-binding proteins, hnRNP A2/B1, is involved in this process via interaction with heterochromatin protein 1. Knockdown of gypsy RNA by RNAi could suppress the neuronal toxicity caused by rCGG repeats. These data together point to a surprisingly active role for retrotransposition in neurodegeneration.
Mammalian brain-specific miR-9 and miR-124 have been implicated in several aspects of neuronal development and function. However, it is not known how their expression levels are regulated in vivo. We found that the levels of miR-9 and miR-124 are regulated by FXR1P but not by the loss of FXR2P or FMRP in vivo, a mouse model of fragile × syndrome. Surprisingly, the levels of miR-9 and miR-124 are elevated in fmr1/fxr2 double-knockout mice, in part reflecting posttranscriptional upregulation of FXR1P. Indeed, FXR1P is required for efficient processing of pre-miR-9 and pre-miR-124 in vitro and forms a complex with Dicer and pre-miRNAs. These findings reveal differential roles of FMRP family proteins in controlling the expression levels of brain-specific miRNAs.
Brain-specific; FXR1P; FMRP; in vivo; microRNA; processing
The proper function of cardiac muscle requires the precise assembly and interactions of numerous cytoskeletal and regulatory proteins into specialized structures that orchestrate contraction and force transmission. Evidence suggests that post-transcriptional regulation is critical for muscle function, but the mechanisms involved remain understudied.
To investigate the molecular mechanisms and targets of the muscle-specific Fragile X mental retardation, autosomal homolog 1 (FXR1), an RNA binding protein whose loss leads to perinatal lethality in mice and cardiomyopathy in zebrafish.
Methods and Results
Using RNA immunoprecipitation approaches we found that desmoplakin and talin2 mRNAs associate with FXR1 in a complex. In vitro assays indicate that FXR1 binds these mRNA targets directly and represses their translation. Fxr1 KO hearts exhibit an upregulation of desmoplakin and talin2 proteins, which is accompanied by severe disruption of desmosome as well as costamere architecture and composition in the heart, as determined by electron microscopy and deconvolution immunofluorescence analysis.
Our findings reveal the first direct mRNA targets of FXR1 in striated muscle and support translational repression as a novel mechanism for regulating heart muscle development and function, in particular the assembly of specialized cytoskeletal structures.
Cytoskeletal dynamics; mRNA binding proteins; Desmosome; Heart development
Atypical antipsychotics such as clozapine and olanzapine have been shown to enhance histamine turnover and this effect has been hypothesized to contribute to their improved therapeutic profile compared to typical antipsychotics. In the present study, we examined the effects of antipsychotic drugs on histamine (HA) efflux in the mPFC of the rat by means of in vivo microdialysis and sought to differentiate the receptor mechanisms which underlie such effects. Olanzapine and clozapine increased mPFC HA efflux in a dose related manner. Increased HA efflux was also observed after quetiapine, chlorpromazine, and perphenazine treatment. We found no effect of the selective 5-HT2A antagonist MDL100907, 5-HT2c antagonist SB242084, or the 5-HT6 antagonist Ro 04-6790 on mPFC HA efflux. HA efflux was increased following treatment with selective H1 receptor antagonists pyrilamine, diphenhydramine, and triprolidine, the H3 receptor antagonist ciproxifan and the mixed 5-HT2A/H1 receptor antagonist ketanserin. The potential novel antipsychotic drug FMPD, which has a lower affinity at H1 receptors than olanzapine, did not affect HA efflux. Similarly, other antipsychotics with lower H1 receptor affinity (risperidone, aripiprazole, and haloperidol) were also without effect on HA efflux. Finally, HA efflux after antipsychotic treatment was significantly correlated with affinity at H1 receptors whereas nine other receptors, including 5-HT2A, were not. These results demonstrate that both typical and atypical antipsychotics increase mPFC histamine efflux and this effect may be mediated via antagonism of histamine H1 receptors.
in vivo microdialysis; histamine; clozapine; olanzapine; FMPD; antipsychotic
Deficiency in fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP) results in fragile X syndrome (FXS), an inherited form of intellectual disability. Despite extensive research, how FMRP deficiency contributes to the cognitive deficits in FXS is unclear. We have previously shown that Fmrp-null mice exhibit reduced adult hippocampal neurogenesis. Since Fmrp is also enriched in mature neurons, we explored the functional significance of Fmrp expression in neural stem and progenitor cells (aNSCs) and its role in adult neurogenesis. Here we show ablation of Fmrp in aNSCs via inducible gene recombination leads to reduced hippocampal neurogenesis in vitro and in vivo, as well as significantly impaired hippocampus-dependent learning in mice. Conversely, restoration of Fmrp expression specifically in aNSCs rescues these learning deficits. These data suggest that defective adult neurogenesis may contribute to the learning impairment seen in FXS, and these learning deficits can be rectified by delayed restoration of Fmrp specifically in aNSCs.
Fragile X premutation carriers are at risk for developing a late-onset, progressive neurodegenerative disorder termed fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS). A growing body of evidence suggests the characteristic excess CGG repeat containing FMR1 mRNA observed in premutation carriers is pathogenic and leads to clinical features of FXTAS. The current model suggests premutation mRNA transcripts can induce the formation of intranuclear inclusions by the sequestration of RNA-binding proteins and other proteins. The sequestered proteins are prevented from performing their normal functions, which is thought to lead to the neuropathology-observed FXTAS. This paper discusses the existing evidence that microsatellite expansions at the level of RNA play a role in the disease pathogenesis of FXTAS and some of the approaches that may uncover downstream effects of expanded riboCGG expression.
FXTAS; intranuclear inclusion; neurodegeneration; premutation allele; riboCGG-mediated toxicity; RNA-binding protein
Fragile X syndrome is caused by lack of the protein FMRP. FMRP mediates mRNA binding, dendritic mRNA transport and translational control at spines. We examined the role of functional domains of FMRP in neuronal RNA-granule formation and dendritic transport using different FMRP variants, including the mutant FMRP_I304N and the splice-variant FMRP_Iso12. Both variants are absent from dendritic RNA-granules in Fmr1 knockout neurons. Co-transfection experiments showed that wild-type FMRP recruits both FMRP variants into dendritic RNA-granules. Co-transfection of FXR2, an FMRP homologue, also resulted in redistribution of both variants into dendritic RNA-granules. Furthermore, the capacity of the variants to transport their mRNAs and the mRNA localization of an FMR1 construct containing silent point-mutations affecting only the G-quartet-structure was investigated. In conclusion, we show that wild-type FMRP and FXR2P are able to recruit FMRP variants into RNA-granules and that the G-quartet-structure in FMR1 mRNA is not essential for its incorporation in RNA-granules.
Fragile X syndrome; FMRP; Fmr1; mRNA transport; FXR2P; RNA-granules
Fragile X-associated Tremor/Ataxia Syndrome (FXTAS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that has been diagnosed in a substantial fraction of older male fragile X premutation carriers. Patients affected by FXTAS have elevated levels of ribo-rCGG repeat containing FMR1 mRNA with normal to slightly reduced levels of FMRP in blood leukocytes. Coupled with the absence of FXTAS in fragile X syndrome patients, this suggests premutation-sized elongated rCGG repeats in the FMR1 transcript rather than alterations in the levels of FMRP are responsible for the FXTAS pathology. Mice expressing rCGG in the context of Fmr1 or the enhanced green fluorescent protein specifically in Purkinje neurons were generated to segregate the effects of rCGG from alterations in Fmr1 and to provide evidence that rCGG is necessary and sufficient to cause pathology similar to human FXTAS. The models exhibit the presence of intranuclear inclusions in Purkinje neurons, Purkinje neuron cell death and behavioral deficits. These results demonstrate that rCGG expressed in Purkinje neurons outside the context of Fmr1 mRNA can result in neuronal pathology in a mammalian system and demonstrate that expanded CGG repeats in RNA are the likely cause of the neurodegeneration in FXTAS.
On the one hand, owing to its electronegativity, relatively small size, and notable leaving group ability from anionic intermediates, fluorine offers unique opportunities for mechanism-based enzyme inhibitor design. On the other, the “bio-orthogonal” and NMR-active 19-fluorine nucleus allows the bioorganic chemist to follow the mechanistic fate of fluorinated substrate analogues or inhibitors as they are enzymatically processed. This article takes an overview of the field, highlighting key developments along these lines. It begins by highlighting new screening methodologies for drug discovery that involve appropriate tagging of either substrate or the target protein itself with 19F-markers, that then report back on turnover and binding, respectively, via an the NMR screen. Taking this one step further, substrate-tagging with fluorine can be done is such a manner as to provide stereochemical information on enzyme mechanism. For example, substitution of one of the terminal hydrogens in phosphoenolpyruvate, provides insight into the, otherwise latent, facial selectivity of C-C bond formation in KDO synthase. Perhaps, most importantly, from the point of view of this discussion, appropriately tailored fluorinated functionality can be used to form to stabilized “transition state analogue” complexes with a target enzymes. Thus, 5-fluorinated pyrimidines, α-fluorinated ketones, and 2-fluoro-2-deoxysugars each lead to covalent adduction of catalytic active site residues in thymidylate synthase, serine protease and glycosidase enzymes, respectively. In all such cases, 19F NMR allows the bioorganic chemist to spectrally follow “transition state analogue” formation. Finally, the use of specific fluorinated functionality to engineer “suicide substrates” is highlighted in a discussion of the development of the α-(2′Z-fluoro)vinyl trigger for amino acid decarboxylase inactivation. Here 19F NMR allows the bioorganic chemist to glean useful partition ratio data directly out of the NMR tube.
Lack of fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP) causes Fragile X Syndrome, the most common form of inherited mental retardation. FMRP is an RNA-binding protein and is a component of messenger ribonucleoprotein complexes, associated with brain polyribosomes, including dendritic polysomes. FMRP is therefore thought to be involved in translational control of specific mRNAs at synaptic sites. In mice lacking FMRP, protein synthesis-dependent synaptic plasticity is altered and structural malformations of dendritic protrusions occur. One hypothesized cause of the disease mechanism is based on exaggerated group I mGluR receptor activation. In this study, we examined the effect of the mGluR5 antagonist MPEP on Fragile X related behavior in Fmr1 KO mice. Our results demonstrate a clear defect in prepulse inhibition of startle in Fmr1 KO mice, that could be rescued by MPEP. Moreover, we show for the first time a structural rescue of Fragile X related protrusion morphology with two independent mGluR5 antagonists.
Fragile X syndrome; spines; dendrite branching; MPEP; fenobam; prepulse inhibition of startle; metabotropic glutamate receptor; primary hippocampal neuron culture
Fragile X Syndrome (FXS) is the most common form of hereditary mental retardation. FXS patients have a deficit for the Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein (FMRP) that results in abnormal neuronal dendritic spine morphology and behavioral phenotypes including sleep abnormalities. In a Drosophila model of FXS, flies lacking the dfmr1 protein (dFMRP) have abnormal circadian rhythms apparently due to altered clock output. In this study, we present biochemical and genetic evidence that dFMRP interacts with a known clock output component, the LARK RNA-binding protein. Our studies demonstrate physical interactions between dFMRP and LARK, that the two proteins are present in a complex in vivo, and that LARK promotes the stability of dFMRP. Furthermore, we show genetic interactions between the corresponding genes indicating that dFMRP and LARK function together to regulate eye development and circadian behavior.
Secretin is a peptide hormone released from the duodenum to stimulate the secretion of digestive juice by the pancreas. Secretin also functions as a neuropeptide hormone in the brain, and exogenous administration has been reported to alleviate symptoms in some patients with autism. We have generated secretin receptor-deficient mice to explore the relationship between secretin signaling in the brain and behavioral phenotypes. Secretin receptor-deficient mice are overtly normal and fertile; however, synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus is impaired and there are slightly fewer dendritic spines in the CA1 hippocampal pyramidal cells. Furthermore, secretin receptor-deficient mice show abnormal social and cognitive behaviors. These findings suggest that the secretin receptor system has an important role in the central nervous system relating to social behavior.
Fragile X associated tremor ataxia syndrome (FXTAS) is a recently described neurodegenerative disorder of older adult carriers of premutation alleles (60-200 CGG repeats) in the fragile-X mental retardation gene (FMR1). It has been proposed that FXTAS is an RNA mediated neurodegenerative disease caused by the titration of RNA binding proteins by the CGG repeats. To test this hypothesis, we utilize a transgenic Drosophila model of FXTAS that expresses premutation length repeat (90 CGG repeats) from the 5’ UTR of the human FMR1 gene and displays neuronal degeneration. Here, we show that over-expression of RNA binding proteins, hnRNP A2/B1 and CUGBP1 suppress the phenotype of the CGG transgenic fly. Furthermore, we show that hnRNP A2/B1 directly interacts with riboCGG repeats and that the CUGBP1 protein interacts with the riboCGG repeats via hnRNP A2/B1.
Imaging techniques provide ways of knowing structure and function in biology at different scales. The multidisciplinary nature and rapid advancement of imaging sciences requires imaging education to begin early in the biology curriculum. Guided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Roadmap initiatives, we incorporated a nanoimaging, molecular imaging, and medical imaging teaching unit into three 1-h class periods of an introductory course on ways of knowing biology. Activities were derived from NIH Roadmap initiatives in nanomedicine, regenerative medicine, and nuclear medicine. The course materials we describe contributed positively to student learning gains in quantifying and interpreting images, in characterizing imaging methods that provide ways of knowing biological structure and function, and in understanding scale in biology and imaging. The NIH Roadmap provides a useful context to educate students about the multidisciplinary imaging continuum.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronicpsychiatric diseasecharacterized by recurrent obsessions, compulsions, or both. The prevalence rate of OCD is 2.1% in the general population. Here we report cytogenetic analysis of 26 patients affected with OCD. In one male patient (OCD-K33), we identified a fragile X chromosome by cytogenetic analysis with 21% of cells demonstrating a fragile site at Xq27–q28. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and Southern blot analysis demonstrated that the molecular basis of the OCD-K33 fragile X chromosome was expansion of the CCG repeat at FRAXE. The number of the expanded repeats was estimated to be more than 300 copies, qualifying it as a full FRAXE mutation. Further analysis of the family members of OCD-K33 revealed another member with a full FRAXE mutation (630–1,200 copies of the CCG repeat), who had the clinical phenotype of speech impairment, and two other members with normal phenotypes and no FRAXE expansion. The two FRAXE expansions lead to complete methylation at the CCG repeat. The co-segregation of the full FRAXE mutation with apparent neurologic disorders in the same family provides further support to the notion that FRAXE is a genetic neurologic condition. Our findings expand the spectrum of clinical phenotypes associated with FRAXE mutations.
obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD); fragile X chromosome; FRAXA; FRAXE; FRAXF; speech impairment; genetics; FMR2; neurologic disorder; mental retardation
The human brain and skull are three dimensional (3D) anatomical structures with complex surfaces. However, medical images are often two dimensional (2D) and provide incomplete visualization of structural morphology. To overcome this loss in dimension, we developed and validated a freely available, semi-automated pathway to build 3D virtual reality (VR) and hand-held, stereolithograph models. To evaluate whether surface visualization in 3D was more informative than in 2D, undergraduate students (n = 50) used the Gillespie scale to rate 3D VR and physical models of both a living patient-volunteer's brain and the skull of Phineas Gage, a historically famous railroad worker whose misfortune with a projectile tamping iron provided the first evidence of a structure-function relationship in brain. Using our processing pathway, we successfully fabricated human brain and skull replicas and validated that the stereolithograph model preserved the scale of the VR model. Based on the Gillespie ratings, students indicated that the biological utility and quality of visual information at the surface of VR and stereolithograph models were greater than the 2D images from which they were derived. The method we developed is useful to create VR and stereolithograph 3D models from medical images and can be used to model hard or soft tissue in living or preserved specimens. Compared to 2D images, VR and stereolithograph models provide an extra dimension that enhances both the quality of visual information and utility of surface visualization in neuroscience and medicine.
The A kinase anchoring protein 350 (AKAP350) is a multiply spliced type II protein kinase A anchoring protein that localizes to the centrosomes in most cells and to the Golgi apparatus in epithelial cells. In the present study, we sought to identify AKAP350 interacting proteins that could yield insights into AKAP350 function at the Golgi apparatus. Using yeast two-hybrid and pull-down assays, we found that AKAP350 interacts with a family of structurally related proteins, including FBP17, FBP17b, and cdc42 interacting protein 4 (CIP4). CIP4 interacts with the GTP-bound form of cdc42, with the Wiscott Aldrich Syndrome group of proteins, and with microtubules, and exerts regulatory effects on cytoskeleton and membrane trafficking. CIP4 is phosphorylated by protein kinase A in vitro, and elevation of intracellular cyclic AMP with forskolin stimulates in situ phosphorylation of CIP4. Our results indicate that CIP4 interacts with AKAP350 at the Golgi apparatus and that either disruption of this interaction by expressing the CIP4 binding domain in AKAP350, or reduction of AKAP350 expression by RNA interference leads to changes in Golgi structure. The results suggest that AKAP350 and CIP4 influence the maintenance of normal Golgi apparatus structure.
Revertant mosaicism due to true back mutations or second-site mutations has been identified in several inherited disorders. The occurrence of revertants is considered rare, and the underlying genetic mechanisms remain mostly unknown. Here we describe somatic mosaicism in two brothers affected with Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome (WAS). The original mutation causing disease in this family is a single base insertion (1305insG) in the WAS protein (WASP) gene, which results in frameshift and abrogates protein expression. Both patients, however, showed expression of WASP in a fraction of their T cells that were demonstrated to carry a second-site mutation causing the deletion of 19 nucleotides from nucleotide 1299 to 1316. This deletion abrogated the effects of the original mutation and restored the WASP reading frame. In vitro expression studies indicated that mutant protein encoded by the second-site mutation was expressed and functional, since it was able to bind to cellular partners and mediate T cell receptor/CD3 downregulation. These observations were consistent with evidence of in vivo selective advantage of WASP-expressing lymphocytes. Molecular analysis revealed that the sequence surrounding the deletion contained two 4-bp direct repeats and that a hairpin structure could be formed by five GC pairs within the deleted fragment. These findings strongly suggest that slipped mispairing was the cause of this second-site mutation and that selective accumulation of WASP-expressing T lymphocytes led to revertant mosaicism in these patients.
Inhibitor of apoptosis protein (IAP)-like protein-1 (ILP-1) (also known as X-linked IAP [XIAP] and mammalian IAP homolog A [MIHA]) is a potent inhibitor of apoptosis and exerts its effects, at least in part, by the direct association with and inhibition of specific caspases. Here, we describe the molecular cloning and characterization of a human gene related to ILP-1, termed ILP-2. Despite high homology to ILP-1, ILP-2 is encoded by a distinct gene, which in normal tissues is expressed solely in testis. In contrast to ILP-1, overexpression of ILP-2 had no protective effect on apoptosis mediated by Fas (also known as CD95) or tumor necrosis factor. However, ILP-2 potently inhibited apoptosis induced by overexpression of Bax or by coexpression of caspase 9 with Apaf-1, and preincubation of cytosolic extracts with ILP-2 abrogated caspase activation in vitro. A processed form of caspase 9 could be coprecipitated with ILP-2 from cells, suggesting a physical interaction between ILP-2 and caspase 9. Thus, ILP-2 is a novel IAP family member with restricted specificity for caspase 9.
X-linked hyper-IgM syndrome (XHIM) results from mutations in the gene encoding for CD40 ligand (CD154). Patients with the syndrome suffer from infections with opportunistic pathogens such as Cryptosporidium and Pneumocystis carinii. In this study, we demonstrate that activated T cells from patients with XHIM produce markedly reduced levels of IFN-γ, fail to induce antigen-presenting cells to synthesize IL-12, and induce greatly reduced levels of TNF-α. In addition, we show that the patients’ circulating T lymphocytes of both the CD4+ and CD8+ subsets contain a markedly reduced antigen-primed population, as determined by CD45RO expression. Finally, we demonstrate that the defects in antigen priming are likely due to the lack of CD154 expression and insufficient costimulation of T cells by CD80/CD86 interactions. Taken together, this study offers a basis for the increased susceptibility of patients with XHIM to certain opportunistic infections.
The energy-dependent exchange of intracellular Mg2+ with extracellular Mg2+ or Co2+ is inhibited by colicin E1 and, less strongly, by colicin K. Treatment with either colicin causes a net loss of intracellular Mg2+. This loss begins immediately in cells treated with colicin E1, but in colicin K-treated cells the onset of Mg2+ loss is delayed 1 to 10 min, depending upon the temperature and the multiplicity of colicin K. Both colicins differ from chemical inhibitors of energy-yielding metabolism; energy poisons block transport of Mg2+ and Co2+, but both colicins increase passive permeability to Mg2+ and Co2+. Inhibitors of energy-yielding metabolism (and of Mg2+ exchange) block the initiation of Mg2+ loss by either colicin, but do not stop colicin-promoted efflux once it has begun. Colicin E1 added before colicin K prevents the more rapid Mg2+ efflux characteristic of colicin K-treated cells. Quantitative comparisons of the effects of colicins E1 and K upon permeability to Mg2+ and Co2+ lead us to conclude that the two colicins are not identical in their mode of action.
A sulfonic acid found to be a major constituent of spores of Bacillus subtilis was provisionally identified as 3-l-sulfolactic acid. This compound was completely absent from vegetative cells during growth, but large amounts accumulated in sporulating cells just before the development of refractile spores. Essentially all of the accumulated sulfolactic acid was eventually incorporated into the nature spore, where it may represent more than 5% of the dry weight of the spore. Germination resulted in the rapid and complete release into the medium of unaltered sulfolactic acid. This compound was not found in spores of Bacillus megaterium, B. cereus, or B. thuringiensis.
A region of approximately one megabase of human Chromosome 12 shows extensive linkage disequilibrium in Utah residents with ancestry from northern and western Europe. This strikingly large linkage disequilibrium block was analyzed with statistical and experimental methods to determine whether natural selection could be implicated in shaping the current genome structure. Extended Haplotype Homozygosity and Relative Extended Haplotype Homozygosity analyses on this region mapped a core region of the strongest conserved haplotype to the exon 1 of the Spinocerebellar ataxia type 2 gene (SCA2). Direct DNA sequencing of this region of the SCA2 gene revealed a significant association between a pre-expanded allele [(CAG)8CAA(CAG)4CAA(CAG)8] of CAG repeats within exon 1 and the selected haplotype of the SCA2 gene. A significantly negative Tajima's D value (−2.20, p < 0.01) on this site consistently suggested selection on the CAG repeat. This region was also investigated in the three other populations, none of which showed signs of selection. These results suggest that a recent positive selection of the pre-expansion SCA2 CAG repeat has occurred in Utah residents with European ancestry.
Natural selection ultimately acts on the genetic variants existing among human populations. Therefore, there are “footprints” that the selective force has left behind in the human genome. In this study, Yu et al. identified an extremely large region on Chromosome 12 that is under positive selection in Utah residents with European ancestry by characterizing the correlation patterns of genomic variants. Further analyses on this interval suggested that selection centered on one of the many forms of Spinocerebellar ataxia type-2 (SCA2) gene. The selected form was next demonstrated to associate with one short version of the disease-causing CAG repeat in the SCA2 gene. These results suggest that the CAG repeat was positively selected. An abnormally long version of CAGs can cause SCA2, a neurodegenerative disease that severely impairs the abilities of body movement. The authors showed how they unraveled natural selection acting on the SCA2 gene. Their findings might lead to the discovery of the biological functions of this gene and its CAG repeat. This kind of study holds potential to facilitate the finding of common disease genes.