The human X chromosome has a unique biology that was shaped by its evolution as the sex chromosome shared by males and females. We have determined 99.3% of the euchromatic sequence of the X chromosome. Our analysis illustrates the autosomal origin of the mammalian sex chromosomes, the stepwise process that led to the progressive loss of recombination between X and Y, and the extent of subsequent degradation of the Y chromosome. LINE1 repeat elements cover one-third of the X chromosome, with a distribution that is consistent with their proposed role as way stations in the process of X-chromosome inactivation. We found 1,098 genes in the sequence, of which 99 encode proteins expressed in testis and in various tumour types. A disproportionately high number of mendelian diseases are documented for the X chromosome. Of this number, 168 have been explained by mutations in 113 X-linked genes, which in many cases were characterized with the aid of the DNA sequence.
The ability to accurately predict the likelihood of expansion of the CGG repeats in the FMR1 gene to a full mutation is of critical importance for genetic counseling of women who are carriers of premutation alleles (55–200 CGG repeats) and who are weighing the risk of having a child with fragile X syndrome. The presence of AGG interruptions within the CGG repeat tract are thought to decrease the likelihood of expansion to a full mutation during transmission, thereby reducing risk, although their contribution has not been quantified.
We retrospectively analyzed 267 premutation alleles for number and position of AGG interruptions, length of pure CGG repeats, and CGG repeat lengths present in the offspring of the maternal transmissions. Additionally, we determined the haplotypes of four markers flanking the 5’ UTR locus in the premutation mothers.
We found that the presence of AGG interruptions significantly increased genetic stability while specific haplotypes had a marginal association with transmission instability.
The presence of AGG interruptions reduced the risk of transmission of a full mutation for all maternal (premutation) repeat lengths below ~100 CGG repeats, with a differential risk (0 versus 2 AGG) exceeding 60% for alleles in the 70-to 80-CGG repeat range.
AGG interruptions; FMR1; premutation carriers; genetic instability; CGG repeat
Disorders characterized by expansion of an unstable nucleotide repeat
account for a number of inherited neurological diseases. Here, we review
examples of unstable repeat disorders that nicely illustrate the three of the
major pathogenic mechanisms associated with these diseases: loss-of-function
typically by disrupting transcription of the mutated gene, RNA toxic
gain-of-function, and protein toxic gain-of-function. In addition to providing
insight into the mechanisms underlying these devastating neurological disorders,
the study of these unstable microsatellite repeat disorders has provided insight
into very basic aspects of neuroscience.
Autoverification is a process of using computer-based rules to verify clinical laboratory test results without manual intervention. To date, there is little published data on the use of autoverification over the course of years in a clinical laboratory. We describe the evolution and application of autoverification in an academic medical center clinical chemistry core laboratory.
Subjects and Methods:
At the institution of the study, autoverification developed from rudimentary rules in the laboratory information system (LIS) to extensive and sophisticated rules mostly in middleware software. Rules incorporated decisions based on instrument error flags, interference indices, analytical measurement ranges (AMRs), delta checks, dilution protocols, results suggestive of compromised or contaminated specimens, and ‘absurd’ (physiologically improbable) values.
The autoverification rate for tests performed in the core clinical chemistry laboratory has increased over the course of 13 years from 40% to the current overall rate of 99.5%. A high percentage of critical values now autoverify. The highest rates of autoverification occurred with the most frequently ordered tests such as the basic metabolic panel (sodium, potassium, chloride, carbon dioxide, creatinine, blood urea nitrogen, calcium, glucose; 99.6%), albumin (99.8%), and alanine aminotransferase (99.7%). The lowest rates of autoverification occurred with some therapeutic drug levels (gentamicin, lithium, and methotrexate) and with serum free light chains (kappa/lambda), mostly due to need for offline dilution and manual filing of results. Rules also caught very rare occurrences such as plasma albumin exceeding total protein (usually indicative of an error such as short sample or bubble that evaded detection) and marked discrepancy between total bilirubin and the spectrophotometric icteric index (usually due to interference of the bilirubin assay by immunoglobulin (Ig) M monoclonal gammopathy).
Our results suggest that a high rate of autoverification is possible with modern clinical chemistry analyzers. The ability to autoverify a high percentage of results increases productivity and allows clinical laboratory staff to focus attention on the small number of specimens and results that require manual review and investigation.
Algorithms; clinical chemistry; clinical laboratory information system; Epstein-Barr virus; informatics
Circadian disruption has deleterious effects on metabolism. Global deletion of Bmal1, a core clock gene, results in β-cell dysfunction and diabetes. However, it is unknown if this is due to loss of cell-autonomous function of Bmal1 in β cells. To address this, we generated mice with β-cell clock disruption by deleting Bmal1 in β cells (β-Bmal1−/−). β-Bmal1−/− mice develop diabetes due to loss of glucose-stimulated insulin secretion (GSIS). This loss of GSIS is due to the accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and consequent mitochondrial uncoupling, as it is fully rescued by scavenging of the ROS or by inhibition of uncoupling protein 2. The expression of the master antioxidant regulatory factor Nrf2 (nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2) and its targets, Sesn2, Prdx3, Gclc, and Gclm, was decreased in β-Bmal1−/− islets, which may contribute to the observed increase in ROS accumulation. In addition, by chromatin immunoprecipitation experiments, we show that Nrf2 is a direct transcriptional target of Bmal1. Interestingly, simulation of shift work-induced circadian misalignment in mice recapitulates many of the defects seen in Bmal1-deficient islets. Thus, the cell-autonomous function of Bmal1 is required for normal β-cell function by mitigating oxidative stress and serves to preserve β-cell function in the face of circadian misalignment.
Fragile X Syndrome (FXS) is a debilitating neurodevelopmental disorder thought to arise from disrupted synaptic communication in several key brain regions including the amygdala - a central processing center for information with emotional and social relevance. Recent studies reveal defects in both excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission in mature amygdala circuits in Fmr1-/y mutants, the animal model of FXS. However, whether these defects are the result of altered synaptic development or simply faulty mature circuits remains unknown. Using a combination of electrophysiological and genetic approaches, we show the development of both pre- and postsynaptic components of inhibitory neurotransmission in the FXS amygdala is dynamically altered during critical stages of neural circuit formation. Surprisingly, we observe that there is a homeostatic correction of defective inhibition, which, despite transiently restoring inhibitory synaptic efficacy to levels at or beyond those of control, ultimately fails to be maintained. Using inhibitory interneuron-specific conditional knockout and rescue mice, we further reveal that Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein (FMRP) function in amygdala inhibitory microcircuits can be segregated into distinct pre- and postsynaptic components. Collectively, these studies reveal a previously unrecognized complexity of disrupted neuronal development in FXS and therefore have direct implications for establishing novel temporal and region-specific targeted therapies to ameliorate core amygdala-based behavioral symptoms.
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 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.
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
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.
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.