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1.  Antisense-Induced Messenger Depletion Corrects a COL6A2 Dominant Mutation in Ullrich Myopathy 
Human Gene Therapy  2012;23(12):1313-1318.
Collagen VI gene mutations cause Ullrich and Bethlem muscular dystrophies. Pathogenic mutations frequently have a dominant negative effect, with defects in collagen VI chain secretion and assembly. It is agreed that, conversely, collagen VI haploinsufficiency has no pathological consequences. Thus, RNA-targeting approaches aimed at preferentially inactivating the mutated COL6 messenger may represent a promising therapeutic strategy. By in vitro studies we obtained the preferential depletion of the mutated COL6A2 messenger, by targeting a common single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), cistronic with a dominant COL6A2 mutation. We used a 2′-O-methyl phosphorothioate (2′OMePS) antisense oligonucleotide covering the SNP within exon 3, which is out of frame. Exon 3 skipping has the effect of depleting the mutated transcript via RNA nonsense-mediated decay, recovering the correct collagen VI secretion and restoring the ability to form an interconnected microfilament network into the extracellular matrix. This novel RNA modulation approach to correcting dominant mutations may represent a therapeutic strategy potentially applicable to a great variety of mutations and diseases.
Gualandi and colleagues deplete defective mRNA transcripts of the gene encoding one of the collagen VI α chains (COL6A2) by using an antisense oligonucleotide covering a single-nucleotide polymorphism to achieve skipping of COL6A2 exon 3. Exon 3 skipping was confirmed and resulted in reduced expression of the mutated transcript via RNA nonsense-mediated decay. Histology and electron microscopy studies showed recovery of functional secretion of collagen VI as well as integration of collagen VI into the extracellular matrix.
PMCID: PMC3523246  PMID: 22992134
2.  The DMD Locus Harbours Multiple Long Non-Coding RNAs Which Orchestrate and Control Transcription of Muscle Dystrophin mRNA Isoforms 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e45328.
The 2.2 Mb long dystrophin (DMD) gene, the largest gene in the human genome, corresponds to roughly 0.1% of the entire human DNA sequence. Mutations in this gene cause Duchenne muscular dystrophy and other milder X-linked, recessive dystrophinopathies. Using a custom-made tiling array, specifically designed for the DMD locus, we identified a variety of novel long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs), both sense and antisense oriented, whose expression profiles mirror that of DMD gene. Importantly, these transcripts are intronic in origin and specifically localized to the nucleus and are transcribed contextually with dystrophin isoforms or primed by MyoD-induced myogenic differentiation. Furthermore, their forced ectopic expression in both human muscle and neuronal cells causes a specific and negative regulation of endogenous dystrophin full length isoforms and significantly down-regulate the activity of a luciferase reporter construct carrying the minimal promoter regions of the muscle dystrophin isoform. Consistent with this apparently repressive role, we found that, in muscle samples of dystrophinopathic female carriers, lncRNAs expression levels inversely correlate with those of muscle full length DMD isoforms. Overall these findings unveil an unprecedented complexity of the transcriptional pattern of the DMD locus and reveal that DMD lncRNAs may contribute to the orchestration and homeostasis of the muscle dystrophin expression pattern by either selective targeting and down-modulating the dystrophin promoter transcriptional activity.
PMCID: PMC3448672  PMID: 23028937
3.  Genetic characterization in symptomatic female DMD carriers: lack of relationship between X-inactivation, transcriptional DMD allele balancing and phenotype 
BMC Medical Genetics  2012;13:73.
Although Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophies, X-linked recessive myopathies, predominantly affect males, a clinically significant proportion of females manifesting symptoms have also been reported. They represent an heterogeneous group characterized by variable degrees of muscle weakness and/or cardiac involvement. Though preferential inactivation of the normal X chromosome has long been considered the principal mechanism behind disease manifestation in these females, supporting evidence is controversial.
Eighteen females showing a mosaic pattern of dystrophin expression on muscle biopsy were recruited and classified as symptomatic (7) or asymptomatic (11), based on the presence or absence of muscle weakness. The causative DMD gene mutations were identified in all cases, and the X-inactivation pattern was assessed in muscle DNA. Transcriptional analysis in muscles was performed in all females, and relative quantification of wild-type and mutated transcripts was also performed in 9 carriers. Dystrophin protein was quantified by immunoblotting in 2 females.
The study highlighted a lack of relationship between dystrophic phenotype and X-inactivation pattern in females; skewed X-inactivation was found in 2 out of 6 symptomatic carriers and in 5 out of 11 asymptomatic carriers. All females were characterized by biallelic transcription, but no association was found between X-inactivation pattern and allele transcriptional balancing. Either a prevalence of wild-type transcript or equal proportions of wild-type and mutated RNAs was observed in both symptomatic and asymptomatic females. Moreover, very similar levels of total and wild-type transcripts were identified in the two groups of carriers.
This is the first study deeply exploring the DMD transcriptional behaviour in a cohort of female carriers. Notably, no relationship between X-inactivation pattern and transcriptional behaviour of DMD gene was observed, suggesting that the two mechanisms are regulated independently. Moreover, neither the total DMD transcript level, nor the relative proportion of the wild-type transcript do correlate with the symptomatic phenotype.
PMCID: PMC3459813  PMID: 22894145
Dystrophinopathy; Female carriers; X-inactivation; Transcriptional balancing
4.  The absence of dystrophin brain isoform expression in healthy human heart ventricles explains the pathogenesis of 5' X-linked dilated cardiomyopathy 
BMC Medical Genetics  2012;13:20.
In X-linked dilated cardiomyopathy due to dystrophin mutations which abolish the expression of the M isoform (5'-XLDC), the skeletal muscle is spared through the up-regulation of the Brain (B) isoform, a compensatory mechanism that does not appear to occur in the heart of affected individuals.
We quantitatively studied the expression topography of both B and M isoforms in various human heart regions through in-situ RNA hybridization, Reverse-Transcriptase and Real-Time PCR experiments. We also investigated the methylation profile of the B promoter region in the heart and quantified the B isoform up regulation in the skeletal muscle of two 5'-XLDC patients.
Unlike the M isoform, consistently detectable in all the heart regions, the B isoform was selectively expressed in atrial cardiomyocytes, but absent in ventricles and in conduction system structures. Although the level of B isoform messenger in the skeletal muscle of 5'-XLDC patients was lower that of the M messenger present in control muscle, it seems sufficient to avoid an overt muscle pathology. This result is consistent with the protein level in XLDC patients muscles we previously quantified. Methylation studies revealed that the B promoter shows an overall low level of methylation at the CG dinucleotides in both atria and ventricles, suggesting a methylation-independent regulation of the B promoter activity.
The ventricular dilatation seen in 5'-XLDC patients appears to be functionally related to loss of the M isoform, the only isoform transcribed in human ventricles; in contrast, the B isoform is well expressed in heart but confined to the atria. Since the B isoform can functionally replace the M isoform in the skeletal muscle, its expression in the heart could potentially exert the same rescue function. Methylation status does not seem to play a role in the differential B promoter activity in atria and ventricles, which may be governed by other regulatory mechanisms. If these mechanisms could be deduced, de-silencing of the B isoform may represent a therapeutic strategy in 5'-XLDC patients.
PMCID: PMC3331845  PMID: 22455600
5.  Custom CGH array profiling of copy number variations (CNVs) on chromosome 6p21.32 (HLA locus) in patients with venous malformations associated with multiple sclerosis 
BMC Medical Genetics  2010;11:64.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a complex disorder thought to result from an interaction between environmental and genetic predisposing factors which have not yet been characterised, although it is known to be associated with the HLA region on 6p21.32. Recently, a picture of chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI), consequent to stenosing venous malformation of the main extra-cranial outflow routes (VM), has been described in patients affected with MS, introducing an additional phenotype with possible pathogenic significance.
In order to explore the presence of copy number variations (CNVs) within the HLA locus, a custom CGH array was designed to cover 7 Mb of the HLA locus region (6,899,999 bp; chr6:29,900,001-36,800,000). Genomic DNA of the 15 patients with CCSVI/VM and MS was hybridised in duplicate.
In total, 322 CNVs, of which 225 were extragenic and 97 intragenic, were identified in 15 patients. 234 known polymorphic CNVs were detected, the majority of these being situated in non-coding or extragenic regions. The overall number of CNVs (both extra- and intragenic) showed a robust and significant correlation with the number of stenosing VMs (Spearman: r = 0.6590, p = 0.0104; linear regression analysis r = 0.6577, p = 0.0106).
The region we analysed contains 211 known genes. By using pathway analysis focused on angiogenesis and venous development, MS, and immunity, we tentatively highlight several genes as possible susceptibility factor candidates involved in this peculiar phenotype.
The CNVs contained in the HLA locus region in patients with the novel phenotype of CCSVI/VM and MS were mapped in detail, demonstrating a significant correlation between the number of known CNVs found in the HLA region and the number of CCSVI-VMs identified in patients. Pathway analysis revealed common routes of interaction of several of the genes involved in angiogenesis and immunity contained within this region. Despite the small sample size in this pilot study, it does suggest that the number of multiple polymorphic CNVs in the HLA locus deserves further study, owing to their possible involvement in susceptibility to this novel MS/VM plus phenotype, and perhaps even other types of the disease.
PMCID: PMC2880319  PMID: 20426824
6.  Identification of a deep intronic mutation in the COL6A2 gene by a novel custom oligonucleotide CGH array designed to explore allelic and genetic heterogeneity in collagen VI-related myopathies 
BMC Medical Genetics  2010;11:44.
Molecular characterization of collagen-VI related myopathies currently relies on standard sequencing, which yields a detection rate approximating 75-79% in Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy (UCMD) and 60-65% in Bethlem myopathy (BM) patients as PCR-based techniques tend to miss gross genomic rearrangements as well as copy number variations (CNVs) in both the coding sequence and intronic regions.
We have designed a custom oligonucleotide CGH array in order to investigate the presence of CNVs in the coding and non-coding regions of COL6A1, A2, A3, A5 and A6 genes and a group of genes functionally related to collagen VI. A cohort of 12 patients with UCMD/BM negative at sequencing analysis and 2 subjects carrying a single COL6 mutation whose clinical phenotype was not explicable by inheritance were selected and the occurrence of allelic and genetic heterogeneity explored.
A deletion within intron 1A of the COL6A2 gene, occurring in compound heterozygosity with a small deletion in exon 28, previously detected by routine sequencing, was identified in a BM patient. RNA studies showed monoallelic transcription of the COL6A2 gene, thus elucidating the functional effect of the intronic deletion. No pathogenic mutations were identified in the remaining analyzed patients, either within COL6A genes, or in genes functionally related to collagen VI.
Our custom CGH array may represent a useful complementary diagnostic tool, especially in recessive forms of the disease, when only one mutant allele is detected by standard sequencing. The intronic deletion we identified represents the first example of a pure intronic mutation in COL6A genes.
PMCID: PMC2850895  PMID: 20302629
7.  A novel custom high density-comparative genomic hybridization array detects common rearrangements as well as deep intronic mutations in dystrophinopathies 
BMC Genomics  2008;9:572.
The commonest pathogenic DMD changes are intragenic deletions/duplications which make up to 78% of all cases and point mutations (roughly 20%) detectable through direct sequencing. The remaining mutations (about 2%) are thought to be pure intronic rearrangements/mutations or 5'-3' UTR changes. In order to screen the huge DMD gene for all types of copy number variation mutations we designed a novel custom high density comparative genomic hybridisation array which contains the full genomic region of the DMD gene and spans from 100 kb upstream to 100 kb downstream of the 2.2 Mb DMD gene.
We studied 12 DMD/BMD patients who either had no detectable mutations or carried previously identified quantitative pathogenic changes in the DMD gene. We validated the array on patients with previously known mutations as well as unaffected controls, we identified three novel pure intronic rearrangements and we defined all the mutation breakpoints both in the introns and in the 3' UTR region. We also detected a novel polymorphic intron 2 deletion/duplication variation. Despite the high resolution of this approach, RNA studies were required to confirm the functional significance of the intronic mutations identified by CGH. In addition, RNA analysis identified three intronic pathogenic variations affecting splicing which had not been detected by the CGH analysis.
This novel technology represents an effective high throughput tool to identify both common and rarer DMD rearrangements. RNA studies are required in order to validate the significance of the CGH array findings. The combination of these tools will fully cover the identification of causative DMD rearrangements in both coding and non-coding regions, particularly in patients in whom standard although extensive techniques are unable to detect a mutation.
PMCID: PMC2612025  PMID: 19040728

Results 1-7 (7)