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Mechanisms of brain dysfunction in myotonic dystrophy type 1 : impact of the CTG expansion on neuronal and astroglial physiology

  • Dincã, Diana Mihaela
Publication Date
Oct 31, 2017
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Myotonic dystrophy type 1 (DM1) is a severe disorder that affects many tissues, including the central nervous system (CNS). The degree of brain impairment ranges from executive dysfunction, attention deficits, low processing speed, behavioural changes and hypersomnia in the adult form, to pronounced intellectual disability in the congenital cases. The neurological manifestations have a tremendous impact on the academic, professional, social and emotional aspects of daily life. Today there is no cure for this devastating condition. DM1 is caused by the abnormal expansion of a CTG trinucleotide repeat in the 3’UTR of the DMPK gene. Expanded DMPK transcripts accumulate in RNA aggregates (or foci) in the nucleus of DM1 cells, disrupting the activity of important RNA-binding proteins, like the MBNL and CELF families, and leading to abnormalities in alternative splicing, gene expression, RNA polyadenylation, localisation and translation. In spite of recent progress, fundamental gaps in our understanding of the molecular and cellular mechanisms behind the neurological manifestations still exist: we do not know the contribution of each cell type of the CNS to brain dysfunction, or the molecular pathways specifically deregulated in response to the CTG expansion. The aim of my PhD project has been to gain insight into these two important questions using a relevant transgenic mouse model of DM1 and cell cultures derived thereof. In my studies I used the DMSXL mice, previously generated in my host laboratory. The DMSXL mice express expanded DMPK mRNA with more than 1,000 CTG repeats. They recreate relevant DM1 features, such as RNA foci and missplicing in multiple tissues. The functional impact of expanded DMPK transcripts in the CNS of DMSXL mice translates into behavioural and cognitive abnormalities and defective synaptic plasticity. To identify the molecular mechanisms behind these abnormalities, a global proteomics analysis revealed changes in both neuron-specific and glial-specific proteins in DMSXL brain. We also investigated RNA foci in DMSXL and human DM1 brains and found non-homogenous distribution between cell types, with a higher foci content in astrocytes relative to neurons. Together these results suggest that both neuronal and glial defects contribute to DM1 neuropathogenesis. The global proteomics analysis of DMSXL brains also identified abnormalities in neuronal synaptic proteins that we have validated in human brain samples. SYN1 is hyperphosphorilated in a CELF-dependent manner while RAB3A is upregulated in association with MBNL1 depletion. CELF and MBNL proteins regulate the alternative splicing of a subset of transcripts throughout development, and their deregulation in DM1 leads to abnormal expression of fetal splicing isoforms in adult DM1 brains. In this context, I have studied if RAB3A and SYN1 deregulations observed in adult brains are associated with splicing abnormalities or if they recreated embryonic expression and phosphorylation events. My results indicate that the synaptic proteins abnormalities observed in adult DMSXL brains are not caused by defective alternative splicing and do not recreate embryonic events. Thus, DM1 neuropathogenesis goes beyond missplicing and other molecular pathways must be explored in DM1 brains. To better understand the cellular sub-populations susceptible of accumulating toxic RNA foci we have studied foci distribution in different brain regions. We identified pronounced accumulation of toxic RNAs in Bergman astrocytes of DMSXL mice cerebellum and DM1 patients, associated with neuronal hyperactivity of Purkinje cells. A quantitative proteomics analysis revealed a significant downregulation of GLT1 – a glial glutamate transporter expressed by the Bergmann cell in the cerebellum. I have confirmed the GLT1 downregulation in other brain regions of mouse and human brain. (...)

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