The CAG repeat expansions that occur in translated regions of specific genes can cause human genetic disorders known as polyglutamine (poly-Q)-triggered diseases. Huntington's disease and spinobulbar muscular atrophy (SBMA) are examples of these diseases in which underlying mutations are localized near other trinucleotide repeats in the huntingtin (HTT) and androgen receptor (AR) genes, respectively. Mutant proteins that contain expanded polyglutamine tracts are well-known triggers of pathogenesis in poly-Q diseases, but a toxic role for mutant transcripts has also been proposed. To gain insight into the structural features of complex triplet repeats of HTT and AR transcripts, we determined their structures in vitro and showed the contribution of neighboring repeats to CAG repeat hairpin formation. We also demonstrated that the expanded transcript is retained in the nucleus of human HD fibroblasts and is colocalized with the MBNL1 protein. This suggests that the CAG repeats in the HTT mRNA adopt ds-like RNA conformations in vivo. The intracellular structure of the CAG repeat region of mutant HTT transcripts was not sufficiently stable to be protected from cleavage by an siRNA targeting the repeats and the silencing efficiency was higher for the mutant transcript than for its normal counterpart.
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