Multiple regulatory events controlling the expression and localization of utrophin in skeletal muscle fibers: insights into a therapeutic strategy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is the most prevalent inherited muscle disease and results from mutations/deletions in the X-linked dystrophin gene. Although several approaches have been envisaged to counteract the effects of this progressive disease, there is currently no cure available. One strategy consists in utilizing a protein normally expressed in DMD muscle which, once expressed at appropriate levels and at the correct subcellular location, could compensate for the lack of dystrophin. A candidate for such a role is the dystrophin-related protein now referred to as utrophin. In contrast to dystrophin, which is expressed along the length of healthy muscle fibers, utrophin accumulates at the neuromuscular junction in both normal and DMD fibers. Several years ago, we began a series of experiments to determine the mechanisms responsible for the expression of utrophin at the neuromuscular synapse. Initially, we showed that utrophin transcripts accumulate preferentially within the postsynaptic sarcoplasm. To determine whether selective transcription of the utrophin gene accounts for this synaptic accumulation of utrophin mRNAs, we injected several utrophin promoter-reporter constructs directly into mouse muscle and demonstrated the preferential synaptic expression of the reporter gene. These results suggested that local transcriptional activation of the utrophin gene is responsible for the accumulation of utrophin mRNAs at the neuromuscular junction. In these studies, we also demonstrated that an N-box motif contained within the utrophin promoter plays a critical role in directing the synapse-specific expression of the utrophin gene. Additionally, our studies have shown that the ets-factors GABP alpha and beta are part of a protein complex that can bind to the N-box motif to transactivate the gene in muscle cells in culture and in vivo. In these experiments, we also noted that the nerve-derived trophic factors agrin and ARIA/heregulin regulate expression of utrophin via the activation of GABP alpha and beta which in turn, transactivate the utrophin gene via the N-box motif. Although these studies demonstrate that transcriptional activation can regulate utrophin mRNA levels, it is possible that additional mechanisms are also involved. In particular, the association of mRNAs with cytoskeletal elements and RNA-binding proteins may contribute to the accumulation of utrophin transcripts within the postsynaptic sarcoplasm. In recent studies, we have begun to examine this and we have now identified specific regions within the 3' untranslated region that are necessary for targeting and stabilizing utrophin mRNAs in skeletal muscle cells. A series of in vivo studies have also led us to conclude that post-transcriptional mechanisms are indeed important in regulating the abundance of utrophin transcripts in muscle. Together, these studies should lead to the identification of cis- and trans-acting elements regulating transcription of the utrophin gene as well as the stability and targeting of its mRNA in muscle cells. The results should therefore, identify specific targets that may become important in designing specific pharmacological interventions directed at increasing the expression of utrophin into extrasynaptic regions of DMD muscle fibers. In addition, these findings will contribute to our basic understanding of the cellular and molecular events involved in the formation, maintenance and plasticity of the neuromuscular synapse.
Jasmin, BJ; Angus, LM; Bélanger, G; Chakkalakal, JV; Gramolini, AO; Lunde, JA; Stocksley, MA; Thompson, J
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