Abstract

Fragile X syndrome (FXS) results from a repeat expansion mutation near the FMR1 gene promoter and is the most common form of heritable intellectual disability and autism. Full mutations larger than 200 CGG repeats trigger FMR1 heterochromatinization and loss of gene expression, which is primarily responsible for the pathological features of FXS . In contrast, smaller pre-mutations of 55–200 CGG are associated with FMR1 overexpression and Fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS), a late-onset neurodegenerative condition. While the role of 5-methylcytosine (5mC) in FMR1 gene silencing has been studied extensively, the role of 5-hydroxymethylation (5hmC), a newly discovered epigenetic mark produced through active DNA demethylation, has not been previously investigated in FXS neurons. Here, we used two complementary epigenetic assays, 5hmC sensitive restriction digest and ten-eleven translocation-assisted bisulfite pyrosequencing, to quantify FMR1 5mC and 5hmC levels. We observed increased levels of 5hmC at the FMR1 promoter in FXS patient brains with full-mutations relative to pre-mutation carriers and unaffected controls. In addition, we found that 5hmC enrichment at the FMR1 locus in FXS cells is specific to neurons by utilizing a nuclei sorting technique to separate neuronal and glial DNA fractions from post-mortem brain tissues. This FMR1 5hmC enrichment was not present in cellular models of FXS including fibroblasts, lymphocytes and reprogrammed neurons, indicating they do not fully recapitulate this epigenetic feature of disease. Future studies could investigate the potential to leverage this epigenetic pathway to restore FMR1 expression and discern whether levels of 5hmC correlate with phenotypic severity.

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