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Title: Investigating the role of FXN antisense transcript 1 in Friedreich ataxia
Author: Mikaeili, Hajar
ISNI:       0000 0004 7658 4364
Awarding Body: Brunel University London
Current Institution: Brunel University
Date of Award: 2017
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Friedreich ataxia (FRDA) is a neurodegenerative disorder that is inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern. The most common FRDA mutation is hyperexpansion of a GAA triplet repeat sequence in the first intron of the affected gene, frataxin (FXN), resulting in decreased frataxin protein expression. The hyperexpanded GAA repeats can adopt unusual DNA structures and induce aberrant epigenetic changes leading to heterochromatin mediated gene silencing. Several epigenetic changes, including increased levels of DNA methylation, histone modifications, repressive chromatin formation and elevated levels of non-coding RNA have been reported in FRDA. It has been reported that a novel FXN antisense transcript (FAST-1), is present at higher levels in FRDA patient-derived fibroblasts and its overexpression is associated with the depletion of CTCF, a chromatin insulator protein, and heterochromatin formation involving the critical +1 nucleosome. Previously, characteristics of FAST-1 were investigated in our lab and a full-length FAST-1 transcript containing a poly (A) tail was identified. To investigate any possible effects of FAST-1 on FXN expression, I first overexpressed this FAST-1 transcript in three different non-FRDA cell lines and a consistent decrease of FXN expression was observed in each cell type compared to control cells. I also identified that FAST-1 copy number is positively correlated with increased FAST-1 expression, which in turn is negatively correlated with FXN expression in FAST-1 overexpressing cells. Additionally, we found that FAST-1 overexpression is associated with increased levels of DNA methylation at CpG sites U6 and U11 of the FXN upstream GAA repeat region, together with CTCF depletion and heterochromatin formation at the 5'UTR of the FXN gene. To further investigate the role of FAST-1 in FXN gene silencing, I used a small hairpin RNA (shRNA) strategy to knock down FAST-1 expression in FRDA fibroblast cells. I found that knocking down FAST-1 increases FXN expression, but not to the level of control cells. Lastly, I investigated the pattern of FAST-1 expression and histone modifications at the FXN transgene in our new FRDA mouse model, designated YG8LR. The YG8LR mice showed decreased levels of FXN expression and H3K9ac and increased levels of FAST-1 expression and H3K9me3. Our data suggest that since FAST-1 is associated with FXN gene silencing, inhibition of FAST-1 may be an approach for FRDA therapy.
Supervisor: Pook, M. ; Themis, M. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Epigenetic silencing ; Trinucleotide repeat expansion ; Neurodegenerative disease ; Non-coding RNA