Facioscapulohumeral dystrophy: Incomplete suppression of a retrotransposed gene

Lauren Snider, Linda N. Geng, Richard J L F Lemmers, Michael Kyba, Carol B. Ware, Angelique M. Nelson, Rabi Tawil, Galina N. Filippova, Silvère M. van der Maarel, Stephen J. Tapscott, Daniel G. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

341 Scopus citations


Each unit of the D4Z4 macrosatellite repeat contains a retrotransposed gene encoding the DUX4 double-homeobox transcription factor. Facioscapulohumeral dystrophy (FSHD) is caused by deletion of a subset of the D4Z4 units in the subtelomeric region of chromosome 4. Although it has been reported that the deletion of D4Z4 units induces the pathological expression of DUX4 mRNA, the association of DUX4 mRNA expression with FSHD has not been rigorously investigated, nor has any human tissue been identified that normally expresses DUX4 mRNA or protein. We show that FSHD muscle expresses a different splice form of DUX4 mRNA compared to control muscle. Control muscle produces low amounts of a splice form of DUX4 encoding only the amino-terminal portion of DUX4. FSHD muscle produces low amounts of a DUX4 mRNA that encodes the full-length DUX4 protein. The low abundance of full-length DUX4 mRNA in FSHD muscle cells represents a small subset of nuclei producing a relatively high abundance of DUX4 mRNA and protein. In contrast to control skeletal muscle and most other somatic tissues, full-length DUX4 transcript and protein is expressed at relatively abundant levels in human testis, most likely in the germ-line cells. Induced pluripotent (iPS) cells also express full-length DUX4 and differentiation of control iPS cells to embryoid bodies suppresses expression of full-length DUX4, whereas expression of fulllength DUX4 persists in differentiated FSHD iPS cells. Together, these findings indicate that full-length DUX4 is normally expressed at specific developmental stages and is suppressed in most somatic tissues. The contraction of the D4Z4 repeat in FSHD results in a less efficient suppression of the full-length DUX4 mRNA in skeletal muscle cells. Therefore, FSHD represents the first human disease to be associated with the incomplete developmental silencing of a retrogene array normally expressed early in development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1001181
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalPLoS genetics
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2010


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