Length of uninterrupted CAG repeats, independent of polyglutamine size, results in increased somatic instability and hastened age of onset in Huntington disease

Length of uninterrupted CAG repeats, independent of polyglutamine size, results in increased somatic instability and hastened age of onset in Huntington disease

Abstract

Huntington disease (HD) is an autosomal dominant neurological disorder that is caused by a CAG repeat expansion, translated into polyglutamine, in the huntingtin (HTT) gene. Although the length of this repeat polymorphism is inversely correlated with age of onset (AOO), it does not fully explain the variability in AOO. Genomic studies have provided evidence for the involvement of DNA repair in modifying this trait, potentially through somatic repeat instability. We therefore assessed genetic variants within the 12bp interrupting sequence between the pathogenic CAG repeat and the polymorphic proline (CCG) tract in the HTT gene and identified variants that result in complete loss of interruption (LOI) between the adjacent CAG/CCG repeats. Analysis of multiple HD pedigrees showed that this variant is associated with dramatically earlier AOO and is particularly relevant to HD patients with reduced penetrance alleles. On average AOO of HD is hastened by an average of 25 years in LOI carriers. This finding indicates that the number of uninterrupted CAG repeats is the most significant contributor to AOO of HD and is more impactful than polyglutamine length, which is not altered in these patients. We show that the LOI variant is associated with increases in both somatic and germline repeat instability, demonstrating a potential mechanism for this effect. Screening individuals from the general population (n=2,674 alleles) suggests that the variant occurs only in expanded CAG repeat alleles. Identification of this modifier has important clinical implications for disease management of HD families, especially for those in the reduced penetrance ranges.

Publication
bioRxiv
Date