Asymmetric bidirectional transcription from the FSHD-causing D4Z4 array modulates DUX4 production.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


PloS one, Volume 7, Issue 4, p.e35532 (2012)


2012, Human Biology Division, May 2012


Facioscapulohumeral Disease (FSHD) is a dominantly inherited progressive myopathy associated with aberrant production of the transcription factor, Double Homeobox Protein 4 (DUX4). The expression of DUX4 depends on an open chromatin conformation of the D4Z4 macrosatellite array and a specific haplotype on chromosome 4. Even when these requirements are met, DUX4 transcripts and protein are only detectable in a subset of cells indicating that additional constraints govern DUX4 production. Since the direction of transcription, along with the production of non-coding antisense transcripts is an important regulatory feature of other macrosatellite repeats, we developed constructs that contain the non-coding region of a single D4Z4 unit flanked by genes that report transcriptional activity in the sense and antisense directions. We found that D4Z4 contains two promoters that initiate sense and antisense transcription within the array, and that antisense transcription predominates. Transcriptional start sites for the antisense transcripts, as well as D4Z4 regions that regulate the balance of sense and antisense transcripts were identified. We show that the choice of transcriptional direction is reversible but not mutually exclusive, since sense and antisense reporter activity was often present in the same cell and simultaneously upregulated during myotube formation. Similarly, levels of endogenous sense and antisense D4Z4 transcripts were upregulated in FSHD myotubes. These studies offer insight into the autonomous distribution of muscle weakness that is characteristic of FSHD.