Long tract of untranslated CAG repeats is deleterious in transgenic mice.
The most frequent trinucleotide repeat found in human disorders is the CAG sequence. Expansion of CAG repeats is mostly found in coding regions and is thought to cause diseases through a protein mechanism. Recently, expanded CAG repeats were shown to induce toxicity at the RNA level in Drosophila and C. elegans. These findings raise the possibility that CAG repeats may trigger RNA-mediated pathogenesis in mammals. Here, we demonstrate that transgenic mice expressing EGFP transcripts with long CAG repeats in the 3' untranslated region develop pathogenic features. Expression of the transgene was directed to the muscle in order to compare the resulting phenotype to that caused by the CUG expansion, as occurs in myotonic dystrophy. Transgenic mice expressing 200, but not those expressing 0 or 23 CAG repeats, showed alterations in muscle morphology, histochemistry and electrophysiology, as well as abnormal behavioral phenotypes. Expression of the expanded CAG repeats in testes resulted in reduced fertility due to defective sperm motility. The production of EGFP protein was significantly reduced by the 200 CAG repeats, and no polyglutamine-containing product was detected, which argues against a protein mechanism. Moreover, nuclear RNA foci were detected for the long CAG repeats. These data support the notion that expanded CAG repeat RNA can cause deleterious effects in mammals. They also suggest the possible involvement of an RNA mechanism in human diseases with long CAG repeats.DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0016417