Peter Thijssen| 01-09-2016 | Genetics and epigenetics of repeat derepression in human disease

A large part of the human genome consists of repetitive DNA. In this thesis two human diseases have been studied in which deregulation of repetitive DNA is a central feature: facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) and immunodeficiency, centromere instability and facial anomalies (ICF) syndrome. FSHD is caused by the misexression of the transcription factor DUX4 in skeletal muscle. DUX4 is encoded in the D4Z4 repeat array and is silenced in healthy somatic tissues. In this thesis, several aspects of the epigenetic deregulation of DUX4 in FSHD are described. We have analysed possible correlations between disease severity and epigenetic organization of the D4Z4 repeat. Next we showed that cellular ageing results in deregulation of genomic regions like D4Z4. Moreover, we show that SMCHD1 is the main epigenetic repressor of DUX4 in somatic cells. We next showed that DUX4 misexpression results in the activation of an FSHD candidate gene, FRG2. Finally, we report the generation of a transgenic mouse model for FSHD. The disease mechanism of ICF syndrome remains to be elucidated. However, in this thesis we identify two new ICF disease genes. We highlight a role for all four known ICF genes in repressing repetitive DNA, suggesting functional convergence of these genes.

Link to whole thesis