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PUBLIC RELEASE DATE:
21-Apr-2009

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The Company of Biologists

Researchers identify gene associated with muscular dystrophy-related vision problems

Blood vessel formation in the retina is controlled by FRG1, a gene linked to facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy

April 21, 2009, Cambridge, UK - Skeletal muscle disease and vision deficits might seem unrelated, but a frog model of muscular dystrophy shows it is not such a leap.

Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy, or FSHD, is the world's third most common type of muscular dystrophy. It is characterized by progressive skeletal muscle weakening in the face, shoulders, and upper arms. Over half of FSHD patients (also known as Landouzy-Dejerine syndrome) also have abnormal blood vessels in the back of the eye, which can cause vision problems.

Over 95% of FSHD patients carry a genetic abnormality proposed to affect expression of the FRG1 gene, and previous studies of FRG1 in frogs demonstrate that it is important for skeletal muscle development. Therefore, University of Illinois scientists investigated the possibility that the FRG1 gene might also be responsible for the blood vessel abnormalities in FSHD patients' eyes. Their report published in Disease Models & Mechanisms (DMM), describes how they examined the FRG1 gene in the frog and found the protein that it encodes for is highly expressed in blood vessels. Additional experiments show that normal FRG1 protein expression is important for blood vessel growth and organization.

Previous work linked aberrant FRG1 expression to the skeletal muscle defects of FSHD, and this study shows that FRG1 expression similarly contributes to abnormal blood vessel growth in the retina. Thus, the FSHD mutation, by affecting expression of the FRG1 gene may contribute to both the skeletal muscle and visual deficits associated with FSHD pathology. This study supports the idea that FRG1 expression is a main cause of this type of muscular dystrophy and might be an important target for therapeutic intervention.

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The report, "FSHD region gene 1 (FRG1) is crucial for angiogenesis linking FRG1 to facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy-associated vasculopathy" was written by Ryan D. Wuebbles, Meredith L. Hanel, and Peter L. Jones of the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The report is published in the May/June issue of Disease Models & Mechanisms (DMM), a research journal published by The Company of Biologists, a non-profit based in Cambridge, UK.

About Disease Models & Mechanisms:

Disease Models & Mechanisms (DMM) is a new research journal publishing both primary scientific research, as well as review articles, editorials, and research highlights. The journal's mission is to provide a forum for clinicians and scientists to discuss basic science and clinical research related to human disease, disease detection and novel therapies. DMM is published by the Company of Biologists, a non-profit organization based in Cambridge, UK.

The Company also publishes the international biology research journals Development, Journal of Cell Science, and The Journal of Experimental Biology. In addition to financing these journals, the Company provides grants to scientific societies and supports other activities including travelling fellowships for junior scientists, workshops and conferences. The world's poorest nations receive free and unrestricted access to the Company's journals.



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