Expansion of repeated sequences in non-coding regions of different genes causes a number of inherited diseases including myotonic dystrophies, Huntington disease-like 2, Fragile X tremor/ataxia syndrome and spinocerebellar ataxia 8, 10, 12, 31. Involvement of an RNA gain-of-function mechanism in pathological case has been described and studied in-depth in myotonic dystrophy type 1 (DM1). This inherited neuromuscular disorder is caused by a (CTG)n >50 expansion in the 3' non-coding region of the dystrophia myotonica-protein kinase (DMPK) gene. Expanded CUG transcripts (CUGexp-RNAs) are sequestered in the nucleus within small aggregates and interfere with the regulatory splicing activities of MBNL1 and CELF1 RNA-binding proteins, leading to the misregulation of the alternative splicing of several transcripts. Despite the relevance of aberrant splicing events in this complex pathology, the CUGexp-RNAs trans-dominant effects alter other splicing-independent processes that may also contribute to DM1 pathogenesis. This review will focus on toxic RNA gain-of-function as a pathologic mechanism for DM1 and other repeat expansion disorders.
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