Nuclear ribonucleoprotein-containing foci increase in size in non-dividing cells from patients with myotonic dystrophy type 2

Histochem Cell Biol. 2012 Oct;138(4):699-707. doi: 10.1007/s00418-012-0984-6. Epub 2012 Jun 17.


Myotonic dystrophies (DM) are genetically based neuromuscular disorders characterized by the accumulation of mutant transcripts into peculiar intranuclear foci, where different splicing factors (among which the alternative splicing regulator muscleblind-like 1 protein, MBNL1) are ectopically sequestered. The aim of the present investigation was to describe the dynamics of the DM-specific intranuclear foci in interphase nuclei and during mitosis, as well as after the exit from the cell cycle. Primary cultures of skin fibroblasts from DM2 patients were used, as a model system to reproduce in vitro, as accurately as possible, the in vivo conditions. Cycling and resting fibroblasts were investigated by immunocytochemical and morphometric techniques, and the relative amounts of MBNL1 were also estimated by western blotting. MBNL1-containing foci were exclusively found in the nucleus during most of the interphase, while being observed in the cytoplasm during mitosis when they never associate with the chromosomes; the foci remained in the cytoplasm at cytodieresis, and underwent disassembly in early G1 to be reformed in the nucleus at each cell cycle. After fibroblasts had stopped dividing in late-passage cultures, the nuclear foci were observed to progressively increase in size. Interestingly, measurements on muscle biopsies taken from the same DM2 patients at different ages demonstrated that, in the nuclei of myofibers, the MBNL1-containing foci become larger with increasing patient's age. As a whole, these results suggest that in non-dividing cells of DM2 patients the sequestration in the nuclear foci of factors needed for RNA processing would be continuous and progressive, eventually leading to the onset (and the worsening with time) of the pathological traits. This is consistent with the evidence that in DM patients the most affected organs or tissues are those where non-renewing cells are mainly present, i.e., the central nervous system, heart and skeletal muscle.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cell Size
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Fibroblasts / cytology
  • Fibroblasts / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Interphase
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle, Skeletal / cytology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology*
  • Myotonic Disorders / pathology*
  • Myotonic Dystrophy
  • Nuclear Proteins / metabolism*
  • Ribonucleoproteins / metabolism*


  • Nuclear Proteins
  • Ribonucleoproteins