Purpose of review: The aim of this review is to describe disease mechanisms by which chromosome 9 open reading frame 72 (C9ORF72) repeat expansions could lead to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and to discuss these diseases in relation to other noncoding repeat expansion disorders.
Recent findings: ALS and FTD are complex neurodegenerative disorders with a considerable clinical and pathological overlap, and this overlap is further substantiated by the recent discovery of C9ORF72 repeat expansions. These repeat expansions are currently the most important genetic cause of familial ALS and FTD, accounting for approximately 34.2 and 25.9% of the cases. Clinical phenotypes associated with these repeat expansions are highly variable, and combinations with mutations in other ALS-associated and/or FTD-associated genes may contribute to this pleiotropy. It is challenging, however, to diagnose patients with C9ORF72 expansions, not only because of large repeat sizes, but also due to somatic heterogeneity. Most other noncoding repeat expansion disorders share an RNA gain-of-function disease mechanism, a mechanism that could underlie the development of ALS and/or FTD as well.
Summary: The discovery of C9ORF72 repeat expansions provides novel insights into the pathogenesis of ALS and FTD and highlights the importance of noncoding repeat expansions and RNA toxicity in neurodegenerative diseases.