Huntington's disease (HD) reflects dominant consequences of a CAG repeat expansion mutation in HTT. Expanded CAG repeat size is the primary determinant of age at onset and age at death in HD. Although HD pathogenesis is driven by the expanded CAG repeat, whether the mutation influences the expression levels of mRNA and protein from the disease allele is not clear due to the lack of sensitive allele-specific quantification methods and the presence of confounding factors. To determine the impact of CAG expansion at the molecular level, we have developed novel allele-specific HTT mRNA and protein quantification methods based on principles of multiplex ligation-dependent probe amplification and targeted MS/MS parallel reaction monitoring, respectively. These assays, exhibiting high levels of specificity and sensitivity, were designed to distinguish allelic products based upon expressed polymorphic variants in HTT, including rs149 109 767. To control for other cis-haplotype variations, we applied allele-specific quantification assays to a panel of HD lymphoblastoid cell lines, each carrying the major European disease haplotype (i.e. hap.01) on the mutant chromosome. We found that steady state levels of HTT mRNA and protein were not associated with expanded CAG repeat length. Rather, the products of mutant and normal alleles, both mRNA and protein, were balanced, thereby arguing that a cis-regulatory effect of the expanded CAG repeat is not a critical component of the underlying mechanism of HD. These robust allele-specific assays could prove valuable for monitoring the impact of allele-specific gene silencing strategies currently being explored as therapeutic interventions in HD.
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