Transcribed nucleotide repeat expansions form detectable RNA foci in patient cells that contribute to disease pathogenesis. The most widely used method for detecting RNA foci, fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), is powerful but can suffer from issues related to signal above background. Here we developed a repeat-specific form of hybridization chain reaction (R-HCR) as an alternative method for detection of repeat RNA foci in two neurodegenerative disorders: C9orf72 associated ALS and frontotemporal dementia (C9 ALS/FTD) and Fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome. R-HCR to both G4C2 and CGG repeats exhibited comparable specificity but > 40 × sensitivity compared to FISH, with better detection of both nuclear and cytoplasmic foci in human C9 ALS/FTD fibroblasts, patient iPSC derived neurons, and patient brain samples. Using R-HCR, we observed that integrated stress response (ISR) activation significantly increased the number of endogenous G4C2 repeat RNA foci and triggered their selective nuclear accumulation without evidence of stress granule co-localization in patient fibroblasts and patient derived neurons. These data suggest that R-HCR can be a useful tool for tracking the behavior of repeat expansion mRNA in C9 ALS/FTD and other repeat expansion disorders.
Keywords: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; C9orf72; FXTAS; Fragile X; G3BP; RNA Gelation; RNA foci; Repeat-associated non-AUG (RAN) translation; Stress granules.