|Agenet Domains as Regulators of Chromatin Structure
FRAXA provided funding for Dr. Dockendorff years ago when he was a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Tom Jongens at the University of Pennsylvania.
by Thomas Dockendorff, 5/1/2008
The genome of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster encodes a fragile X protein (FMRP) that is highly similar to human FMRP, and mutations in the Drosophila fragile X gene elicit phenotypes with significant parallels to those observed fragile X patients. These findings provide an opportunity to exploit the molecular genetics tools of fruit flies to uncover new mechanisms of FMRP function, and the biochemical pathways it regulates.
While much attention is justifiably given to the role of FMRP at synapses, there is a growing body of evidence that FMRP has functions in the nuclei of cells. One potential role for nuclear FMRP is to regulate chromatin structure, a process that can require the activity of RNA binding proteins and proteins that interact with methylated histones. Two Agenet domains are present in FMRP that are highly conserved between insects and vertebrates, indicating that they are important for FMRP function. This observation is of particular interest since the Agenet domain is a member of a protein family that binds both RNAs and methylated proteins.
Our goal for this FRAXA-funded project is to develop fly stocks with mutations that specifically disrupt the Agenet domains in Drosophila FMRP and then assess the neural development and behavioral phenotypes that may arise. Defects in these phenotypes will strongly imply that the Agenet domains are essential for the full range of FMRP function. The fruit fly is an excellent model for studies of chromatin regulation, and an extensive array of mutant and transgenic fly stocks are available to help characterize the role of FMRP in this process.
The proposed studies of FMRP Agenet domains may uncover a new mechanism by which FMRP regulates gene expression and behavior. Important long-term goals will be to identify the genes that are regulated in this manner and the mechanism(s) by which FMRP exerts these effects, with the hope that such efforts will point towards additional therapeutic strategies for fragile X syndrome.