Genetic compensation triggered by actin mutation prevents the muscle damage caused by loss of actin protein


The lack of a mutant phenotype in homozygous mutant individuals’ due to compensatory gene expression triggered upstream of protein function has been identified as genetic compensation. Whilst this intriguing process has been recognized in zebrafish, the presence of homozygous loss of function mutations in healthy human individuals suggests that compensation may not be restricted to this model. Loss of skeletal ∞-actin results in nemaline myopathy and we have previously shown that the pathological symptoms of the disease and reduction in muscle performance are recapitulated in a zebrafish antisense morpholino knockdown model. Here we reveal that a genetic actc1b mutant exhibits mild muscle defects and is unaffected by injection of the actc1b targeting morpholino. We further show that the milder phenotype results from a compensatory transcriptional upregulation of an actin paralogue providing a novel approach to be explored for the treatment of actin myopathy. Our findings provide further evidence that genetic compensation may influence the penetrance of disease-causing mutations.

Author summary

Many healthy individuals carry loss of function mutations in essential genes that would normally be deleterious for survival. Intriguingly, it may be the presence of the genomic lesion itself in these individuals that triggers the compensatory pathways. It is not known how widespread this phenomenon is in vertebrate populations and how genetic compensation is activated. We have shown that knockdown of actin causes nemaline myopathy as indicated by the formation of nemaline bodies within the skeletal muscle and reduced muscle function which, remarkably, we did not observe in an actin genetic mutant. We have identified that protection from the disease phenotype results from transcriptional upregulation of an actin paralogue restoring actin protein in the skeletal muscle. This study demonstrates that genetic compensation may be more prevalent than previously anticipated and highlights phenotypic differences resulting from genetic mutations versus antisense knockdown approaches. Furthermore, we suggest that activating compensatory pathways may be exploited as a potential novel therapeutic approach for human disorders caused by loss of function mutations.


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