Public Library of Science, PLoS ONE, 3(9), p. e90833
Genetic mutations of FUS have been linked to many diseases including Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration. A primate specific and polymorphic retrotransposon of the SINE-VNTR-Alu (SVA) family is present upstream of the FUS gene. Here we have demonstrated that this retrotransposon can act as a classical transcriptional regulatory domain in the context of a reporter gene construct both in vitro in the human SK-N-AS neuroblastoma cell line and in vivo in a chick embryo model. We have also demonstrated that the SVA is composed of multiple distinct regulatory domains, one of which is a variable number tandem repeat (VNTR). The ability of the SVA and its component parts to direct reporter gene expression supported a hypothesis that this region could direct differential FUS expression in vivo. The SVA may therefore contribute to the modulation of FUS expression exhibited in and associated with neurological disorders including ALS where FUS regulation may be an important parameter in progression of the disease. As VNTRs are often clinical associates for disease progression we determined the extent of polymorphism within the SVA. In total 2 variants of the SVA were identified based within a central VNTR. Preliminary analysis addressed the association of these SVA variants within a small sporadic ALS cohort but did not reach statistical significance, although we did not include other parameters such as SNPs within the SVA or an environmental factor in this analysis. The latter may be particularly important as the transcriptional and epigenetic properties of the SVA are likely to be directed by the environment of the cell.