Modulation of prion protein expression through cryptic splice site manipulation.
Gentile JE., Corridon TL., Mortberg MA., D'Souza EN., Whiffin N., Minikel EV., Vallabh SM.
Lowering expression of prion protein (PrP) is a well-validated therapeutic strategy in prion disease, but additional modalities are urgently needed. In other diseases, small molecules have proven capable of modulating pre-mRNA splicing, sometimes by forcing inclusion of cryptic exons that reduce gene expression. Here, we characterize a cryptic exon located in human PRNP's sole intron and evaluate its potential to reduce PrP expression through incorporation into the 5' untranslated region (5'UTR). This exon is homologous to exon 2 in non-primate species, but contains a start codon that would yield an upstream open reading frame (uORF) with a stop codon prior to a splice site if included in PRNP mRNA, potentially downregulating PrP expression through translational repression or nonsense-mediated decay. We establish a minigene transfection system and test a panel of splice site alterations, identifying mutants that reduce PrP expression by as much as 78%. Our findings nominate a new therapeutic target for lowering PrP.