RNAs derived from expanded nucleotide repeats form detectable foci in patient cells and these foci are thought to contribute to disease pathogenesis. The most widely used method for detecting RNA foci is fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH). However, FISH is prone to low sensitivity and photo-bleaching that can complicate data interpretation. Here we applied hybridization chain reaction (HCR) as an alternative approach to repeat RNA foci detection of GC-rich repeats in two neurodegenerative disorders: GGGGCC (G4C2) hexanucleotide repeat expansions in C9orf72 that cause amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal dementia (C9 ALS/FTD) and CGG repeat expansions in FMR1 that cause Fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome. We found that HCR of both G4C2 and CGG repeats has comparable specificity to traditional FISH, but is >40x more sensitive and shows repeat-length dependence in its intensity. HCR is better than FISH at detecting both nuclear and cytoplasmic foci in human C9 ALS/FTD fibroblasts, patient iPSC derived neurons, and patient brain samples. We used HCR to determine the impact of integrated stress response (ISR) activation on RNA foci number and distribution. G4C2 repeat RNA did not readily co-localize with the stress granule marker G3BP1, but ISR induction increased both the number of detectible nuclear RNA foci and the nuclear/cytoplasmic foci ratio in patient fibroblasts and patient derived neurons. Taken together, these data suggest that HCR can be a useful tool for detecting repeat expansion mRNA in C9 ALS/FTD and other repeat expansion disorders.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience