A Small Molecule that Binds an RNA Repeat Expansion Stimulates Its Decay via the Exosome Complex

Alicia J. Angelbello, Raphael I. Benhamou, Suzanne G. Rzuczek, Shruti Choudhary, Zhenzhi Tang, Jonathan L. Chen, Madhuparna Roy, Kye Won Wang, Ilyas Yildirim, Albert S. Jun, Charles A. Thornton, Matthew D. Disney*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Many diseases are caused by toxic RNA repeats. Herein, we designed a lead small molecule that binds the structure of the r(CUG) repeat expansion [r(CUG)exp] that causes myotonic dystrophy type 1 (DM1) and Fuchs endothelial corneal dystrophy (FECD) and rescues disease biology in patient-derived cells and in vivo. Interestingly, the compound's downstream effects are different in the two diseases, owing to the location of the repeat expansion. In DM1, r(CUG)exp is harbored in the 3′ untranslated region, and the compound has no effect on the mRNA's abundance. In FECD, however, r(CUG)exp is located in an intron, and the small molecule facilitates excision of the intron, which is then degraded by the RNA exosome complex. Thus, structure-specific, RNA-targeting small molecules can act disease specifically to affect biology, either by disabling the gain-of-function mechanism (DM1) or by stimulating quality control pathways to rid a disease-affected cell of a toxic RNA (FECD).

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)34-45.e6
JournalCell Chemical Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 21 Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Ltd


  • RNA
  • RNA splicing
  • chemical biology
  • decay pathways
  • drug discovery
  • microsatellite disorders
  • targeted degradation


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