de novo MEPCE nonsense variant associated with a neurodevelopmental disorder causes disintegration of 7SK snRNP and enhanced RNA polymerase II activation
In eukaryotes, the elongation phase of transcription by RNA polymerase II (RNAP II) is regulated by the transcription elongation factor b (P-TEFb), composed of Cyclin-T1 and cyclin-dependent kinase 9. The release of RNAP II is mediated by phosphorylation through P-TEFb that in turn is under control by the inhibitory 7SK small nuclear ribonucleoprotein (snRNP) complex. The 7SK snRNP consists of the 7SK non-coding RNA and the proteins MEPCE, LARP7, and HEXIM1/2. Biallelic LARP7 loss-of-function variants underlie Alazami syndrome characterized by growth retardation and intellectual disability. We report a boy with global developmental delay and seizures carrying the de novo MEPCE nonsense variant c.1552 C > T/p.(Arg518*). mRNA and protein analyses identified nonsense-mediated mRNA decay to underlie the decreased amount of MEPCE in patient fibroblasts followed by LARP7 and 7SK snRNA downregulation and HEXIM1 upregulation. Reduced binding of HEXIM1 to Cyclin-T1, hyperphosphorylation of the RNAP II C-terminal domain, and upregulated expression of ID2, ID3, MRPL11 and snRNAs U1, U2 and U4 in patient cells are suggestive of enhanced activation of P-TEFb. Flavopiridol treatment and ectopic MEPCE protein expression in patient fibroblasts rescued increased expression of six RNAP II-sensitive genes and suggested a possible repressive effect of MEPCE on P-TEFb-dependent transcription of specific genes.