Oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy (OPMD) is a muscle disease of late onset associated with progressive ptosis of the eyelids, dysphagia, and unique tubulofilamentous intranuclear inclusions (INIs). OPMD is usually transmitted as an autosomal dominant trait (OMIM 164300). A rarer allelic autosomal recessive form has also been observed (OMIM 257950). Both forms are caused by short (GCG)8–13 expansions in the polyadenylate-binding protein nuclear 1 gene (PABPN1) located on chromosome 14q11.1. The mutations cause the lengthening of an N-terminal polyalanine domain. Both slippage and unequal recombination have been proposed as the mutation mechanisms. The size of the mutation has not yet been conclusively shown to inversely correlate with the severity of the phenotype. Mutated PABPN1 proteins have been shown to be constituents of the INIs. The INIs also contain ubiquitin, proteasome subunits, HSP 40, HSP 70, SKIP, and abundant poly(A)-mRNA. The exact mechanism responsible for polyalanine toxicity in OPMD is unknown. Various intranuclear inclusion dependent and independent mechanisms have been proposed based on the major known function of PABPN1 in polyadenylation of mRNA and its shuttling from the nucleus to the cytoplasm. OPMD is one of the few triplet-repeat diseases for which the function of the mutated gene is known. Because of the increasing number of diseases caused by polyalanine expansions and the pathological overlap with CAG/polyglutamine diseases, what pathological insight is gained by the study of OPMD could lead to a better understanding of a much larger group of developmental and degenerative diseases.   

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