Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Reduced transcription of TCOF1 in adult cells of Treacher Collins syndrome patients

Cibele Masotti1, Camila C Ornelas1, Alessandra Splendore-Gordonos2, Ricardo Moura3, Têmis M Félix4, Nivaldo Alonso5, Anamaria A Camargo3 and Maria Rita Passos-Bueno1*

Author Affiliations

1 Centro de Estudos do Genoma Humano, Instituto de Biociências, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, SP, Brazil

2 Department of Genetics, Stanford University, California, USA

3 Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, São Paulo Branch, Hospital Alemão Oswaldo Cruz, São Paulo, SP, Brazil

4 Departamento de Genética Médica, Hospital de Clínicas de Porto Alegre, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil

5 Departamento de Cirurgia Plástica, Hospital das Clínicas da Faculdade de Medicina, Universidade de São Paulo, SP, Brazil

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BMC Medical Genetics 2009, 10:136  doi:10.1186/1471-2350-10-136

Published: 14 December 2009



Treacher Collins syndrome (TCS) is an autosomal dominant craniofacial disorder caused by frameshift deletions or duplications in the TCOF1 gene. These mutations cause premature termination codons, which are predicted to lead to mRNA degradation by nonsense mediated mRNA decay (NMD). Haploinsufficiency of the gene product (treacle) during embryonic development is the proposed molecular mechanism underlying TCS. However, it is still unknown if TCOF1 expression levels are decreased in post-embryonic human cells.


We have estimated TCOF1 transcript levels through real time PCR in mRNA obtained from leucocytes and mesenchymal cells of TCS patients (n = 23) and controls (n = 18). Mutational screening and analysis of NMD were performed by direct sequencing of gDNA and cDNA, respectively.


All the 23 patients had typical clinical features of the syndrome and pathogenic mutations were detected in 19 of them. We demonstrated that the expression level of TCOF1 is 18-31% lower in patients than in controls (p < 0.05), even if we exclude the patients in whom we did not detect the pathogenic mutation. We also observed that the mutant allele is usually less abundant than the wild type one in mesenchymal cells.


This is the first study to report decreased expression levels of TCOF1 in TCS adult human cells, but it is still unknown if this finding is associated to any phenotype in adulthood. In addition, as we demonstrated that alleles harboring the pathogenic mutations have lower expression, we herein corroborate the current hypothesis of NMD of the mutant transcript as the explanation for diminished levels of TCOF1 expression. Further, considering that TCOF1 deficiency in adult cells could be associated to pathologic clinical findings, it will be important to verify if TCS patients have an impairment in adult stem cell properties, as this can reduce the efficiency of plastic surgery results during rehabilitation of these patients.