Dr. Marwa Zafarullah is a dedicated neuroscientist with extensive interdisciplinary experience spanning over 8 years in clinical and pre-clinical research. She holds a Ph.D. in Integrative Genetics and Genomics (IGG) from the University of California Davis, focusing on neuroscience, human genetics, and functional genomics. Before joining Stanford, Dr. Zafarullah harnessed the power of molecular biology with advanced technologies to delve into biomarkers related to the prediction, development, progression, and severity of Fragile X Syndrome and associated disorders.

Dr. Zafarullah's career journey reflects her commitment to advancing scientific knowledge, improving patient care, and positively impacting society through her research and contributions. She thrives in multi-disciplinary teams, aiming to enhance the quality of life for all individuals affected by various neurological conditions. Beyond her professional endeavors, she enjoys communicating complex scientific concepts to diverse audiences. Her continuous pursuit of excellence and her drive to bridge clinical practice and scientific innovation make her a true trailblazer in the field.

Honors & Awards

  • Individual Development Fund, ($400), UC Davis Graduate Student Association. (2021)
  • Emmy Werner and Stanley Jacobsen Fellowship, ($50,000), The University of California Davis, USA. (2020-2021)
  • Leaders for the Future Fellowship, UC Davis Graduate School of Management. (2020-2021)
  • Best Presenter Award ($500), National Fragile X Foundation, USA (2020)
  • Aggie Hero, Chancellor Gary May, UC Davis. (2019)
  • International Travel Award ($600), International premutation Conference Committee Netherlands (2019)
  • Keller Pathway Fellowship, UC Davis Graduate School of Management. (2018-2019)
  • Rosen/Weingarden Summer Fellowship, ($2500), National Fragile X Foundation, USA (2017)
  • Outstanding Service Award, Integrative Genetics and Genomics, UC Davis (2016)
  • Agriculture Innovation program-HRD-USAID, MS Scholarship, ($100,000), United States Agency for International Development (2015-2017)
  • Pakistan Scottish Scholarship, ($3000), Scottish Higher Education, Scotland. (2013)

Boards, Advisory Committees, Professional Organizations

  • Communications Director, Stanford University Postdoctoral Association (SURPAS) (2023 - Present)

Stanford Advisors

  • JW Day, Postdoctoral Faculty Sponsor

Lab Affiliations

All Publications

  • FMR1 Protein Expression Correlates with Intelligence Quotient in Both Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cells and Fibroblasts from Individuals with an FMR1 Mutation. The Journal of molecular diagnostics : JMD Jiraanont, P., Zafarullah, M., Sulaiman, N., Espinal, G. M., Randol, J. L., Durbin-Johnson, B., Schneider, A., Hagerman, R. J., Hagerman, P. J., Tassone, F. 2024


    Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is the most common heritable form of intellectual disability and is caused by CGG repeat expansions exceeding 200 (full mutation). Such expansions lead to hypermethylation and transcriptional silencing of the fragile X messenger ribonucleoprotein 1 (FMR1) gene. As a consequence, little or no FMR1 protein (FMRP) is produced; absence of the protein, which normally is responsible for neuronal development and maintenance, causes the syndrome. Previous studies have demonstrated the causal relationship between FMRP levels and cognitive abilities in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and dermal fibroblast cell lines of patients with FXS. However, it is arguable whether PBMCs or fibroblasts would be the preferred surrogate for measuring molecular markers, particularly FMRP, to represent the cognitive impairment, a core symptom of FXS. To address this concern, CGG repeats, methylation status, FMR1 mRNA, and FMRP levels were measured in both PBMCs and fibroblasts derived from 66 individuals. The findings indicated a strong association between FMR1 mRNA expression levels and CGG repeat numbers in PBMCs of premutation males after correcting for methylation status. Moreover, FMRP expression levels from both PBMCs and fibroblasts of male participants with a hypermethylated full mutation and with mosaicism demonstrated significant association between the intelligence quotient levels and FMRP levels, suggesting that PBMCs may be preferable for FXS clinical studies, because of their greater accessibility.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.jmoldx.2024.02.007

    View details for PubMedID 38522837

  • Untargeted metabolomic, and proteomic analysis identifies metabolic biomarkers and pathway alterations in individuals with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome. Metabolomics : Official journal of the Metabolomic Society Zafarullah, M., Angkustsiri, K., Quach, A., Yeo, S., Durbin-Johnson, B. P., Bowling, H., Tassone, F. 2024; 20 (2): 31


    The chromosome 22q11.2 deletion syndrome (22q11.2DS) is characterized by a well-defined microdeletion and is associated with a wide range of brain-related phenotypes including schizophrenia spectrum disorders (SCZ), autism spectrum disorders (ASD), anxiety disorders and attention deficit disorders (ADHD). The typically deleted region in 22q11.2DS contains multiple genes which haploinsufficiency has the potential of altering the protein and the metabolic profiles.Alteration in metabolic processes and downstream protein pathways during the early brain development may help to explain the increased prevalence of the observed neurodevelopmental phenotypes in 22q11.2DS. However, relatively little is known about the correlation of dysregulated protein/metabolite expression and neurobehavioral impairments in individuals who developed them over time.In this study, we performed untargeted metabolic and proteomic analysis in plasma samples derived from 30 subjects including 16 participants with 22q11.2DS and 14 healthy controls (TD) enrolled in a longitudinal study, aiming to identify a metabolic and protein signature informing about the underlying mechanisms involved in disease development and progression. The metabolic and proteomic profiles were also compared between the participants with 22q11.2DS with and without various comorbidities, such as medical involvement, psychiatric conditions, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to detect potential changes among multiple specimens, collected overtime, with the aim to understand the basic underlying mechanisms involved in disease development and progression.We observed a large number of statistically significant differences in metabolites between the two groups. Among them, the levels of taurine and arachidonic acid were significantly lower in 22q11.2DS compared to the TD group. In addition, we identified 16 proteins that showed significant changes in expression levels (adjusted P < 0.05) in 22q11.2DS as compared to TD, including those involved in 70 pathways such as gene expression, the PI3K-Akt signaling pathway and the complement system. Within participants with 22q11.2DS, no significant changes in those with and without medical or psychiatric conditions were observed.To our knowledge, this is the first report on plasma metabolic and proteomic profiling and on the identification of unique biomarkers in 22q11.2DS. These findings may suggest the potential role of the identified metabolites and proteins as biomarkers for the onset of comorbid conditions in 22q11.2DS. Ultimately, the altered protein pathways in 22q11.2DS may provide insights of the biological mechanisms underlying the neurodevelopmental phenotype and may provide missing molecular outcome measures in future clinical trials to assess early-diagnosis treatment and the efficacy of response to targeted treatment.

    View details for DOI 10.1007/s11306-024-02088-0

    View details for PubMedID 38418685

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC10901937

  • Blood Proteome Profiling Reveals Biomarkers and Pathway Alterations in Fragile X PM at Risk for Developing FXTAS INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF MOLECULAR SCIENCES Zafarullah, M., Li, J., Salemi, M. R., Phinney, B. S., Durbin-Johnson, B. P., Hagerman, R., Hessl, D., Rivera, S. M., Tassone, F. 2023; 24 (17)


    Fragile X-associated Tremor/Ataxia Syndrome (FXTAS) is a neurodegenerative disorder associated with the FMR1 premutation. Currently, it is not possible to determine when and if individual premutation carriers will develop FXTAS. Thus, with the aim to identify biomarkers for early diagnosis, development, and progression of FXTAS, along with associated dysregulated pathways, we performed blood proteomic profiling of premutation carriers (PM) who, as part of an ongoing longitudinal study, emerged into two distinct groups: those who developed symptoms of FXTAS (converters, CON) over time (at subsequent visits) and those who did not (non-converters, NCON). We compared these groups to age-matched healthy controls (HC). We assessed CGG repeat allele size by Southern blot and PCR analysis. The proteomic profile was obtained by liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS). We identified several significantly differentiated proteins between HC and the PM groups at Visit 1 (V1), Visit 2 (V2), and between the visits. We further reported the dysregulated protein pathways, including sphingolipid and amino acid metabolism. Our findings are in agreement with previous studies showing that pathways involved in mitochondrial bioenergetics, as observed in other neurodegenerative disorders, are significantly altered and appear to contribute to the development of FXTAS. Lastly, we compared the blood proteome of the PM who developed FXTAS over time with the CSF proteome of the FXTAS patients recently reported and found eight significantly differentially expressed proteins in common. To our knowledge, this is the first report of longitudinal proteomic profiling and the identification of unique biomarkers and dysregulated protein pathways in FXTAS.

    View details for DOI 10.3390/ijms241713477

    View details for Web of Science ID 001060624900001

    View details for PubMedID 37686279

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC10488017

  • Insight and Recommendations for Fragile X-Premutation-Associated Conditions from the Fifth International Conference on <i>FMR1</i> Premutation CELLS Tassone, F., Protic, D., Allen, E., Archibald, A. D., Baud, A., Brown, T. W., Budimirovic, D. B., Cohen, J., Dufour, B., Eiges, R., Elvassore, N., Gabis, L. V., Grudzien, S. J., Hall, D. A., Hessl, D., Hogan, A., Hunter, J., Jin, P., Jiraanont, P., Klusek, J., Kooy, R., Kraan, C. M., Laterza, C., Lee, A., Lipworth, K., Losh, M., Loesch, D., Lozano, R., Mailick, M. R., Manolopoulos, A., Martinez-Cerdeno, V., Mclennan, Y., Miller, R. M., Montanaro, F., Mosconi, M. W., Potter, S., Raspa, M., Rivera, S. M., Shelly, K., Todd, P. K., Tutak, K., Wang, J., Wheeler, A., Winarni, T., Zafarullah, M., Hagerman, R. J., Kalyuzhny, A. E. 2023; 12 (18)


    The premutation of the fragile X messenger ribonucleoprotein 1 (FMR1) gene is characterized by an expansion of the CGG trinucleotide repeats (55 to 200 CGGs) in the 5' untranslated region and increased levels of FMR1 mRNA. Molecular mechanisms leading to fragile X-premutation-associated conditions (FXPAC) include cotranscriptional R-loop formations, FMR1 mRNA toxicity through both RNA gelation into nuclear foci and sequestration of various CGG-repeat-binding proteins, and the repeat-associated non-AUG (RAN)-initiated translation of potentially toxic proteins. Such molecular mechanisms contribute to subsequent consequences, including mitochondrial dysfunction and neuronal death. Clinically, premutation carriers may exhibit a wide range of symptoms and phenotypes. Any of the problems associated with the premutation can appropriately be called FXPAC. Fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS), fragile X-associated primary ovarian insufficiency (FXPOI), and fragile X-associated neuropsychiatric disorders (FXAND) can fall under FXPAC. Understanding the molecular and clinical aspects of the premutation of the FMR1 gene is crucial for the accurate diagnosis, genetic counseling, and appropriate management of affected individuals and families. This paper summarizes all the known problems associated with the premutation and documents the presentations and discussions that occurred at the International Premutation Conference, which took place in New Zealand in 2023.

    View details for DOI 10.3390/cells12182330

    View details for Web of Science ID 001073435300001

    View details for PubMedID 37759552

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC10529056

  • Intercorrelation of Molecular Biomarkers and Clinical Phenotype Measures in Fragile X Syndrome CELLS Aishworiya, R., Chi, M., Zafarullah, M., Mendoza, G., Ponzini, M., Kim, K., Biag, H., Thurman, A., Abbeduto, L., Hessl, D., Randol, J., Bolduc, F. V., Jacquemont, S., Lippe, S., Hagerman, P., Hagerman, R., Schneider, A., Tassone, F. 2023; 12 (14)


    This study contributes to a greater understanding of the utility of molecular biomarkers to identify clinical phenotypes of fragile X syndrome (FXS). Correlations of baseline clinical trial data (molecular measures-FMR1 mRNA, CYFIP1 mRNA, MMP9 and FMRP protein expression levels, nonverbal IQ, body mass index and weight, language level, NIH Toolbox, adaptive behavior rating, autism, and other mental health correlates) of 59 participants with FXS ages of 6-32 years are reported. FMR1 mRNA expression levels correlated positively with adaptive functioning levels, expressive language, and specific NIH Toolbox measures. The findings of a positive correlation of MMP-9 levels with obesity, CYFIP1 mRNA with mood and autistic symptoms, and FMR1 mRNA expression level with better cognitive, language, and adaptive functions indicate potential biomarkers for specific FXS phenotypes. These may be potential markers for future clinical trials for targeted treatments of FXS.

    View details for DOI 10.3390/cells12141920

    View details for Web of Science ID 001035162100001

    View details for PubMedID 37508583

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC10377864

  • Structure and Alternative Splicing of the Antisense FMR1 (ASFMR1) Gene. Molecular neurobiology Zafarullah, M., Li, J., Tseng, E., Tassone, F. 2023; 60 (4): 2051-2061


    Fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS) is a neurodegenerative disorder caused by an expansion of 55-200 CGG repeats (premutation) in the 5'-UTR of the FMR1 gene. Bidirectional transcription at FMR1 locus has been demonstrated and specific alternative splicing of the Antisense FMR1 (ASFMR1) gene has been proposed to have a contributing role in the pathogenesis of FXTAS. The structure of ASFMR1 gene is still uncharacterized and it is currently unknown how many isoforms of the gene are expressed and at what level in premutation carriers (PM) and if they may contribute to the premutation pathology. In this study, we characterized the ASFMR1 gene structure and the transcriptional landscape by using PacBio SMRT sequencing with target enrichment (IDT customized probe panel). We identified 45 ASFMR1 isoforms ranging in sizes from 523 bp to 6 Kb, spanning approximately 59 kb of genomic DNA. Multiplexing and sequencing of six human brain samples from PM samples and normal control (HC) were carried out on the PacBio Sequel platform. We validated the presence of these isoforms by qRT-PCR and Sanger sequencing and characterized the acceptor and donor splicing site consensus sequences. Consistent with previous studies conducted in other tissue types, we found a high expression of ASFMR1 isoform Iso131bp in brain samples of PM as compared to HC, while no differences in expression levels were observed for the newly identified isoforms IsoAS1 and IsoAS2. We investigated the role of the splicing regulatory protein Sam68 which we did not observe in the alternative splicing of the ASFMR1 gene. Our study provides a useful insight into the structure of ASFMR1 gene and transcriptional landscape along with the expression pattern of various newly identified novel isoforms and on their potential role in premutation pathology.

    View details for DOI 10.1007/s12035-022-03176-9

    View details for PubMedID 36598648

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC10461537

  • Maternal Microbiota Modulate a Fragile X-like Syndrome in Offspring Mice. Genes Varian, B. J., Weber, K. T., Kim, L. J., Chavarria, T. E., Carrasco, S. E., Muthupalani, S., Poutahidis, T., Zafarullah, M., Al Olaby, R. R., Barboza, M., Solakyildirim, K., Lebrilla, C., Tassone, F., Wu, F., Alm, E. J., Erdman, S. E. 2022; 13 (8)


    Maternal microbial dysbiosis has been implicated in adverse postnatal health conditions in offspring, such as obesity, cancer, and neurological disorders. We observed that the progeny of mice fed a Westernized diet (WD) with low fiber and extra fat exhibited higher frequencies of stereotypy, hyperactivity, cranial features and lower FMRP protein expression, similar to what is typically observed in Fragile X Syndrome (FXS) in humans. We hypothesized that gut dysbiosis and inflammation during pregnancy influenced the prenatal uterine environment, leading to abnormal phenotypes in offspring. We found that oral in utero supplementation with a beneficial anti-inflammatory probiotic microbe, Lactobacillus reuteri, was sufficient to inhibit FXS-like phenotypes in offspring mice. Cytokine profiles in the pregnant WD females showed that their circulating levels of pro-inflammatory cytokine interleukin (Il)-17 were increased relative to matched gravid mice and to those given supplementary L. reuteri probiotic. To test our hypothesis of prenatal contributions to this neurodevelopmental phenotype, we performed Caesarian (C-section) births using dissimilar foster mothers to eliminate effects of maternal microbiota transferred during vaginal delivery or nursing after birth. We found that foster-reared offspring still displayed a high frequency of these FXS-like features, indicating significant in utero contributions. In contrast, matched foster-reared progeny of L. reuteri-treated mothers did not exhibit the FXS-like typical features, supporting a key role for microbiota during pregnancy. Our findings suggest that diet-induced dysbiosis in the prenatal uterine environment is strongly associated with the incidence of this neurological phenotype in progeny but can be alleviated by addressing gut dysbiosis through probiotic supplementation.

    View details for DOI 10.3390/genes13081409

    View details for PubMedID 36011319

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC9407566

  • Differential Methylation Profile in Fragile X Syndrome-Prone Offspring Mice after in Utero Exposure to Lactobacillus Reuteri. Genes AlOlaby, R. R., Zafarullah, M., Barboza, M., Peng, G., Varian, B. J., Erdman, S. E., Lebrilla, C., Tassone, F. 2022; 13 (8)


    Environmental factors such as diet, gut microbiota, and infections have proven to have a significant role in epigenetic modifications. It is known that epigenetic modifications may cause behavioral and neuronal changes observed in neurodevelopmental disabilities, including fragile X syndrome (FXS) and autism (ASD). Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide health benefits when consumed, and in some cases are shown to decrease the chance of developing neurological disorders. Here, we examined the epigenetic outcomes in offspring mice after feeding of a probiotic organism, Lactobacillus reuteri (L. reuteri), to pregnant mother animals. In this study, we tested a cohort of Western diet-fed descendant mice exhibiting a high frequency of behavioral features and lower FMRP protein expression similar to what is observed in FXS in humans (described in a companion manuscript in this same GENES special topic issue). By investigating 17,735 CpG sites spanning the whole mouse genome, we characterized the epigenetic profile in two cohorts of mice descended from mothers treated and non-treated with L. reuteri to determine the effect of prenatal probiotic exposure on the prevention of FXS-like symptoms. We found several genes involved in different neurological pathways being differentially methylated (p ≤ 0.05) between the cohorts. Among the key functions, synaptogenesis, neurogenesis, synaptic modulation, synaptic transmission, reelin signaling pathway, promotion of specification and maturation of neurons, and long-term potentiation were observed. The results of this study are relevant as they could lead to a better understanding of the pathways involved in these disorders, to novel therapeutics approaches, and to the identification of potential biomarkers for early detection of these conditions.

    View details for DOI 10.3390/genes13081300

    View details for PubMedID 35893036

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC9331364

  • Both cis and trans-acting genetic factors drive somatic instability in female carriers of the FMR1 premutation. Scientific reports Hwang, Y. H., Hayward, B. E., Zafarullah, M., Kumar, J., Durbin Johnson, B., Holmans, P., Usdin, K., Tassone, F. 2022; 12 (1): 10419


    The fragile X mental retardation (FMR1) gene contains an expansion-prone CGG repeat within its 5' UTR. Alleles with 55-200 repeats are known as premutation (PM) alleles and confer risk for one or more of the FMR1 premutation (PM) disorders that include Fragile X-associated Tremor/Ataxia Syndrome (FXTAS), Fragile X-associated Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (FXPOI), and Fragile X-Associated Neuropsychiatric Disorders (FXAND). PM alleles expand on intergenerational transmission, with the children of PM mothers being at risk of inheriting alleles with > 200 CGG repeats (full mutation FM) alleles) and thus developing Fragile X Syndrome (FXS). PM alleles can be somatically unstable. This can lead to individuals being mosaic for multiple size alleles. Here, we describe a detailed evaluation of somatic mosaicism in a large cohort of female PM carriers and show that 94% display some evidence of somatic instability with the presence of a series of expanded alleles that differ from the next allele by a single repeat unit. Using two different metrics for instability that we have developed, we show that, as with intergenerational instability, there is a direct relationship between the extent of somatic expansion and the number of CGG repeats in the originally inherited allele and an inverse relationship with the number of AGG interruptions. Expansions are progressive as evidenced by a positive correlation with age and by examination of blood samples from the same individual taken at different time points. Our data also suggests the existence of other genetic or environmental factors that affect the extent of somatic expansion. Importantly, the analysis of candidate single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) suggests that two DNA repair factors, FAN1 and MSH3, may be modifiers of somatic expansion risk in the PM population as observed in other repeat expansion disorders.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41598-022-14183-0

    View details for PubMedID 35729184

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC9213438

  • De Novo Large Deletion Leading to Fragile X Syndrome. Frontiers in genetics Jiraanont, P., Manor, E., Tabatadze, N., Zafarullah, M., Mendoza, G., Melikishvili, G., Tassone, F. 2022; 13: 884424


    Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is the most frequent cause of X-linked inherited intellectual disabilities (ID) and the most frequent monogenic form of autism spectrum disorders. It is caused by an expansion of a CGG trinucleotide repeat located in the 5'UTR of the FMR1 gene, resulting in the absence of the fragile X mental retardation protein, FMRP. Other mechanisms such as deletions or point mutations of the FMR1 gene have been described and account for approximately 1% of individuals with FXS. Here, we report a 7-year-old boy with FXS with a de novo deletion of approximately 1.1 Mb encompassing several genes, including the FMR1 and the ASFMR1 genes, and several miRNAs, whose lack of function could result in the observed proband phenotypes. In addition, we also demonstrate that FMR4 completely overlaps with ASFMR1, and there are no sequencing differences between both transcripts (i.e., ASFMR1/FMR4 throughout the article).

    View details for DOI 10.3389/fgene.2022.884424

    View details for PubMedID 35646065

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC9130735

  • Metabolomic Biomarkers Are Associated With Area of the Pons in Fragile X Premutation Carriers at Risk for Developing FXTAS. Frontiers in psychiatry Zafarullah, M., Durbin-Johnson, B., Fourie, E. S., Hessl, D. R., Rivera, S. M., Tassone, F. 2021; 12: 691717


    Fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS) is a late adult-onset neurodegenerative disorder that affects movement and cognition in male and female carriers of a premutation allele (55-200 CGG repeats; PM) in the fragile X mental retardation (FMR1) gene. It is currently unknown how the observed brain changes are associated with metabolic signatures in individuals who develop the disorder over time. The primary objective of this study was to investigate the correlation between longitudinal changes in the brain (area of the pons, midbrain, and MCP width) and the changes in the expression level of metabolic biomarkers of early diagnosis and progression of FXTAS in PM who, as part of an ongoing longitudinal study, emerged into two distinct categories. These included those who developed symptoms of FXTAS (converters, CON) at subsequent visits and those who did not meet the criteria of diagnosis (non-converters, NCON) and were compared to age-matched healthy controls (HC). We assessed CGG repeat allele size by Southern Blot and PCR analysis. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRIs) acquisition was obtained on a 3T Siemens Trio scanner and metabolomic profile was obtained by ultra-performance liquid chromatography, accurate mass spectrometer, and an Orbitrap mass analyzer. Our findings indicate that differential metabolite levels are linked with the area of the pons between healthy control and premutation groups. More specifically, we observed a significant association of ceramides and mannonate metabolites with a decreased area of the pons, both at visit 1 (V1) and visit 2 (V2) only in the CON as compared to the NCON group suggesting their potential role in the development of the disorder. In addition, we found a significant correlation of these metabolic signatures with the FXTAS stage at V2 indicating their contribution to the progression and pathogenesis of FXTAS. Interestingly, these metabolites, as part of lipid and sphingolipid lipids pathways, provide evidence of the role that their dysregulation plays in the development of FXTAS and inform us as potential targets for personalized therapeutic development.

    View details for DOI 10.3389/fpsyt.2021.691717

    View details for PubMedID 34483988

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC8415564

  • Metabolic profiling reveals dysregulated lipid metabolism and potential biomarkers associated with the development and progression of Fragile X-Associated Tremor/Ataxia Syndrome (FXTAS). FASEB journal : official publication of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Zafarullah, M., Palczewski, G., Rivera, S. M., Hessl, D. R., Tassone, F. 2020; 34 (12): 16676-16692


    Fragile X-associated Tremor/Ataxia Syndrome (FXTAS) is a neurodegenerative disorder associated with the FMR1 premutation. It is currently unknown when, and if, individual premutation carriers will develop FXTAS. Thus, with the aim of identifying biomarkers for early diagnosis, development, and progression of FXTAS, we performed global metabolomic profiling of premutation carriers (PM) who, as part of an ongoing longitudinal study, emerged into two distinct categories: those who developed symptoms of FXTAS (converters, CON) at subsequent visits and those who did not (non-converters, NCON) and we compared to age-matched healthy controls (HC). We assessed CGG repeat allele size by Southern Blot and PCR analysis. Metabolomic profile was obtained by ultra-performance liquid chromatography, accurate mass spectrometer, and an Orbitrap mass analyzer. In this study we found 47 metabolites were significantly dysregulated between HC and the premutation groups (PM). Importantly, we identified 24 metabolites that showed significant changes in expression in the CON as compared to the NCON both at V1 and V2, and 70 metabolites in CON as compared to NCON but only at V2. These findings suggest the potential role of the identified metabolites as biomarkers for early diagnosis and for FXTAS disease progression, respectively. Interestingly, the majority of the identified metabolites were lipids, followed by amino acids. To our knowledge, this the first report of longitudinal metabolic profiling and identification of unique biomarkers of FXTAS. The lipid metabolism and specifically the sub pathways involved in mitochondrial bioenergetics, as observed in other neurodegenerative disorders, are significantly altered in FXTAS.

    View details for DOI 10.1096/fj.202001880R

    View details for PubMedID 33131090

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC7756608

  • Urine-Derived Epithelial Cell Lines: A New Tool to Model Fragile X Syndrome (FXS). Cells Zafarullah, M., Jasoliya, M., Tassone, F. 2020; 9 (10)


    Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is an X-linked neurodevelopmental condition associated with intellectual disability and behavioral problems due to the lack of the Fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP), which plays a crucial role in synaptic plasticity and memory. A desirable in vitro cell model to study FXS would be one that can be generated by simple isolation and culture method from a collection of a non-invasive donor specimen. Currently, the various donor-specific cells can be isolated mainly from peripheral blood and skin biopsy. However, they are somewhat invasive methods for establishing cell lines from the primary subject material. In this study, we characterized a cost-effective and straightforward method to derive epithelial cell lines from urine samples collected from participants with FXS and healthy controls (TD). The urine-derived cells expressed epithelial cell surface markers via fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS). We observed inter, and the intra-tissue CGG mosaicism in the PBMCs and the urine-derived cells from participants with FXS potentially related to the observed variations in the phenotypic and clinical presentation FXS. We characterized these urine-derived epithelial cells for FMR1 mRNA and FMRP expression and observed some expression in the lines derived from full mutation mosaic participants. Further, FMRP expression was localized in the cytoplasm of the urine-derived epithelial cells of healthy controls. Deficient FMRP expression was also observed in mosaic males, while, as expected, no expression was observed in cells derived from participants with a hypermethylated full mutation.

    View details for DOI 10.3390/cells9102240

    View details for PubMedID 33027907

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC7600987

  • FMR1 locus isoforms: potential biomarker candidates in fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS). Scientific reports Zafarullah, M., Tang, H. T., Durbin-Johnson, B., Fourie, E., Hessl, D., Rivera, S. M., Tassone, F. 2020; 10 (1): 11099


    Fragile X associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS) is a late adult-onset neurodegenerative disorder that affects movement and cognition in male and female carriers of a premutation allele of 55-200 CGG repeats in the Fragile X mental retardation (FMR1) gene. It is currently unknown if and when an individual carrier of a premutation allele will develop FXTAS, as clinical assessment fails to identify carriers at risk before significant neurological symptoms are evident. The primary objective of this study was to investigate the alternative splicing landscape at the FMR1 locus in conjunction with brain measures in male individuals with a premutation allele enrolled in a very first longitudinal study, compared to age-matched healthy male controls, with the purpose of identifying biomarkers for early diagnosis, disease prediction and, a progression of FXTAS. Our findings indicate that increased expression of FMR1 mRNA isoforms, including Iso4/4b, Iso10/10b, as well as of the ASFMR1 mRNAs Iso131bp, are present in premutation carriers as compared to non-carrier healthy controls. More specifically, we observed a higher expression of Iso4/4b and Iso10/10b, which encode for truncated proteins, only in those premutation carriers who developed symptoms of FXTAS over time as compared to non-carrier healthy controls, suggesting a potential role in the development of the disorder. In addition, we found a significant association of these molecular changes with various measurements of brain morphology, including the middle cerebellar peduncle (MCP), superior cerebellar peduncle (SCP), pons, and midbrain, indicating their potential contribution to the pathogenesis of FXTAS. Interestingly, the high expression levels of Iso4/4b observed both at visit 1 and visit 2 and found to be associated with a decrease in mean MCP width only in those individuals who developed FXTAS over time, suggests their role as potential biomarkers for early diagnosis of FXTAS.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41598-020-67946-y

    View details for PubMedID 32632326

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC7338407

  • Molecular Biomarkers in Fragile X Syndrome. Brain sciences Zafarullah, M., Tassone, F. 2019; 9 (5)


    Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is the most common inherited form of intellectual disability (ID) and a known monogenic cause of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It is a trinucleotide repeat disorder, in which more than 200 CGG repeats in the 5' untranslated region (UTR) of the fragile X mental retardation 1 (FMR1) gene causes methylation of the promoter with consequent silencing of the gene, ultimately leading to the loss of the encoded fragile X mental retardation 1 protein, FMRP. FMRP is an RNA binding protein that plays a primary role as a repressor of translation of various mRNAs, many of which are involved in the maintenance and development of neuronal synaptic function and plasticity. In addition to intellectual disability, patients with FXS face several behavioral challenges, including anxiety, hyperactivity, seizures, repetitive behavior, and problems with executive and language performance. Currently, there is no cure or approved medication for the treatment of the underlying causes of FXS, but in the past few years, our knowledge about the proteins and pathways that are dysregulated by the loss of FMRP has increased, leading to clinical trials and to the path of developing molecular biomarkers for identifying potential targets for therapies. In this paper, we review candidate molecular biomarkers that have been identified in preclinical studies in the FXS mouse animal model and are now under validation for human applications or have already made their way to clinical trials.

    View details for DOI 10.3390/brainsci9050096

    View details for PubMedID 31035599

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC6562871

  • Fragile X-Associated Tremor/Ataxia Syndrome (FXTAS). Methods in molecular biology (Clifton, N.J.) Zafarullah, M., Tassone, F. 2019; 1942: 173-189


    Individuals carrying an FMR1 expansion between 55 and 200 CGG repeats, are at risk of developing the Fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS), a late onset neurodegenerative disorder characterized by cerebellar gait ataxia, intentional tremor, neuropathy, parkinsonism, cognitive decline, and psychological disorders, such as anxiety and depression. In addition, brain atrophy, white matter disease, and hyperintensities of the middle cerebellar peduncles can also be present. The neuropathological distinct feature of FXTAS is represented by the presence of eosinophilic intranuclear inclusions in neurons and astrocytes throughout the brain and in other tissues. In this chapter, protocols for available diagnostic tools, in both humans and mice, the clinical features and the basic molecular mechanisms leading to FXTAS and the animal models proposed to study this disorder are discussed.

    View details for DOI 10.1007/978-1-4939-9080-1_15

    View details for PubMedID 30900185