Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a devastating muscle-wasting disease caused by mutations in the dystrophin gene. Utrophin is a homologue of dystrophin that can compensate for its absence when overexpressed in DMD animal models. Utrophin upregulation is therefore a promising therapeutic approach for DMD. Utrophin is regulated at both transcriptional and posttranscriptional levels. Transcriptional regulation has been studied extensively, and assays have been described for the identification of utrophin promoter-targeting molecules. However, despite the profound impact that posttranscriptional regulation has on utrophin expression, screening assays have not yet been described that could be used to discover pharmaceuticals targeting this key phase of regulation. We describe the development and validation of a muscle cell line-based assay in which a stably expressed luciferase coding sequence is flanked by the utrophin 5'- and 3'-untranslated regions (UTRs). The assay was validated using the posttranscriptional regulation of utrophin by miR-206. The assay has a Z' of 0.7, indicating robust performance in high-throughput format. This assay can be used to study utrophin regulatory mechanisms or to screen chemical libraries for compounds that upregulate utrophin posttranscriptionally via its UTRs. Compounds identified via this assay, used alone or in a synergistic combination with utrophin promoter-targeting molecules, would be predicted to have therapeutic potential for DMD
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