Expanded short tandem repeats in the genome cause various monogenic diseases, particularly neurological disorders. Since the discovery of a CGG repeat expansion in the FMR1 gene in 1991, more than 40 repeat expansion diseases have been identified to date. In the coding repeat expansion diseases, in which the expanded repeat sequence is located in the coding regions of genes, the toxicity of repeat polypeptides, particularly misfolding and aggregation of proteins containing an expanded polyglutamine tract, have been the focus of investigation. On the other hand, in the non-coding repeat expansion diseases, in which the expanded repeat sequence is located in introns or untranslated regions, the toxicity of repeat RNAs has been the focus of investigation. Recently, these repeat RNAs were demonstrated to be translated into repeat polypeptides by the novel mechanism of repeat-associated non-AUG translation, which has extended the research direction of the pathological mechanisms of this disease entity to include polypeptide toxicity. Thus, a common pathogenesis has been suggested for both coding and non-coding repeat expansion diseases. In this review, we briefly outline the major pathogenic mechanisms of repeat expansion diseases, including a loss-of-function mechanism caused by repeat expansion, repeat RNA toxicity caused by RNA foci formation and protein sequestration, and toxicity by repeat polypeptides. We also discuss perturbation of the physiological liquid-liquid phase separation state caused by these repeat RNAs and repeat polypeptides, as well as potential therapeutic approaches against repeat expansion diseases.

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