J. Andrew Berglund

J. Andrew Berglund

Professor, Director of The RNA Institute
Department of Biological Sciences
The RNA Institute
Berglund Lab


LS 2033I
J. Andrew Berglund smiles in a light blue checked button-up shirt in front of a gray backdrop

The RNA Institute

Berglund Lab

Myotonic Dystrophy Center 

Dr. Berglund began studying biochemistry in 1990 with a focus on the structures that RNA can adopt and their role in biology. His interests expanded to determining the mechanisms through which RNA binding proteins recognize RNA motifs in pre-mRNA splicing. As a graduate student he was the first to show that proteins conserved from yeast to humans specifically recognize an RNA motif that is essential for the recognition and removal of introns in pre-mRNA splicing. In his own laboratory, he and his group began studying the molecular mechanisms of myotonic dystrophy. This led to his laboratory solving the first crystal structure of CUG repeats, the toxic RNA that causes myotonic dystrophy type 1. They have solved additional structures of CUG repeats leading to a better understanding of the dynamics of the repeats and insights into the toxicity of the repeats. One of the mechanisms through which the CUG repeats and CCUG repeats for myotonic dystrophy type 2 (DM2) are toxic is the sequestration of the muscleblind-like (MBNL) family of RNA binding proteins. The sequestration of MBNL proteins leads to many changes in splicing, which are implicated in causing the symptoms in DM. His laboratory, along with several other groups in the field, have identified some of the mechanisms through which the MBNL family of proteins regulate splicing providing a better framework for understanding the mis-splicing in myotonic dystrophy. For many years the group has investigated using small molecules to target the toxic CUG and CCUG repeats of DM. These efforts have led to the identification of molecules that rescue the mis-splicing in DM1 cell and mouse models. Recently the group has shown that targeting the production of the toxic RNA shows promise as a potential approach to identify lead compounds for developing therapeutics.



The Berglund Lab continues to focus on myotonic dystrophy with the goal of translating basic science into clinical research using a combination of biochemical, cellular and genomic approaches. The lab is beginning to expand their research efforts into other neuromuscular diseases caused by microsatellite expansions to determine similarities and differences in the mechanisms across these diseases. These studies are important to build the necessary foundation of basic understanding that can be used to develop therapeutic strategies for DM, ataxia and ALS.

A few of our current projects are briefly described. The characterization of many mis-splicing events from DM1 patients is leading to predictions on which splicing events are the best biomarkers for therapeutic studies. We plan to expand this approach to DM2. We are developing novel synthetic MBNL1 proteins that have altered activities providing insight into how this protein recognizes RNA and regulates splicing. A synthetic MBNL1 with improved activity could potentially be used in a therapeutic approach. We are developing approaches to screen libraries of small molecules and mining the scientific literature to identify compounds that can be used to inhibit the production of toxic RNAs. Lead compounds that show promise inhibiting the production of the toxic RNAs will be studied to understand the mechanisms through which they function to inform the development of molecules with improved activity. 

The goal of our research is to use the results from these fundamental studies to identify innovative strategies to reduce or correct the improper pre-mRNA splicing that occurs in the disease state. For example, we have recently shown that small molecules can be used to rescue the mis-splicing in cell and mouse models of myotonic dystrophy.


  • Widespread alternative splicing dysregulation occurs presymptomatically in CAG expansion spinocerebellar ataxias
    Shorrock HK, Lennon CD, Aliyeva A, Davey EE, DeMeo CC, Pritchard CE, Planco L, Velez JM, Mascorro-Huamancaja A, Shin DS, Cleary JD, Berglund JA. Brain. 2023 Sep 30:awad329. doi: 10.1093/brain/awad329. Online ahead of print.PMID: 37776516
  • Individual transcriptomic response to strength training for patients with myotonic dystrophy type 1
    Davey EE, Légaré C, Planco L, Shaughnessy S, Lennon CD, Roussel MP, Shorrock HK, Hung M, Cleary JD, Duchesne E, Berglund JA. JCI Insight. 2023 Jul 24;8(14):e163856. doi: 10.1172/jci.insight.163856.PMID: 37318869 Free PMC article.
  • Jenquin JR, O'Brien AP, Poukalov K, Lu Y, Frias JA, Shorrock HK, Richardson JI, Mazdiyasni H, Yang H, Huigens RW 3rd, Boykin D, Ranum LPW, Cleary JD, Wang ET, Berglund JA. 2022. Molecular characterization of myotonic dystrophy fibroblast cell lines for use in small molecule screening. iScience. Apr 4;25(5):104198.
  • Hinman MN, Richardson JI, Sockol RA, Aronson ED, Stednitz SJ, Murray KN, Berglund JA, Guillemin K. 2021. Zebrafish mbnl mutants model physical and molecular phenotypes of myotonic dystrophy. Dis Model Mech. Jun 1;14(6)
  • Bubenik JL, Hale M, McConnell O, Wang E, Swanson MS, Spitale R, Berglund JA  2020. RNA structure probing to characterize RNA-protein interactions on a low abundance pre-mRNA in living cells. RNA. Dec 11;27(3):343-58.
  • Reddy K, Cleary JD, Berglund JA. 2020. Drug Screen Tugs at Common Thread for Repeat Disorders. Trends Pharmacol Sci. Feb;41(2):71-73
  • Shotwell CR, Cleary JD, Berglund JA. 2020. The potential of engineered eukaryotic RNA-binding proteins as molecular tools and therapeutics. Wiley Interdiscip Rev RNA. Jan;11(1):e1573.
  • Reddy K, Jenquin JR, McConnell OL, Cleary JD, Richardson JI, Pinto BS, Haerle MC, Delgado E, Planco L, Nakamori M, Wang ET, Berglund JA. 2019. A CTG repeat-selective chemical screen identifies microtubule inhibitors as selective modulators of toxic CUG RNA levels. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A Oct 15;116(42):20991-21000.
  • Jenquin JR, Yang H, Huigens RW 3rd, Nakamori M, Berglund JA. 2019. Combination Treatment of Erythromycin and Furamidine Provides Additive and Synergistic Rescue of Mis-Splicing in Myotonic Dystrophy Type 1 Models. ACS Pharmacol Transl Sci. Aug 9;2(4):247-263.
  • Reddy K, Jenquin JR, Cleary JD, Berglund JA. 2019. Mitigating RNA Toxicity in Myotonic Dystrophy using Small Molecules. Int J Mol Sci. Aug 17;20(16):4017.
  • Hale MA, Johnson NE, Berglund JA. 2019. Repeat-associated RNA structure and aberrant splicing. Biochim Biophys Acta Gene Regul Mech. Nov-Dec;1862(11-12):194405.
  • Jana R. Jenquin, Leslie A. Coonrod, Quinn A. Silverglate, Natalie A. Pellitier, Melissa A. Hale, Guangbin Xia, Masayuki Nakamori, and J. Andrew Berglund.   2018 .  Furamidine Rescues Myotonic Dystrophy Type I Associated Mis-Splicing through Multiple Mechanisms.   ACS Chemical Biology ,  13 (9), 2708-2718 
  • Hale MA, Richardson JI, Day RC, McConnell OL, Arboleda J, Wang ET, Berglund JA.   2018 .  An engineered RNA binding protein with improved splicing regulation.   Nucleic Acids Res. ,  Apr 6;46(6):3152-3168. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkx1304. PMID:29309648 
  • deLorimier E, Hinman MN, Copperman J, Datta K, Guenza M, Berglund JA.   2017 .  Pseudouridine Modification Inhibits Muscleblind-like 1 (MBNL1) Binding to CCUG Repeats and Minimally Structured RNA through Reduced RNA Flexibility.   J Biol Chem. ,  Mar 10;292(10):4350-4357. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M116.770768. Epub 2017 Jan 27. PMID: 28130447 
  • Wagner SD, Struck AJ, Gupta R, Farnsworth DR, Mahady AE, Eichinger K, Thornton CA, Wang ET, Berglund JA.   2016 .  Dose-Dependent Regulation of Alternative Splicing by MBNL Proteins Reveals Biomarkers for Myotonic Dystrophy.   PLoS Genet. ,  Sep 28;12(9):e1006316. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1006316. PMCID: PMC5082313 
  • Oddo JC, Saxena T, McConnell OL, Berglund JA, Wang ET.   2016 .  Conservation of context-dependent splicing activity in distant Muscleblind homologs.   Nucleic Acids Res. ,  Sep 30;44(17):8352-62. doi:10.1093/nar/gkw735. PMCID: PMC5041496 
  • Siboni RB, Nakamori M, Wagner SD, Struck AJ, Coonrod LA, Harriott SA, Cass DM, Tanner MK, Berglund JA.   2015 .  Actinomycin D Specifically Reduces Expanded CUG Repeat RNA in Myotonic Dystrophy Models.   Cell Rep. ,  Dec 22;13(11):2386-94. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2015.11.028. Epub 2015 Dec 10. PMCID: PMC4691565 
  • Siboni RB, Bodner MJ, Khalifa MM, Docter AG, Choi JY, Nakamori M, Haley MM, Berglund JA.   2015 .  Biological Efficacy and Toxicity of Diamidines in Myotonic Dystrophy Type 1 Models.   J Med Chem. ,  Aug 13;58(15):5770-80. doi: 10.1021/acs.jmedchem.5b00356. Epub 2015 Jul 21. 
  • deLorimier E, Coonrod LA, Copperman J, Taber A, Reister EE, Sharma K, Todd PK, Guenza MG, Berglund JA.   2014 .  Modifications to toxic CUG RNAs induce structural stability, rescue mis-splicing in a myotonic dystrophy cell model and reduce toxicity in a myotonic dystrophy zebrafish model. 2014   Nucleic Acids Res. ,  Nov 10;42(20):12768-78. doi: 10.1093/nar/gku941. Epub 2014 Oct 10. 
  • Wagner SD, Berglund JA.   2014 .  Alternative pre-mRNA splicing.   Methods Mol Biol. ,  1126:45-54. doi: 10.1007/978-1-62703-980-24. 
  • Coonrod LA, Nakamori M, Wang W, Carrell S, Hilton CL, Bodner MJ, Siboni RB, Docter AG, Haley MM, Thornton CA, Berglund JA.   2013 .  Reducing Levels of Toxic RNA with Small Molecules.   ACS Chem Biol. ,  Nov 15;8(11):2528-37. doi: 10.1021/cb400431f. Epub 2013 Sep 27. 
  • Coonrod LA, Lohman JR, Berglund JA.   2012 .  Utilizing the GAAA tetraloop/receptor to facilitate crystal packing and structure determination of a CUG RNA helix.   Biochemistry ,  Oct 23;51(42):8330-7. doi: 10.1021/bi300829w. Epub 2012 Oct 12 
  • Purcell J, Oddo JC, Wang ET, Berglund JA.   2012 .  Combinatorial Mutagenesis of MBNL1 Zinc Fingers Elucidates Distinct Classes of Splicing Regulatory Events.   Mol Cell Biol. ,  Oct;32(20):4155-67. Epub 2012 Aug 13.