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1.  Functional Substitution by TAT-Utrophin in Dystrophin-Deficient Mice 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(5):e1000083.
James Ervasti and colleagues show that injection of a truncated form of utrophin transduced all tissues examined, integrated with members of the dystrophin complex, and reduced serum levels of creatine kinase in a mouse model of muscular dystrophy.
The loss of dystrophin compromises muscle cell membrane stability and causes Duchenne muscular dystrophy and/or various forms of cardiomyopathy. Increased expression of the dystrophin homolog utrophin by gene delivery or pharmacologic up-regulation has been demonstrated to restore membrane integrity and improve the phenotype in the dystrophin-deficient mdx mouse. However, the lack of a viable therapy in humans predicates the need to explore alternative methods to combat dystrophin deficiency. We investigated whether systemic administration of recombinant full-length utrophin (Utr) or ΔR4-21 “micro” utrophin (μUtr) protein modified with the cell-penetrating TAT protein transduction domain could attenuate the phenotype of mdx mice.
Methods and Findings
Recombinant TAT-Utr and TAT-μUtr proteins were expressed using the baculovirus system and purified using FLAG-affinity chromatography. Age-matched mdx mice received six twice-weekly intraperitoneal injections of either recombinant protein or PBS. Three days after the final injection, mice were analyzed for several phenotypic parameters of dystrophin deficiency. Injected TAT-μUtr transduced all tissues examined, integrated with members of the dystrophin complex, reduced serum levels of creatine kinase (11,290±920 U versus 5,950±1,120 U; PBS versus TAT), the prevalence of muscle degeneration/regeneration (54%±5% versus 37%±4% of centrally nucleated fibers; PBS versus TAT), the susceptibility to eccentric contraction-induced force drop (72%±5% versus 40%±8% drop; PBS versus TAT), and increased specific force production (9.7±1.1 N/cm2 versus 12.8±0.9 N/cm2; PBS versus TAT).
These results are, to our knowledge, the first to establish the efficacy and feasibility of TAT-utrophin-based constructs as a novel direct protein-replacement therapy for the treatment of skeletal and cardiac muscle diseases caused by loss of dystrophin.
Editors' Summary
Muscular dystrophies are genetic (inherited) diseases in which the body's muscles gradually weaken and degenerate. The commonest and most severe muscular dystrophy—Duchenne muscular dystrophy—affects 1 in 3,500 boys (girls can be carriers of the disease but rarely have any symptoms). At birth, these boys seem normal but the symptoms of their disease begin to appear in early childhood. Affected children may initially have difficulty walking or find it to hard to sit or stand independently. As they age, their muscle strength progressively declines and most affected boys are confined to a wheelchair by the time they are 12 years old. The muscles involved in breathing also weaken and the heart muscle becomes enlarged. Few boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy live beyond their early 20 s, usually dying from breathing or heart problems. At present there is no cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. However, physical therapy and treatment with steroids can prolong the ability of patients to walk, and assisted ventilation can help with their breathing.
Why Was This Study Done?
In all muscular dystrophies, one of the proteins needed to build and maintain healthy muscles is missing or nonfunctional because of a genetic change (mutation). In Duchenne muscular dystrophy the mutation is in dystrophin, a protein that is involved in the formation of the dystrophin–glycoprotein complex. This complex normally sits in the membranes that surround muscle fibers and protects these membranes from damage during muscle contraction. Consequently, in Duchenne muscular dystrophy, the muscle fiber membranes become damaged and eventually the muscle fibers die. Thus, if functional dystrophin could be introduced into the muscles of patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, it might be possible to reduce their symptoms and prolong their lives. Indeed, the effects of dystrophin deficiency in the dystrophin-deficient mdx mouse can be reduced by the introduction of an artificial gene that expresses dystrophin or the closely related protein utrophin. Unfortunately, this gene therapy approach has not yet been effectively demonstrated in humans. In this study, therefore, the researchers investigate whether utrophin protein can be introduced directly into dystrophin-deficient mouse muscles by exposing the muscle cells to utrophin fused to the protein transduction domain of the HIV-1 TAT protein. Most proteins will not cross cell membranes, but proteins fused to this cell-penetrating domain readily enter many cell types, including muscle cells.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers injected full-length utrophin fused to the TAT protein transduction domain (TAT-Utr) and a short, “micro” version of utrophin fused to the same domain (TAT-μUtr) into the abdomens of mdx mice and looked to see where the proteins ended up. After two injections, both proteins were present in a wide range of tissues and organs, including several types of muscle. However, the levels of TAT-Utr were much lower than those of TAT-μUtr. Next, the researchers injected another group of mdx mice with TAT-μUtr six times over three weeks. Again, TAT-μUtr was present in all the tissues that the researchers examined. Furthermore, μUtr–glycoprotein complexes formed in the TAT-μUtr injected mdx mice and the membrane integrity and overall health of the dystrophin-deficient muscles of the mdx mice improved compared to mdx mice treated with saline. Finally, the researchers report, TAT-μUtr injections greatly improved the contractile performance of the muscles of the mdx mice.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings provide the first demonstration that injection of TAT-utrophin protein fusions may provide a way to treat muscular dystrophies caused by the loss of dystrophin. However, although this direct protein-replacement therapy looks hopeful, approaches that work in animals do not necessarily work in people. In particular, for this approach to work in patients with muscular dystrophy, it would be necessary to give frequent, high-dose injections of the TAT-μUtr fusion protein, a process that could eventually trigger a deleterious immune response. Nevertheless, the researchers suggest that by combining this novel approach with other approaches that also increase utrophin expression, it might be possible to prevent or delay the development of the symptoms of Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke provides information on muscular dystrophy and ongoing research into possible treatments (in English and Spanish)
The US National Human Genome Research Institute also provides basic information on Duchenne muscular dystrophy and links to additional resources
The UK National Health Service Choices Web site has pages for patients and caregivers on muscular dystrophy
The Nemours Foundation provides information about muscular dystrophy for parents, children, and teenagers
For links to further resources on muscular dystrophy, see also MedlinePlus
PMCID: PMC2680620  PMID: 19478831
2.  Local restoration of dystrophin expression with the morpholino oligomer AVI-4658 in Duchenne muscular dystrophy: a single-blind, placebo-controlled, dose-escalation, proof-of-concept study 
Lancet Neurology  2009;8(10):918-928.
Mutations that disrupt the open reading frame and prevent full translation of DMD, the gene that encodes dystrophin, underlie the fatal X-linked disease Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Oligonucleotides targeted to splicing elements (splice switching oligonucleotides) in DMD pre-mRNA can lead to exon skipping, restoration of the open reading frame, and the production of functional dystrophin in vitro and in vivo, which could benefit patients with this disorder.
We did a single-blind, placebo-controlled, dose-escalation study in patients with DMD recruited nationally, to assess the safety and biochemical efficacy of an intramuscular morpholino splice-switching oligonucleotide (AVI-4658) that skips exon 51 in dystrophin mRNA. Seven patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy with deletions in the open reading frame of DMD that are responsive to exon 51 skipping were selected on the basis of the preservation of their extensor digitorum brevis (EDB) muscle seen on MRI and the response of cultured fibroblasts from a skin biopsy to AVI-4658. AVI-4658 was injected into the EDB muscle; the contralateral muscle received saline. Muscles were biopsied between 3 and 4 weeks after injection. The primary endpoint was the safety of AVI-4658 and the secondary endpoint was its biochemical efficacy. This trial is registered, number NCT00159250.
Two patients received 0·09 mg AVI-4658 in 900 μL (0·9%) saline and five patients received 0·9 mg AVI-4658 in 900 μL saline. No adverse events related to AVI-4658 administration were reported. Intramuscular injection of the higher-dose of AVI-4658 resulted in increased dystrophin expression in all treated EDB muscles, although the results of the immunostaining of EDB-treated muscle for dystrophin were not uniform. In the areas of the immunostained sections that were adjacent to the needle track through which AVI-4658 was given, 44–79% of myofibres had increased expression of dystrophin. In randomly chosen sections of treated EDB muscles, the mean intensity of dystrophin staining ranged from 22% to 32% of the mean intensity of dystrophin in healthy control muscles (mean 26·4%), and the mean intensity was 17% (range 11–21%) greater than the intensity in the contralateral saline-treated muscle (one-sample paired t test p=0·002). In the dystrophin-positive fibres, the intensity of dystrophin staining was up to 42% of that in healthy muscle. We showed expression of dystrophin at the expected molecular weight in the AVI-4658-treated muscle by immunoblot.
Intramuscular AVI-4658 was safe and induced the expression of dystrophin locally within treated muscles. This proof-of-concept study has led to an ongoing systemic clinical trial of AVI-4658 in patients with DMD.
UK Department of Health.
PMCID: PMC2755039  PMID: 19713152
3.  Induction of revertant fibres in the mdx mouse using antisense oligonucleotides 
Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a fatal genetic disorder caused by dystrophin gene mutations that result in premature termination of translation and the absence of functional protein. Despite the primary dystrophin gene lesion, immunostaining studies have shown that at least 50% of DMD patients, mdx mice and a canine model of DMD have rare dystrophin-positive or 'revertant' fibres. Fine epitope mapping has shown that the majority of transcripts responsible for revertant fibres exclude multiple exons, one of which includes the dystrophin mutation.
The mdx mouse model of muscular dystrophy has a nonsense mutation in exon 23 of the dystrophin gene. We have shown that antisense oligonucleotides (AOs) can induce the removal of this exon, resulting in an in-frame mRNA transcript encoding a shortened but functional dystrophin protein. To emulate one exonic combination associated with revertant fibres, we target multiple exons for removal by the application of a group of AOs combined as a "cocktail".
Exons 19–25 were consistently excluded from the dystrophin gene transcript using a cocktail of AOs. This corresponds to an alternatively processed gene transcript that has been sporadically detected in untreated dystrophic mouse muscle, and is presumed to give rise to a revertant dystrophin isoform. The transcript and the resultant correctly localised smaller protein were confirmed by RT-PCR, immunohistochemistry and western blot analysis.
This work demonstrates the feasibility of AO cocktails to by-pass dystrophin mutation hotspots through multi-exon skipping. Multi-exon skipping could be important in expediting an exon skipping therapy to treat DMD, so that the same AO formulations may be applied to several different mutations within particular domains of the dystrophin gene.
PMCID: PMC1481566  PMID: 16719929
4.  Prednisolone Treatment Does Not Interfere with 2′-O-Methyl Phosphorothioate Antisense-Mediated Exon Skipping in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy 
Human Gene Therapy  2011;23(3):262-273.
In Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), dystrophin deficiency leading to progressive muscular degeneration is caused by frame-shifting mutations in the DMD gene. Antisense oligonucleotides (AONs) aim to restore the reading frame by skipping of a specific exon(s), thereby allowing the production of a shorter, but semifunctional protein, as is found in the mostly more mildly affected patients with Becker muscular dystrophy. AONs are currently being investigated in phase 3 placebo-controlled clinical trials. Most of the participating patients are treated symptomatically with corticosteroids (mainly predniso[lo]ne) to stabilize the muscle fibers, which might affect the uptake and/or efficiency of AONs. Therefore the effect of prednisolone on 2′-O-methyl phosphorothioate AON efficacy in patient-derived cultured muscle cells and the mdx mouse model (after local and systemic AON treatment) was assessed in this study. Both in vitro and in vivo skip efficiency and biomarker expression were comparable between saline- and prednisolone-cotreated cells and mice. After systemic exon 23-specific AON (23AON) treatment for 8 weeks, dystrophin was detectable in all treated mice. Western blot analyses indicated slightly higher dystrophin levels in prednisolone-treated mice, which might be explained by better muscle condition and consequently more target dystrophin pre-mRNA. In addition, fibrotic and regeneration biomarkers were normalized to some extent in prednisolone- and/or 23AON-treated mice. Overall these results show that the use of prednisone forms no barrier to participation in clinical trials with AONs.
Verhaart and colleagues examine the effects of prednisolone, a corticosteroid, on the function of antisense oligonucleotide (AON) therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. They show that prednisolone treatment does not interfere with AON uptake and exon-skipping levels in patient-derived muscle cells in vitro and in mdx mice in vivo. In fact, they suggest that prednisolone might even enhance the dystrophin expression induced by exon 23-specific AONs in mdx mice.
PMCID: PMC3300076  PMID: 22017442
5.  Drug Discovery for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy via Utrophin Promoter Activation Screening 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(10):e26169.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a devastating muscle wasting disease caused by mutations in dystrophin, a muscle cytoskeletal protein. Utrophin is a homologue of dystrophin that can functionally compensate for its absence when expressed at increased levels in the myofibre, as shown by studies in dystrophin-deficient mice. Utrophin upregulation is therefore a promising therapeutic approach for DMD. The use of a small, drug-like molecule to achieve utrophin upregulation offers obvious advantages in terms of delivery and bioavailability. Furthermore, much of the time and expense involved in the development of a new drug can be eliminated by screening molecules that are already approved for clinical use.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We developed and validated a cell-based, high-throughput screening assay for utrophin promoter activation, and used it to screen the Prestwick Chemical Library of marketed drugs and natural compounds. Initial screening produced 20 hit molecules, 14 of which exhibited dose-dependent activation of the utrophin promoter and were confirmed as hits. Independent validation demonstrated that one of these compounds, nabumetone, is able to upregulate endogenous utrophin mRNA and protein, in C2C12 muscle cells.
We have developed a cell-based, high-throughput screening utrophin promoter assay. Using this assay, we identified and validated a utrophin promoter-activating drug, nabumetone, for which pharmacokinetics and safety in humans are already well described, and which represents a lead compound for utrophin upregulation as a therapy for DMD.
PMCID: PMC3197614  PMID: 22028826
6.  Alterations of dystrophin associated glycoproteins in the heart lacking dystrophin or dystrophin and utrophin 
Heart disease is a leading cause of death in patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). Patients with DMD lack the protein dystrophin, which is widely expressed in striated muscle. In skeletal muscle, the loss of dystrophin results in dramatically decreased expression of the dystrophin associated glycoprotein complex (DGC). Interestingly, in the heart the DGC is normally expressed without dystrophin; this has been attributed to presence of the dystrophin homologue utrophin. We demonstrate here that neither utrophin nor dystrophin are required for the expression of the cardiac DGC. However, alpha-dystroglycan (α-DG), a major component of the DGC, is differentially glycosylated in dystrophin-(mdx) and dystrophin−/utrophin− (dko) deficient mouse hearts. In both models the altered α-DG retains laminin binding activity, but has an altered localization at the sarcolemma. In hearts lacking both dystrophin and utrophin, the alterations in α-DG glycosylation are even more dramatic with changes in gel migration equivalent to 24 ± 3 kDa. These data show that the absence of dystrophin and utrophin alters the processing of α-DG; however it is not clear if these alterations are a consequence of the loss of a direct interaction with dystrophin/utrophin, or results from an indirect response to the presence of severe pathology. Recently there have been great advances in our understanding of the glycosylation of α-DG regarding its role as a laminin receptor. Here we present data that alterations in glycosylation occurs in the hearts of animal models of DMD, but these changes do not affect laminin binding. The physiological consequences of these alterations remain to be determined, but may have significant implications for the development of therapies for DMD.
PMCID: PMC3915414  PMID: 24096570
Dystrophic cardiomyopathy; dystrophin; utrophin; alpha-dystroglycan; glycosylation
7.  Dual exon skipping in myostatin and dystrophin for Duchenne muscular dystrophy 
BMC Medical Genomics  2011;4:36.
Myostatin is a potent muscle growth inhibitor that belongs to the Transforming Growth Factor-β (TGF-β) family. Mutations leading to non functional myostatin have been associated with hypermuscularity in several organisms. By contrast, Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is characterized by a loss of muscle fibers and impaired regeneration. In this study, we aim to knockdown myostatin by means of exon skipping, a technique which has been successfully applied to reframe the genetic defect of dystrophin gene in DMD patients.
We targeted myostatin exon 2 using antisense oligonucleotides (AON) in healthy and DMD-derived myotubes cultures. We assessed the exon skipping level, transcriptional expression of myostatin and its target genes, and combined myostatin and several dystrophin AONs. These AONs were also applied in the mdx mice models via intramuscular injections.
Myostatin AON induced exon 2 skipping in cell cultures and to a lower extent in the mdx mice. It was accompanied by decrease in myostatin mRNA and enhanced MYOG and MYF5 expression. Furthermore, combination of myostatin and dystrophin AONs induced simultaneous skipping of both genes.
We conclude that two AONs can be used to target two different genes, MSTN and DMD, in a straightforward manner. Targeting multiple ligands of TGF-beta family will be more promising as adjuvant therapies for DMD.
PMCID: PMC3107769  PMID: 21507246
8.  The role of basal and myogenic factors in the transcriptional activation of utrophin promoter A: implications for therapeutic up-regulation in Duchenne muscular dystrophy 
Nucleic Acids Research  2001;29(23):4843-4850.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is an X-linked recessive muscle wasting disease caused by the absence of a muscle cytoskeletal protein, dystrophin. Utrophin is the autosomal homologue of dystrophin. We previously demonstrated that overexpression of utrophin in the muscles of dystrophin-null transgenic mice completely prevented the phenotype arising from dystrophin deficiency. Two independently regulated promoters control utrophin expression and the upstream promoter (promoter A) is synaptically regulated in muscle. In this study, we have investigated basal regulation and myogenic induction of promoter A. Interactions between Ap2 and Sp1 and their cognate DNA motifs are critical for basal transcription from the minimal promoter region. During differentiation of C2C12 myoblasts in vitro, a 2-fold increase in A-utrophin mRNA level was observed. Expression of a reporter gene, whose transcription was driven by a 1.3 kb promoter A fragment, paralleled expression of the endogenous transcript. Myogenic induction mapped to a conserved upstream muscle-specific E-box, which was shown to bind myogenic regulatory factors, transactivating the promoter up to 18-fold in transient assays. This study provides a basis for further understanding the regulatory mechanisms that control utrophin expression in muscle and may facilitate the development of reagents to effect therapeutic up-regulation of utrophin in DMD.
PMCID: PMC96689  PMID: 11726694
9.  Subcellular Localization of Dystrophin Isoforms in Cardiomyocytes and Phenotypic Analysis of Dystrophin-deficient Mice Reveal Cardiac Myopathy is Predominantly Caused by a Deficiency in Full-length Dystrophin 
Experimental Animals  2013;62(3):211-217.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is an X-linked recessive progressive muscle degenerative disorder that causes dilated cardiomyopathy in the second decade of life in affected males. Dystrophin, the gene responsible for DMD, encodes full-length dystrophin and various short dystrophin isoforms. In the mouse heart, full-length dystrophin Dp427 and a short dystrophin isoform, Dp71, are expressed. In this study, we intended to clarify the functions of these dystrophin isoforms in DMD-related cardiomyopathy. We used two strains of mice: mdx mice, in which Dp427 was absent but Dp71 was present, and DMD-null mice, in which both were absent. By immunohistochemical staining and density-gradient centrifugation, we found that Dp427 was located in the cardiac sarcolemma and also at the T-tubules, whereas Dp71 was specifically located at the T-tubules. In order to determine whether T tubule-associated Dp71 was involved in DMD-related cardiac disruption, we compared the cardiac phenotypes between DMD-null mice and mdx mice. Both DMD-null mice and mdx mice exhibited severe necrosis, which was followed by fibrosis in cardiac muscle. However, we could not detect a significant difference in myocardial fibrosis between mdx mice and DMD-null mice. Based on the present results, we have shown that cardiac myopathy is caused predominantly by a deficiency of full-length dystrophin Dp427.
PMCID: PMC4160940  PMID: 23903056
cardiomyopathy; dp427; dp71; dystrophin; heart
10.  Rescue of severely affected dystrophin/utrophin-deficient mice through scAAV-U7snRNA-mediated exon skipping 
Human Molecular Genetics  2012;21(11):2559-2571.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a severe neuromuscular disorder caused by mutations in the dystrophin gene that result in the absence of functional protein. Antisense-mediated exon skipping is one of the most promising approaches for the treatment of DMD and recent clinical trials have demonstrated encouraging results. However, antisense oligonucleotide-mediated exon skipping for DMD still faces major hurdles such as extremely low efficacy in the cardiac muscle, poor cellular uptake and relatively rapid clearance from circulation, which means that repeated administrations are required to achieve some therapeutic efficacy. To overcome these limitations, we previously proposed the use of small nuclear RNAs (snRNAs), especially U7snRNA to shuttle the antisense sequences after vectorization into adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors. In this study, we report for the first time the efficiency of the AAV-mediated exon skipping approach in the utrophin/dystrophin double-knockout (dKO) mouse which is a very severe and progressive mouse model of DMD. Following a single intravenous injection of scAAV9-U7ex23 in dKO mice, near-normal levels of dystrophin expression were restored in all muscles examined, including the heart. This resulted in a considerable improvement of their muscle function and dystrophic pathology as well as a remarkable extension of the dKO mice lifespan. These findings suggest great potential for AAV-U7 in systemic treatment of the DMD phenotype.
PMCID: PMC3349427  PMID: 22388933
11.  Daily Treatment with SMTC1100, a Novel Small Molecule Utrophin Upregulator, Dramatically Reduces the Dystrophic Symptoms in the mdx Mouse 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e19189.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a lethal, progressive muscle wasting disease caused by a loss of sarcolemmal bound dystrophin, which results in the death of the muscle fibers leading to the gradual depletion of skeletal muscle. There is significant evidence demonstrating that increasing levels of the dystrophin-related protein, utrophin, in mouse models results in sarcolemmal bound utrophin and prevents the muscular dystrophy pathology. The aim of this work was to develop a small molecule which increases the levels of utrophin in muscle and thus has therapeutic potential.
Methodology and Principal Findings
We describe the in vivo activity of SMT C1100; the first orally bioavailable small molecule utrophin upregulator. Once-a-day daily-dosing with SMT C1100 reduces a number of the pathological effects of dystrophin deficiency. Treatment results in reduced pathology, better muscle physiology leading to an increase in overall strength, and an ability to resist fatigue after forced exercise; a surrogate for the six minute walk test currently recommended as the pivotal outcome measure in human trials for DMD.
Conclusions and Significance
This study demonstrates proof-of-principle for the use of in vitro screening methods in allowing identification of pharmacological agents for utrophin transcriptional upregulation. The best compound identified, SMT C1100, demonstrated significant disease modifying effects in DMD models. Our data warrant the full evaluation of this compound in clinical trials in DMD patients.
PMCID: PMC3089598  PMID: 21573153
12.  Hybrid spectrin type repeats produced by exon-skipping in dystrophin 
Biochimica et biophysica acta  2006;1764(6):993-999.
Dystrophin is the protein whose defect underlies Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, DMD, a common (1:3500 male births) and fatal condition in which muscle tissue deteriorates leading to death in the second or third decade of life. Dystrophin is coded for by the largest human gene, and one of the most complex. It is translated from at least 7 distinct promoters, with the largest transcripts (which are the ones involved in DMD) containing 79 exons over >2.5 Mbp [K.F. O’Brien, L.M. Kunkel, Dystrophin and muscular dystrophy: past, present, and future, Mol. Genet. Metab. 74 (2001) 75–88, H.M. Sadoulet-Puccio, L.M. Kunkel, Dystrophin and its isoforms, Brain Pathol. 6 (1996) 25–35]. Exacerbating this complexity, it has recently been shown that dystrophin is subject to extensive alternative RNA processing, potentially producing a wide variety dystrophin variants [M. Sironi, R. Cagliani, U. Pozzoli, A. Bardoni, G.P. Comi, R. Giorda, N. Bresolin, The dystrophin gene is alternatively spliced throughout its coding sequence FEBS Lett 517 (2002) 163–166]. The structure of the dystrophin protein is highly modular, with the most common module being a motif termed the spectrin type repeat, or STR, of which there are 24. Each STR is roughly coded for by two exons, and the most common type of multiple exon-skipping events start and end at introns in the middle of STRs [R.G. Roberts, A.J. Coffey, M. Bobrow, D.R. Bentley, Exon structure of the human dystrophin gene Genomics 16 (1993) 536–538, M. Koenig, L.M. Kunkel, Detailed analysis of the repeat domain of dystrophin reveals four potential hinge segments that may confer flexibility, J. Biol. Chem. 265 (1990) 4560–4566]. This would produce fractional STR modules, however, the concept of STRs as proteins domains makes the viability of such fractional motifs questionable. However, certain of these events produce pairs of potentially complementary fractional domain that might reassemble into a hybrid STR motif. We have constructed model fragment corresponding to one such exon-skipping event, and show that the hybrid STR so produced is viable, and furthermore that some of the properties of the protein containing it differ substantially of the native, un-skipped parent.
PMCID: PMC1925050  PMID: 16716778
Dystrophin; Spectrin-type-repeat; Domain; Hybrid-domain; Exon skipping; Hinge
13.  Identification and Quantitation of Potential Protein Biomarkers from Patients with Muscular Dystrophy 
Journal of Biomolecular Techniques : JBT  2010;21(3 Suppl):S61-S62.
Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) is a muscle disorder resulting from mutations or deletions in the dystrophin gene that results in loss of protein expression. Loss of dystrophin in muscle leads to defects in physiology and progressive muscle wasting that typically result in premature death due to cardiac dysfunction or respiratory failure. One approach to therapy in DMD involves delivery of therapeutics designed to cause skipping of the relevant mutated or deleted exon in the dystrophin gene, ultimately stimulating production of a truncated, but functional, dystrophin protein. To evaluate various therapeutic strategies like exon skipping, we attempted to identify potential biomarkers and to develop a quantitative strategy to measure and identify dystrophin protein isoforms in human skeletal muscles by MS. We used human muscle biopsy specimens to analyze dystrophin isoforms from normal human muscle and DMD muscle. Proteins from normal and DMD muscles were extracted and separated. LC/MS/MS spectra were acquired in a data-dependent mode. Proteins were searched against the human IPI Database. Data processing was done using Bioworks 3.3 for peptide ID based on Xcorr vs Charge state. The identified proteins of Normal (1013) vs DMD (865) muscle were classified by Babelomics. Their cellular component distributions were mitochondria (5.2/ 8.8%), intracellular (24.1/24.8%), membrane (14.8/11%), cytoskeleton (17.1/13.6%), cytoplasm (17.6/14.7%), nucleus (7.1/10.8%). Our results revealed the identification of proteins involved in nucleotide metabolism, Ca2+ handling, cellular stress response, key bioenegetic processes and biomarkers like dystrophin, utrophin, calpain and troponin. ICAT analysis followed by mass spectrometry detected levels of dystrophin. Improvements on the yield and recovery of dystrophy-related and clinically relevant tagged proteins are currently in progress.
PMCID: PMC2918150
14.  Dystromirs as Serum Biomarkers for Monitoring the Disease Severity in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e80263.
Duchenne muscular Dystrophy (DMD) is an inherited disease caused by mutations in the dystrophin gene that disrupt the open reading frame, while in frame mutations result in Becker muscular dystrophy (BMD). Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy (UCMD) is due to mutations affecting collagen VI genes. Specific muscle miRNAs (dystromirs) are potential non-invasive biomarkers for monitoring the outcome of therapeutic interventions and disease progression. We quantified miR-1, miR-133a,b, miR-206 and miR-31 in serum from patients with DMD, BMD, UCMD and healthy controls. MiR-1, miR-133a,b and miR-206 were upregulated in DMD, but unchanged in UCMD compared to controls. Milder DMD patients had higher levels of dystromirs than more severely affected patients. Patients with low forced vital capacity (FVC) values, indicating respiratory muscle weakness, had low levels of serum miR-1 and miR-133b. There was no significant difference in the level of the dystromirs in BMD compared to controls.
We also assessed the effect of dystrophin restoration on the expression of the five dystromirs in serum of DMD patients treated systemically for 12 weeks with antisense oligomer eteplirsen that induces skipping of exon 51 in the dystrophin gene. The dystromirs were also analysed in muscle biopsies of DMD patients included in a single dose intramuscular eteplirsen clinical trial. Our analysis detected a trend towards normalization of these miRNA between the pre- and post-treatment samples of the systemic trial, which however failed to reach statistical significance. This could possibly be due to the small number of patients and the short duration of these clinical trials.
Although longer term studies are needed to clarify the relationship between dystrophin restoration following therapeutic intervention and the level of circulating miRNAs, our results indicate that miR-1 and miR-133 can be considered as exploratory biomarkers for monitoring the progression of muscle weakness and indirectly the remaining muscle mass in DMD.
PMCID: PMC3840009  PMID: 24282529
15.  Second-generation compound for the modulation of utrophin in the therapy of DMD 
Human Molecular Genetics  2015;24(15):4212-4224.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a lethal, X-linked muscle-wasting disease caused by lack of the cytoskeletal protein dystrophin. There is currently no cure for DMD although various promising approaches are progressing through human clinical trials. By pharmacologically modulating the expression of the dystrophin-related protein utrophin, we have previously demonstrated in dystrophin-deficient mdx studies, daily SMT C1100 treatment significantly reduced muscle degeneration leading to improved muscle function. This manuscript describes the significant disease modifying benefits associated with daily dosing of SMT022357, a second-generation compound in this drug series with improved physicochemical properties and a more robust metabolism profile. These studies in the mdx mouse demonstrate that oral administration of SMT022357 leads to increased utrophin expression in skeletal, respiratory and cardiac muscles. Significantly, utrophin expression is localized along the length of the muscle fibre, not just at the synapse, and is fibre-type independent, suggesting that drug treatment is modulating utrophin transcription in extra-synaptic myonuclei. This results in improved sarcolemmal stability and prevents dystrophic pathology through a significant reduction of regeneration, necrosis and fibrosis. All these improvements combine to protect the mdx muscle from contraction induced damage and enhance physiological function. This detailed evaluation of the SMT C1100 drug series strongly endorses the therapeutic potential of utrophin modulation as a disease modifying therapeutic strategy for all DMD patients irrespective of their dystrophin mutation.
PMCID: PMC4492389  PMID: 25935002
16.  Dystrophin quantification and clinical correlations in Becker muscular dystrophy: implications for clinical trials 
Brain  2011;134(12):3544-3556.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy is caused by mutations in the DMD gene that disrupt the open reading frame and prevent the full translation of its protein product, dystrophin. Restoration of the open reading frame and dystrophin production can be achieved by exon skipping using antisense oligonucleotides targeted to splicing elements. This approach aims to transform the Duchenne muscular dystrophy phenotype to that of the milder disorder, Becker muscular dystrophy, typically caused by in-frame dystrophin deletions that allow the production of an internally deleted but partially functional dystrophin. There is ongoing debate regarding the functional properties of the different internally deleted dystrophins produced by exon skipping for different mutations; more insight would be valuable to improve and better predict the outcome of exon skipping clinical trials. To this end, we have characterized the clinical phenotype of 17 patients with Becker muscular dystrophy harbouring in-frame deletions relevant to on-going or planned exon skipping clinical trials for Duchenne muscular dystrophy and correlated it to the levels of dystrophin, and dystrophin-associated protein expression. The cohort of 17 patients, selected exclusively on the basis of their genotype, included 4 asymptomatic, 12 mild and 1 severe patient. All patients had dystrophin levels of >40% of control and significantly higher dystrophin (P = 0.013), β-dystroglycan (P = 0.025) and neuronal nitric oxide synthase (P = 0.034) expression was observed in asymptomatic individuals versus symptomatic patients with Becker muscular dystrophy. Furthermore, grouping the patients by deletion, patients with Becker muscular dystrophy with deletions with an end-point of exon 51 (the skipping of which could rescue the largest group of Duchenne muscular dystrophy deletions) showed significantly higher dystrophin levels (P = 0.034) than those with deletions ending with exon 53. This is the first quantitative study on both dystrophin and dystrophin-associated protein expression in patients with Becker muscular dystrophy with deletions relevant for on-going exon skipping trials in Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Taken together, our results indicate that all varieties of internally deleted dystrophin assessed in this study have the functional capability to provide a substantial clinical benefit to patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
PMCID: PMC3235564  PMID: 22102647
Becker muscular dystrophy; Duchenne muscular dystrophy; nNOS; dystrophin-associated glycoprotein complex; therapy
17.  Improving clinical trial design for Duchenne muscular dystrophy 
BMC Neurology  2015;15:153.
Currently, the most promising therapies for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) are exon skipping and stop codon read-through, two strategies aimed at restoring the expression of dystrophin. A phase 3 clinical trial with drisapersen, a drug designed to induce exon 51-skipping, has failed to show significant improvement of the primary outcome measure, the six-minute walk test.
Here, we review some key points that should be considered when designing clinical trials for these new therapies. First, younger patients have more functional abilities and more muscle fibers to preserve than older patients and therefore are better subjects for trials designed to demonstrate the success of new treatments. Second, the inclusion of patients on corticosteroids both in the treatment and placebo groups is of concern because the positive effect of corticosteroids might mask the effect of the treatment being tested. Additionally, the reasonable expectation from these therapies is the slowing of disease progression rather than improvement. Therefore, the appropriate clinical endpoints are the prolongation of the ability to stand from the floor, climb stairs, and walk, not an increase in muscle strength or function. Hence, the time frames for the detection of new dystrophin, which occurs within months, and the ability to demonstrate a slowing of disease progression, which requires years, are strikingly different. Finally, placebo-controlled trials are difficult to manage if years of blindness are required to demonstrate a slowing of disease progression. Thus, accelerated/conditional approval for new therapies should be based on surrogate biochemical outcomes: the demonstration of de novo dystrophin production and of its beneficial effect on the functional recovery of muscle fiber.
These data suggest that clinical trials for DMD patients must be adapted to the particular characteristics of the disease in order to demonstrate the expected positive effect of new treatments.
PMCID: PMC4549867  PMID: 26306629
Duchenne muscular dystrophy; Dystrophin evaluation; Clinical trial; Corticosteroid treatment; Exon skipping; Splice modulation
18.  Functional significance of dystrophin positive fibres in Duchenne muscular dystrophy. 
Archives of Disease in Childhood  1993;68(5):632-636.
The age when boys lose the ability to walk independently is one of the milestones in the progression of Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). We have used this as a measure of disease severity in a group of 30 patients with DMD and six patients with intermediate Duchenne/Becker dystrophy (D/BMD). Dystrophin analysis was performed on tissue sections and western blots of muscle biopsy specimens from these patients and the relationships that were found between clinical severity and abundance of dystrophin labelling are reported. All patients with intermediate D/BMD had dystrophin labelling that was detected on sections and blots. Weak dystrophin labelling was found in sections from 21/30 DMD cases and on blots in 18/30 cases. Two non-exclusive patterns of dystrophin labelling were observed on sections: very clear labelling on a small percentage of fibres (usually < 1%) or very weak labelling on a much higher proportion (about 25%). The mean age at loss of mobility among the DMD patients with no dystrophin labelling on tissue sections was 7.9 years (range 6.3-9.5) while the mean age among those with some labelling was 9.9 years (range 8.0-11.9); this is a significant difference. Quantitative estimates of dystrophin abundance were obtained from densitometric analysis of dystrophin bands on blots. In the whole group of 36 patients, a significant positive relationship was found between the abundance of dystrophin and the age at loss of independent mobility. It is concluded that even the very low concentrations of dystrophin found in DMD patients may have some functional significance.
PMCID: PMC1029331  PMID: 8323331
19.  Exon skipping and dystrophin restoration in patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy after systemic phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomer treatment: an open-label, phase 2, dose-escalation study 
Lancet  2011;378(9791):595-605.
We report clinical safety and biochemical efficacy from a dose-ranging study of intravenously administered AVI-4658 phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomer (PMO) in patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
We undertook an open-label, phase 2, dose-escalation study (0·5, 1·0, 2·0, 4·0, 10·0, and 20·0 mg/kg bodyweight) in ambulant patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy aged 5–15 years with amenable deletions in DMD. Participants had a muscle biopsy before starting treatment and after 12 weekly intravenous infusions of AVI-4658. The primary study objective was to assess safety and tolerability of AVI-4658. The secondary objectives were pharmacokinetic properties and the ability of AVI-4658 to induce exon 51 skipping and dystrophin restoration by RT-PCR, immunohistochemistry, and immunoblotting. The study is registered, number NCT00844597.
19 patients took part in the study. AVI-4658 was well tolerated with no drug-related serious adverse events. AVI-4658 induced exon 51 skipping in all cohorts and new dystrophin protein expression in a significant dose-dependent (p=0·0203), but variable, manner in boys from cohort 3 (dose 2 mg/kg) onwards. Seven patients responded to treatment, in whom mean dystrophin fluorescence intensity increased from 8·9% (95% CI 7·1–10·6) to 16·4% (10·8–22·0) of normal control after treatment (p=0·0287). The three patients with the greatest responses to treatment had 21%, 15%, and 55% dystrophin-positive fibres after treatment and these findings were confirmed with western blot, which showed an increase after treatment of protein levels from 2% to 18%, from 0·9% to 17%, and from 0% to 7·7% of normal muscle, respectively. The dystrophin-associated proteins α-sarcoglycan and neuronal nitric oxide synthase were also restored at the sarcolemma. Analysis of the inflammatory infiltrate indicated a reduction of cytotoxic T cells in the post-treatment muscle biopsies in the two high-dose cohorts.
The safety and biochemical efficacy that we present show the potential of AVI-4658 to become a disease-modifying drug for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
UK Medical Research Council; AVI BioPharma.
PMCID: PMC3156980  PMID: 21784508
20.  Prevention of exercised induced cardiomyopathy following Pip-PMO treatment in dystrophic mdx mice 
Scientific Reports  2015;5:8986.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a fatal neuromuscular disorder caused by mutations in the Dmd gene. In addition to skeletal muscle wasting, DMD patients develop cardiomyopathy, which significantly contributes to mortality. Antisense oligonucleotides (AOs) are a promising DMD therapy, restoring functional dystrophin protein by exon skipping. However, a major limitation with current AOs is the absence of dystrophin correction in heart. Pip peptide-AOs demonstrate high activity in cardiac muscle. To determine their therapeutic value, dystrophic mdx mice were subject to forced exercise to model the DMD cardiac phenotype. Repeated peptide-AO treatments resulted in high levels of cardiac dystrophin protein, which prevented the exercised induced progression of cardiomyopathy, normalising heart size as well as stabilising other cardiac parameters. Treated mice also exhibited significantly reduced cardiac fibrosis and improved sarcolemmal integrity. This work demonstrates that high levels of cardiac dystrophin restored by Pip peptide-AOs prevents further deterioration of cardiomyopathy and pathology following exercise in dystrophic DMD mice.
PMCID: PMC4355666  PMID: 25758104
21.  Chronic administration of membrane sealant prevents severe cardiac injury and ventricular dilatation in dystrophic dogs 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2010;120(4):1140-1150.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a fatal disease of striated muscle deterioration caused by lack of the cytoskeletal protein dystrophin. Dystrophin deficiency causes muscle membrane instability, skeletal muscle wasting, cardiomyopathy, and heart failure. Advances in palliative respiratory care have increased the incidence of heart disease in DMD patients, for which there is no cure or effective therapy. Here we have shown that chronic infusion of membrane-sealing poloxamer to severely affected dystrophic dogs reduced myocardial fibrosis, blocked increased serum cardiac troponin I (cTnI) and brain type natriuretic peptide (BNP), and fully prevented left-ventricular remodeling. Mechanistically, we observed a markedly greater primary defect of reduced cell compliance in dystrophic canine myocytes than in the mildly affected mdx mouse myocytes, and this was associated with a lack of utrophin upregulation in the dystrophic canine cardiac myocytes. Interestingly, after chronic poloxamer treatment, the poor compliance of isolated canine myocytes remained evident, but this could be restored to normal upon direct application of poloxamer. Collectively, these findings indicate that dystrophin and utrophin are critical to membrane stability–dependent cardiac myocyte mechanical compliance and that poloxamer confers a highly effective membrane-stabilizing chemical surrogate in dystrophin/utrophin deficiency. We propose that membrane sealant therapy is a potential treatment modality for DMD heart disease and possibly other disorders with membrane defect etiologies.
PMCID: PMC2846060  PMID: 20234088
22.  Sarcospan: a small protein with large potential for Duchenne muscular dystrophy 
Skeletal Muscle  2013;3:1.
Purification of the proteins associated with dystrophin, the gene product responsible for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, led to the discovery of the dystrophin-glycoprotein complex. Sarcospan, a 25-kDa transmembrane protein, was the last component to be identified and its function in skeletal muscle has been elusive. This review will focus on progress over the last decade revealing that sarcospan is an important regulator of muscle cell adhesion, strength, and regeneration. Investigations using several transgenic mouse models demonstrate that overexpression of sarcospan in the mouse model for Duchenne muscular dystrophy ameliorates pathology and restores muscle cell binding to laminin. Sarcospan improves cell surface expression of the dystrophin- and utrophin-glycoprotein complexes as well as α7β1 integrin, which are the three major laminin-binding complexes in muscle. Utrophin and α7β1 integrin compensate for the loss of dystrophin and the finding that sarcospan increases their abundance at the extra-synaptic sarcolemma supports the use of sarcospan as a therapeutic target. Newly discovered phenotypes in sarcospan-deficient mice, including a reduction in specific force output and increased drop in force in the diaphragm muscle, result from decreased utrophin and dystrophin expression and further reveal sarcospan’s role in determining abundance of these complexes. Dystrophin protein levels and the specific force output of the diaphragm muscle are further reduced upon genetic removal of α7 integrin (Itga7) in SSPN-deficient mice, demonstrating that interactions between integrin and sarcospan are critical for maintenance of the dystrophin-glycoprotein complex and force production of the diaphragm muscle. Sarcospan is a major regulator of Akt signaling pathways and sarcospan-deficiency significantly impairs muscle regeneration, a process that is dependent on Akt activation. Intriguingly, sarcospan regulates glycosylation of a specific subpopulation of α-dystroglycan, the laminin-binding receptor associated with dystrophin and utrophin, localized to the neuromuscular junction. Understanding the basic mechanisms responsible for assembly and trafficking of the dystrophin- and utrophin-glycoprotein complexes to the cell surface is lacking and recent studies suggest that sarcospan plays a role in these essential processes.
PMCID: PMC3599653  PMID: 23282144
Akt; Cell adhesion; Duchenne; Dystrophin; Integrin; Laminin-binding; mdx; Muscular dystrophy; Neuromuscular junction; Regeneration; Sarcolemma; Sarcospan; Utrophin
23.  Antisense Oligo-Mediated Multiple Exon Skipping in a Dog Model of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy 
Exon skipping is currently one of the most promising molecular therapies for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). We have recently developed multiple exon skipping targeting exons 6 and 8 in dystrophin mRNA of canine X-linked muscular dystrophy (CXMD), an animal model of DMD, which exhibits severe dystrophic phenotype in skeletal muscles and cardiac muscle. We have induced efficient exon skipping both in vitro and in vivo by using cocktail antisense 2’ O-methyl oligonucleotides (2’OMePS) and cocktail phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomers (morpholinos, or PMOs) and ameliorated phenotype of dystrophic dogs by systemic injections. The multiple exon skipping (double exon skipping) shown here provides the prospect of choosing deletions that optimize the functionality of the truncated dystrophin protein for DMD patients by using a common cocktail that could be validated as a single drug and also potentially applicable for more than 90% of DMD patients.
PMCID: PMC4491489  PMID: 21194037
Multiple exon skipping; Morpholinos (phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomers); 2′ O-methylated antisense oligomers (phosphorothioate); Dystrophic dogs (canine X-linked muscular dystrophy); Duchenne/Becker muscular dystrophies
24.  Phase 2a Study of Ataluren-Mediated Dystrophin Production in Patients with Nonsense Mutation Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e81302.
Approximately 13% of boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) have a nonsense mutation in the dystrophin gene, resulting in a premature stop codon in the corresponding mRNA and failure to generate a functional protein. Ataluren (PTC124) enables ribosomal readthrough of premature stop codons, leading to production of full-length, functional proteins.
This Phase 2a open-label, sequential dose-ranging trial recruited 38 boys with nonsense mutation DMD. The first cohort (n = 6) received ataluren three times per day at morning, midday, and evening doses of 4, 4, and 8 mg/kg; the second cohort (n = 20) was dosed at 10, 10, 20 mg/kg; and the third cohort (n = 12) was dosed at 20, 20, 40 mg/kg. Treatment duration was 28 days. Change in full-length dystrophin expression, as assessed by immunostaining in pre- and post-treatment muscle biopsy specimens, was the primary endpoint.
Twenty three of 38 (61%) subjects demonstrated increases in post-treatment dystrophin expression in a quantitative analysis assessing the ratio of dystrophin/spectrin. A qualitative analysis also showed positive changes in dystrophin expression. Expression was not associated with nonsense mutation type or exon location. Ataluren trough plasma concentrations active in the mdx mouse model were consistently achieved at the mid- and high- dose levels in participants. Ataluren was generally well tolerated.
Ataluren showed activity and safety in this short-term study, supporting evaluation of ataluren 10, 10, 20 mg/kg and 20, 20, 40 mg/kg in a Phase 2b, double-blind, long-term study in nonsense mutation DMD.
Trial Registration NCT00264888
PMCID: PMC3859499  PMID: 24349052
25.  Utrophin Up-Regulation by an Artificial Transcription Factor in Transgenic Mice 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(8):e774.
Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) is a severe muscle degenerative disease, due to absence of dystrophin. There is currently no effective treatment for DMD. Our aim is to up-regulate the expression level of the dystrophin related gene utrophin in DMD, complementing in this way the lack of dystrophin functions. To this end we designed and engineered several synthetic zinc finger based transcription factors. In particular, we have previously shown that the artificial three zinc finger protein named Jazz, fused with the appropriate effector domain, is able to drive the transcription of a test gene from the utrophin promoter “A”. Here we report on the characterization of Vp16-Jazz-transgenic mice that specifically over-express the utrophin gene at the muscular level. A Chromatin Immunoprecipitation assay (ChIP) demonstrated the effective access/binding of the Jazz protein to active chromatin in mouse muscle and Vp16-Jazz was shown to be able to up-regulate endogenous utrophin gene expression by immunohistochemistry, western blot analyses and real-time PCR. To our knowledge, this is the first example of a transgenic mouse expressing an artificial gene coding for a zinc finger based transcription factor. The achievement of Vp16-Jazz transgenic mice validates the strategy of transcriptional targeting of endogenous genes and could represent an exclusive animal model for use in drug discovery and therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC1942121  PMID: 17712422

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