Numerous nonsense mutation reporter assays fail to reveal read-through activity for the drug PTC124.
The drug molecule PTC124 (Ataluren) has been described as a read-through agent, capable of suppressing premature termination codons (PTCs) and restoring functional protein production from genes disrupted by nonsense mutations. Following the discovery of PTC124 there was some controversy regarding its mechanism of action with two reports attributing its activity to an off-target effect on the Firefly luciferase (FLuc) reporter used in the development of the molecule. Despite questions remaining as to its mechanism of action, development of PTC124 continued into the clinic and it is being actively pursued as a potential nonsense mutation therapy. To thoroughly test the ability of PTC124 to read through nonsense mutations, we conducted a detailed assessment comparing the efficacy of PTC124 with the classical aminoglycoside antibiotic read-through agent geneticin (G418) across a diverse range of in vitro reporter assays. We can confirm the off-target FLuc activity of PTC124 but found that, while G418 exhibits varying activity in every read-through assay, there is no evidence of activity for PTC124.
Ten percent of all single-gene hereditary diseases are caused by nonsense mutations. These are alterations in the DNA sequence of a protein-coding gene that cause the ribosome to prematurely finish translating the gene transcript before a full-length, active protein can be produced. In 2007 a drug was developed called PTC124 (latterly known as Ataluren), which was reported to help the ribosome skip over the premature stop, restore production of functional protein, and thereby potentially treat these genetic diseases. In 2009, however, questions were raised about the initial discovery of this drug; PTC124 was shown to interfere with the assay used in its discovery in a way that might be mistaken for genuine activity. As doubts regarding PTC124's efficacy remain unresolved, here we conducted a thorough and systematic investigation of the proposed mechanism of action of PTC124 in a wide array of cell-based assays. We found no evidence of such translational read-through activity for PTC124, suggesting that its development may indeed have been a consequence of the choice of assay used in the drug discovery process.