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1.  Molecular Analysis, Pathogenic Mechanisms, and Readthrough Therapy on a Large Cohort of Kabuki Syndrome Patients 
Human Mutation  2014;35(7):841-850.
Kabuki syndrome (KS) is a multiple congenital anomalies syndrome characterized by characteristic facial features and varying degrees of mental retardation, caused by mutations in KMT2D/MLL2 and KDM6A/UTX genes. In this study, we performed a mutational screening on 303 Kabuki patients by direct sequencing, MLPA, and quantitative PCR identifying 133 KMT2D, 62 never described before, and four KDM6A mutations, three of them are novel. We found that a number of KMT2D truncating mutations result in mRNA degradation through the nonsense-mediated mRNA decay, contributing to protein haploinsufficiency. Furthermore, we demonstrated that the reduction of KMT2D protein level in patients’ lymphoblastoid and skin fibroblast cell lines carrying KMT2D-truncating mutations affects the expression levels of known KMT2D target genes. Finally, we hypothesized that the KS patients may benefit from a readthrough therapy to restore physiological levels of KMT2D and KDM6A proteins. To assess this, we performed a proof-of-principle study on 14 KMT2D and two KDM6A nonsense mutations using specific compounds that mediate translational readthrough and thereby stimulate the re-expression of full-length functional proteins. Our experimental data showed that both KMT2D and KDM6A nonsense mutations displayed high levels of readthrough in response to gentamicin treatment, paving the way to further studies aimed at eventually treating some Kabuki patients with readthrough inducers.
PMCID: PMC4234006  PMID: 24633898
KMT2D; KDM6A; Kabuki syndrome; haploinsufficiency; readthrough
2.  Patterns of late gadolinium enhancement in Duchenne muscular dystrophy carriers 
This study was designed to assess whether cardiovascular magnetic resonance imaging (CMR) in Duchenne muscular dystrophy carriers (DMDc) may index any cell milieu elements of LV dysfunction and whether this cardiac phenotype may be related to genotype. The null hypothesis was that myocardial fibrosis, assessed by late gadolinium enhancement (LGE), might be similarly accounted for in DMDc and gender and age-matched controls.
Thirty DMDc patients had CMR and genotyping with 37 gender and age-matched controls. Systolic and diastolic LV function was assessed by 2D-echocardiography.
Absolute and percent LGE were higher in muscular symptomatic (sym) than asymptomatic (asy) DMDc (1.77 ± 0.27 vs 0.76 ± 0.17 ml; F = 19.6, p < 0.0001 and 1.86 ± 0.26% vs 0.68 ± 0.17%, F = 22.1, p < 0.0001, respectively). There was no correlation between LGE and age. LGE was seen most frequently in segments 5 and 6; segment 5 was involved in all asy-DMDc. Subepicardial LGE predominated, compared to the mid-myocardial one (11 out of 14 DMDc). LGE was absent in the subendocardium. No correlations were seen between genotyping (type of mutation, gene region and protein domain), confined to the exon’s study, and cardiac phenotype.
A typical myocardial LGE-pattern location (LV segments 5 and 6) was a common finding in DMDc. LGE was more frequently subepicardial plus midmyocardial in sym-DMDc, with normal LV systolic and diastolic function. No genotype-phenothype correlation was found.
PMCID: PMC4096415  PMID: 25008475
Duchenne muscular dystrophy carriers; Cardiovascular magnetic resonance; Genetics
3.  Affinity proteomics within rare diseases: a BIO-NMD study for blood biomarkers of muscular dystrophies 
EMBO Molecular Medicine  2014;6(7):918-936.
Despite the recent progress in the broad-scaled analysis of proteins in body fluids, there is still a lack in protein profiling approaches for biomarkers of rare diseases. Scarcity of samples is the main obstacle hindering attempts to apply discovery driven protein profiling in rare diseases. We addressed this challenge by combining samples collected within the BIO-NMD consortium from four geographically dispersed clinical sites to identify protein markers associated with muscular dystrophy using an antibody bead array platform with 384 antibodies. Based on concordance in statistical significance and confirmatory results obtained from analysis of both serum and plasma, we identified eleven proteins associated with muscular dystrophy, among which four proteins were elevated in blood from muscular dystrophy patients: carbonic anhydrase III (CA3) and myosin light chain 3 (MYL3), both specifically expressed in slow-twitch muscle fibers and mitochondrial malate dehydrogenase 2 (MDH2) and electron transfer flavoprotein A (ETFA). Using age-matched sub-cohorts, 9 protein profiles correlating with disease progression and severity were identified, which hold promise for the development of new clinical tools for management of dystrophinopathies.
PMCID: PMC4119355  PMID: 24920607
antibody-based proteomics; disease severity biomarkers; Duchenne muscular dystrophy; plasma profilling; protein profiling
4.  6 Minute Walk Test in Duchenne MD Patients with Different Mutations: 12 Month Changes 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e83400.
In the last few years some of the therapeutical approaches for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) are specifically targeting distinct groups of mutations, such as deletions eligible for skipping of individual exons. The aim of this observational study was to establish whether patients with distinct groups of mutations have different profiles of changes on the 6 minute walk test (6MWT) over a 12 month period.
The 6MWT was performed in 191 ambulant DMD boys at baseline and 12 months later. The results were analysed using a test for heterogeneity in order to establish possible differences among different types of mutations (deletions, duplications, point mutations) and among subgroups of deletions eligible to skip individual exons.
At baseline the 6MWD ranged between 180 and 560,80 metres (mean 378,06, SD 74,13). The 12 month changes ranged between −325 and 175 (mean −10.8 meters, SD 69.2). Although boys with duplications had better results than those with the other types of mutations, the difference was not significant.
Similarly, boys eligible for skipping of the exon 44 had better baseline results and less drastic changes than those eligible for skipping exon 45 or 53, but the difference was not significant.
even if there are some differences among subgroups, the mean 12 month changes in each subgroup were all within a narrow Range: from the mean of the whole DMD cohort. This information will be of help at the time of designing clinical trials with small numbers of eligible patients.
PMCID: PMC3885414  PMID: 24421885
5.  Biodistribution and Molecular Studies on Orally Administered Nanoparticle-AON Complexes Encapsulated with Alginate Aiming at Inducing Dystrophin Rescue in mdx Mice 
BioMed Research International  2013;2013:527418.
We have previously demonstrated that intraperitoneal injections of 2′-O-methyl-phosphorothioate (2′OMePS) antisense oligoribonucleotides adsorbed onto a cationic core-shell nanoparticles (NPs), termed ZM2, provoke dystrophin restoration in the muscles of mdx mice. The aim of the present work was to evaluate the oral route as an alternative way of administration for ZM2-antisense oligoribonucleotides complexes. The biodistribution and elimination of nanoparticles were evaluated after single and multiple oral doses of IR-dye conjugated nanoparticles. Labeled nanoparticles were tracked in vivo as well as in tissue cryosections, urines and feces by Odyssey infrared imaging system, and revealed a permanence in the intestine and abdominal lymph nodes for 72 hours to 7 days before being eliminated. We subsequently tested alginate-free and alginate-encapsulated ZM2-antisense oligoribonucleotides (AON) complexes orally administered 2 and 3 times per week, respectively, in mdx mice for a total of 12 weeks. Treatment with alginate ZM2-AON induced a slight dystrophin rescue in diaphragm and intestine smooth muscles, while no dystrophin was detected in alginate-free ZM2-AON treated mice. These data encourage further experiments on oral administration testing of NP and AON complexes, possibly translatable in oligoribonucleotides-mediated molecular therapies.
PMCID: PMC3874323  PMID: 24392452
6.  Antisense-Induced Messenger Depletion Corrects a COL6A2 Dominant Mutation in Ullrich Myopathy 
Human Gene Therapy  2012;23(12):1313-1318.
Collagen VI gene mutations cause Ullrich and Bethlem muscular dystrophies. Pathogenic mutations frequently have a dominant negative effect, with defects in collagen VI chain secretion and assembly. It is agreed that, conversely, collagen VI haploinsufficiency has no pathological consequences. Thus, RNA-targeting approaches aimed at preferentially inactivating the mutated COL6 messenger may represent a promising therapeutic strategy. By in vitro studies we obtained the preferential depletion of the mutated COL6A2 messenger, by targeting a common single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), cistronic with a dominant COL6A2 mutation. We used a 2′-O-methyl phosphorothioate (2′OMePS) antisense oligonucleotide covering the SNP within exon 3, which is out of frame. Exon 3 skipping has the effect of depleting the mutated transcript via RNA nonsense-mediated decay, recovering the correct collagen VI secretion and restoring the ability to form an interconnected microfilament network into the extracellular matrix. This novel RNA modulation approach to correcting dominant mutations may represent a therapeutic strategy potentially applicable to a great variety of mutations and diseases.
Gualandi and colleagues deplete defective mRNA transcripts of the gene encoding one of the collagen VI α chains (COL6A2) by using an antisense oligonucleotide covering a single-nucleotide polymorphism to achieve skipping of COL6A2 exon 3. Exon 3 skipping was confirmed and resulted in reduced expression of the mutated transcript via RNA nonsense-mediated decay. Histology and electron microscopy studies showed recovery of functional secretion of collagen VI as well as integration of collagen VI into the extracellular matrix.
PMCID: PMC3523246  PMID: 22992134
7.  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
8.  Non-Coding RNAs in Muscle Dystrophies 
ncRNAs are the most recently identified class of regulatory RNAs with vital functions in gene expression regulation and cell development. Among the variety of roles they play, their involvement in human diseases has opened new avenues of research towards the discovery and development of novel therapeutic approaches. Important data come from the field of hereditary muscle dystrophies, like Duchenne muscle dystrophy and Myotonic dystrophies, rare diseases affecting 1 in 7000–15,000 newborns and is characterized by severe to mild muscle weakness associated with cardiac involvement. Novel therapeutic approaches are now ongoing for these diseases, also based on splicing modulation. In this review we provide an overview about ncRNAs and their behavior in muscular dystrophy and explore their links with diagnosis, prognosis and treatments, highlighting the role of regulatory RNAs in these pathologies.
PMCID: PMC3821580  PMID: 24084719
microRNAs (miRNAs); long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs); Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD); Becker muscular dystrophy (BMD); Myotonic dystrophies (DM1 and DM2); Facioscapulohumeral dystrophy (FSHD)
9.  Importance of SPP1 genotype as a covariate in clinical trials in Duchenne muscular dystrophy 
Neurology  2012;79(2):159-162.
To test the effect of the single nucleotide polymorphism −66 T>G (rs28357094) in the osteopontin gene (SPP1) on functional measures over 12 months in Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD).
This study was conducted on a cohort of ambulatory patients with DMD from a network of Italian neuromuscular centers, evaluated longitudinally with the North Star Ambulatory Assessment (NSAA) and the 6-Minute Walk Test (6MWT) at study entry and after 12 months. Genotype at rs28357094 was determined after completion of the clinical evaluations. Patients were stratified in 2 groups according to a dominant model (TT homozygotes vs TG heterozygotes and GG homozygotes) and clinical data were retrospectively compared between groups.
Eighty patients were selected (age 4.1–19.3 years; mean 8.3 ± 2.7 SD). There were no differences in age or steroid treatment between the 2 subgroups. Paired t test showed a significant difference in both NSAA (p = 0.013) and 6MWT (p = 0.03) between baseline and follow-up after 12 months in patients with DMD carrying the G allele. The difference was not significant in the T subgroup. The analysis of covariance using age and baseline values as covariate and SPP1 genotype as fixed effect showed that these parameters are significantly correlated with the 12-month values.
These data provide evidence of the role of SPP1 genotype as a disease modifier in DMD and support its relevance in the selection of homogeneous groups of patients for future clinical trials.
PMCID: PMC3390537  PMID: 22744661
10.  Characterization of a rare case of Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy due to truncating mutations within the COL6A1 gene C-Terminal domain: a case report 
BMC Medical Genetics  2013;14:59.
Mutations within the C-terminal region of the COL6A1 gene are only detected in Ullrich/Bethlem patients on extremely rare occasions.
Case presentation
Herein we report two Brazilian brothers with a classic Ullrich phenotype and compound heterozygous for two truncating mutations in COL6A1 gene, expected to result in the loss of the α1(VI) chain C2 subdomain. Despite the reduction in COL6A1 RNA level due to nonsense RNA decay, three truncated alpha1 (VI) chains were produced as protein variants encoded by different out-of-frame transcripts. Collagen VI matrix was severely decreased and intracellular protein retention evident.
The altered deposition of the fibronectin network highlighted abnormal interactions of the mutated collagen VI, lacking the α1(VI) C2 domain, within the extracellular matrix, focusing further studies on the possible role played by collagen VI in fibronectin deposition and organization.
PMCID: PMC3681647  PMID: 23738969
Ullrich congenital dystrophy; Collagen VI; C-terminal truncating mutations
11.  Universal neonatal screening for sickle cell disease and other haemoglobinopathies in Ferrara, Italy 
Blood Transfusion  2013;11(2):245-249.
Sickle cell disease is the commonest haemoglobinopathy in Africa, the Middle East and India. In recent years, its incidence has increased dramatically also in Europe and North America because of the high rate of migration of people from endemic areas. From January 2009 to January 2010 the number of foreign residents in the province of Ferrara (Italy) increased by 12.2%: most of the immigrants were from countries at high risk of sickle cell disease. Since neonatal screening and prophylactic penicillin in early childhood could reduce mortality by 10 years of age to less than 2%, the aim of this study was to establish a neonatal screening programme for haemoglobinopathies in Ferrara.
Materials and methods
First we assessed how many pregnant women underwent haemoglobin analysis by high performance liquid chromatography before or during pregnancy and how many of them were carriers of haemoglobinopathies. Subsequently, we verified the feasibility of neonatal screening for sickle cell disease and other haemoglobinopathies, analysing cord blood by high performance liquid chromatography. Neonates found to be positive were managed by a multidisciplinary team to implement all the appropriate prophylactic and therapeutic measures.
We found that 59% of women who delivered at the University Hospital of Ferrara, from 2007 to 2009, had undergone high performance liquid chromatography. Of the 41% who were not tested, many were from areas in which sickle cell disease is common. Between September 26th 2010 and January 31st 2012, 1992 neonatal tests were performed and 24 carriers of haemoglobinopathies were identified (16 with HbS, 4 with HbC, 2 with HbE, 1 with HbD Punjab and 1 with HbD-Ouled Rabah); 42.6% of the mothers of these 1,992 neonates had not undergone high performance liquid chromatography during pregnancy.
Currently prevention of haemoglobinopathies in Italy is provided during the pre-conception period but only to patients with abnormal blood counts. Neonatal screening is useful and cost-effective to ensure early diagnosis and appropriate treatment for infants with sickle cell disease or other haemoglobinopathies.
PMCID: PMC3626476  PMID: 23058858
neonatal; screening; haemoglobinopathies; HPLC
13.  Guidance in Social and Ethical Issues Related to Clinical, Diagnostic Care and Novel Therapies for Hereditary Neuromuscular Rare Diseases: “Translating“ the Translational 
PLoS Currents  2013;
Drug trials in children engage with many ethical issues, from drug-related safety concerns to communication with patients and parents, and recruitment and informed consent procedures. This paper addresses the field of neuromuscular disorders where the possibility of genetic, mutation-specific treatments, has added new complexity. Not only must trial design address issues of equity of access, but researchers must also think through the implications of adopting a personalised medicine approach, which requires a precise molecular diagnosis, in addition to other implications of developing orphan drugs. It is against this background of change and complexity that the Project Ethics Council (PEC) was established within the TREAT-NMD EU Network of Excellence. The PEC is a high level advisory group that draws upon the expertise of its interdisciplinary membership which includes clinicians, lawyers, scientists, parents, representatives of patient organisations, social scientists and ethicists. In this paper we describe the establishment and terms of reference of the PEC, give an indication of the range and depth of its work and provide some analysis of the kinds of complex questions encountered. The paper describes how the PEC has responded to substantive ethical issues raised within the TREAT-NMD consortium and how it has provided a wider resource for any concerned parent, patient, or clinician to ask a question of ethical concern. Issues raised range from science related ethical issues, issues related to hereditary neuromuscular diseases and the new therapeutic approaches and questions concerning patients rights in the context of patient registries and bio-banks. We conclude by recommending the PEC as a model for similar research contexts in rare diseases.
PMCID: PMC3544553  PMID: 23330068
14.  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
15.  Persistent Dystrophin Protein Restoration 90 Days after a Course of Intraperitoneally Administered Naked 2′OMePS AON and ZM2 NP-AON Complexes in mdx Mice 
In Duchenne muscular dystrophy, the exon-skipping approach has obtained proof of concept in animal models, myogenic cell cultures, and following local and systemic administration in Duchenne patients. Indeed, we have previously demonstrated that low doses (7.5 mg/Kg/week) of 2′-O-methyl-phosphorothioate antisense oligoribonucleotides (AONs) adsorbed onto ZM2 nanoparticles provoke widespread dystrophin restoration 7 days after intraperitoneal treatment in mdx mice. In this study, we went on to test whether this dystrophin restoration was still measurable 90 days from the end of the same treatment. Interestingly, we found that both western blot and immunohistochemical analysis (up to 7% positive fibres) were still able to detect dystrophin protein in the skeletal muscles of ZM2-AON-treated mice at this time, and the level of exon-23 skipping could still be assessed by RT real-time PCR (up to 10% of skipping percentage). In contrast, the protein was undetectable by western blot analysis in the skeletal muscles of mdx mice treated with an identical dose of naked AON, and the percentage of dystrophin-positive fibres and exon-23 skipping were reminiscent of those of untreated mdx mice. Our data therefore demonstrate the long-term residual efficacy of this systemic low-dose treatment and confirm the protective effect nanoparticles exert on AON molecules.
PMCID: PMC3471065  PMID: 23091362
16.  The DMD Locus Harbours Multiple Long Non-Coding RNAs Which Orchestrate and Control Transcription of Muscle Dystrophin mRNA Isoforms 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e45328.
The 2.2 Mb long dystrophin (DMD) gene, the largest gene in the human genome, corresponds to roughly 0.1% of the entire human DNA sequence. Mutations in this gene cause Duchenne muscular dystrophy and other milder X-linked, recessive dystrophinopathies. Using a custom-made tiling array, specifically designed for the DMD locus, we identified a variety of novel long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs), both sense and antisense oriented, whose expression profiles mirror that of DMD gene. Importantly, these transcripts are intronic in origin and specifically localized to the nucleus and are transcribed contextually with dystrophin isoforms or primed by MyoD-induced myogenic differentiation. Furthermore, their forced ectopic expression in both human muscle and neuronal cells causes a specific and negative regulation of endogenous dystrophin full length isoforms and significantly down-regulate the activity of a luciferase reporter construct carrying the minimal promoter regions of the muscle dystrophin isoform. Consistent with this apparently repressive role, we found that, in muscle samples of dystrophinopathic female carriers, lncRNAs expression levels inversely correlate with those of muscle full length DMD isoforms. Overall these findings unveil an unprecedented complexity of the transcriptional pattern of the DMD locus and reveal that DMD lncRNAs may contribute to the orchestration and homeostasis of the muscle dystrophin expression pattern by either selective targeting and down-modulating the dystrophin promoter transcriptional activity.
PMCID: PMC3448672  PMID: 23028937
17.  Genetic characterization in symptomatic female DMD carriers: lack of relationship between X-inactivation, transcriptional DMD allele balancing and phenotype 
BMC Medical Genetics  2012;13:73.
Although Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophies, X-linked recessive myopathies, predominantly affect males, a clinically significant proportion of females manifesting symptoms have also been reported. They represent an heterogeneous group characterized by variable degrees of muscle weakness and/or cardiac involvement. Though preferential inactivation of the normal X chromosome has long been considered the principal mechanism behind disease manifestation in these females, supporting evidence is controversial.
Eighteen females showing a mosaic pattern of dystrophin expression on muscle biopsy were recruited and classified as symptomatic (7) or asymptomatic (11), based on the presence or absence of muscle weakness. The causative DMD gene mutations were identified in all cases, and the X-inactivation pattern was assessed in muscle DNA. Transcriptional analysis in muscles was performed in all females, and relative quantification of wild-type and mutated transcripts was also performed in 9 carriers. Dystrophin protein was quantified by immunoblotting in 2 females.
The study highlighted a lack of relationship between dystrophic phenotype and X-inactivation pattern in females; skewed X-inactivation was found in 2 out of 6 symptomatic carriers and in 5 out of 11 asymptomatic carriers. All females were characterized by biallelic transcription, but no association was found between X-inactivation pattern and allele transcriptional balancing. Either a prevalence of wild-type transcript or equal proportions of wild-type and mutated RNAs was observed in both symptomatic and asymptomatic females. Moreover, very similar levels of total and wild-type transcripts were identified in the two groups of carriers.
This is the first study deeply exploring the DMD transcriptional behaviour in a cohort of female carriers. Notably, no relationship between X-inactivation pattern and transcriptional behaviour of DMD gene was observed, suggesting that the two mechanisms are regulated independently. Moreover, neither the total DMD transcript level, nor the relative proportion of the wild-type transcript do correlate with the symptomatic phenotype.
PMCID: PMC3459813  PMID: 22894145
Dystrophinopathy; Female carriers; X-inactivation; Transcriptional balancing
18.  Expression of collagen VI α5 and α6 chains in human muscle and in Duchenne muscular dystrophy-related muscle fibrosis 
Matrix Biology  2012;31(3):187-196.
Collagen VI is a major extracellular matrix (ECM) protein with a critical role in maintaining skeletal muscle functional integrity. Mutations in COL6A1, COL6A2 and COL6A3 genes cause Ullrich Congenital Muscular Dystrophy (UCMD), Bethlem Myopathy, and Myosclerosis. Moreover, Col6a1−/− mice and collagen VI deficient zebrafish display a myopathic phenotype. Recently, two additional collagen VI chains were identified in humans, the α5 and α6 chains, however their distribution patterns and functions in human skeletal muscle have not been thoroughly investigated yet. By means of immunofluorescence analysis, the α6 chain was detected in the endomysium and perimysium, while the α5 chain labeling was restricted to the myotendinous junctions. In normal muscle cultures, the α6 chain was present in traces in the ECM, while the α5 chain was not detected. In the absence of ascorbic acid, the α6 chain was mainly accumulated into the cytoplasm of a sub-set of desmin negative cells, likely of interstitial origin, which can be considered myofibroblasts as they expressed α-smooth muscle actin. TGF-β1 treatment, a pro-fibrotic factor which induces trans-differentiation of fibroblasts into myofibroblasts, increased the α6 chain deposition in the extracellular matrix after addition of ascorbic acid. In order to define the involvement of the α6 chain in muscle fibrosis we studied biopsies of patients affected by Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). We found that the α6 chain was dramatically up-regulated in fibrotic areas where, in contrast, the α5 chain was undetectable. Our results show a restricted and differential distribution of the novel α6 and α5 chains in skeletal muscle when compared to the widely distributed, homologous α3 chain, suggesting that these new chains may play specific roles in specialized ECM structures. While the α5 chain may have a specialized function in tissue areas subjected to tensile stress, the α6 chain appears implicated in ECM remodeling during muscle fibrosis.
► We study collagen VI alpha 5 and alpha 6 chains expression in human skeletal muscle. ► ► We show that alpha 5 chain is exclusively present at the myotendinous junctions. ► We show that alpha 6 chain is present in the ECM but not at the basement membranes. ► We show that alpha 6 chain increases in Duchenne muscular dystrophy muscle fibrosis. ► We hypothesize the possible formation of alpha1-2-6 or alpha1-2-5 chains trimers.
PMCID: PMC3315014  PMID: 22226732
Collagen VI; Skeletal muscle; Myotendinous junctions; Fibrosis; Duchenne muscular dystrophy
19.  The absence of dystrophin brain isoform expression in healthy human heart ventricles explains the pathogenesis of 5' X-linked dilated cardiomyopathy 
BMC Medical Genetics  2012;13:20.
In X-linked dilated cardiomyopathy due to dystrophin mutations which abolish the expression of the M isoform (5'-XLDC), the skeletal muscle is spared through the up-regulation of the Brain (B) isoform, a compensatory mechanism that does not appear to occur in the heart of affected individuals.
We quantitatively studied the expression topography of both B and M isoforms in various human heart regions through in-situ RNA hybridization, Reverse-Transcriptase and Real-Time PCR experiments. We also investigated the methylation profile of the B promoter region in the heart and quantified the B isoform up regulation in the skeletal muscle of two 5'-XLDC patients.
Unlike the M isoform, consistently detectable in all the heart regions, the B isoform was selectively expressed in atrial cardiomyocytes, but absent in ventricles and in conduction system structures. Although the level of B isoform messenger in the skeletal muscle of 5'-XLDC patients was lower that of the M messenger present in control muscle, it seems sufficient to avoid an overt muscle pathology. This result is consistent with the protein level in XLDC patients muscles we previously quantified. Methylation studies revealed that the B promoter shows an overall low level of methylation at the CG dinucleotides in both atria and ventricles, suggesting a methylation-independent regulation of the B promoter activity.
The ventricular dilatation seen in 5'-XLDC patients appears to be functionally related to loss of the M isoform, the only isoform transcribed in human ventricles; in contrast, the B isoform is well expressed in heart but confined to the atria. Since the B isoform can functionally replace the M isoform in the skeletal muscle, its expression in the heart could potentially exert the same rescue function. Methylation status does not seem to play a role in the differential B promoter activity in atria and ventricles, which may be governed by other regulatory mechanisms. If these mechanisms could be deduced, de-silencing of the B isoform may represent a therapeutic strategy in 5'-XLDC patients.
PMCID: PMC3331845  PMID: 22455600
20.  Novel Approach to Meta-Analysis of Microarray Datasets Reveals Muscle Remodeling-related Drug Targets and Biomarkers in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy 
PLoS Computational Biology  2012;8(2):e1002365.
Elucidation of new biomarkers and potential drug targets from high-throughput profiling data is a challenging task due to a limited number of available biological samples and questionable reproducibility of differential changes in cross-dataset comparisons. In this paper we propose a novel computational approach for drug and biomarkers discovery using comprehensive analysis of multiple expression profiling datasets.
The new method relies on aggregation of individual profiling experiments combined with leave-one-dataset-out validation approach. Aggregated datasets were studied using Sub-Network Enrichment Analysis algorithm (SNEA) to find consistent statistically significant key regulators within the global literature-extracted expression regulation network. These regulators were linked to the consistent differentially expressed genes.
We have applied our approach to several publicly available human muscle gene expression profiling datasets related to Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). In order to detect both enhanced and repressed processes we considered up- and down-regulated genes separately. Applying the proposed approach to the regulators search we discovered the disturbance in the activity of several muscle-related transcription factors (e.g. MYOG and MYOD1), regulators of inflammation, regeneration, and fibrosis. Almost all SNEA-derived regulators of down-regulated genes (e.g. AMPK, TORC2, PPARGC1A) correspond to a single common pathway important for fast-to-slow twitch fiber type transition. We hypothesize that this process can affect the severity of DMD symptoms, making corresponding regulators and downstream genes valuable candidates for being potential drug targets and exploratory biomarkers.
Author Summary
Comparison of gene expression in diseased and normal tissue is a powerful tool of studying processes involved in pathogenesis and searching for potential drug targets and biomarkers of the disease's progression and treatment outcome. We have developed a novel approach for systematic knowledge-driven analysis of gene expression profiling data, which can suggest the underlying cause of the observed differential expression by identifying which expression regulators might be involved. These regulators can not only be the promising subjects of further investigation, but also potential drug targets, as normalization of their activity might alleviate some of the disease's symptoms. The targets downstream of suggested regulators can be proposed as exploratory biomarkers in disease treatment and prognosis. We used our approach to analyze public gene expression datasets of Duchenne muscular dystrophy – a progressive inherited disease in males. Some of the regulators and biomarkers that we found were already investigated in the context of DMD, while some of them were not yet studied and may be of interest for biological and clinical studies.
PMCID: PMC3271016  PMID: 22319435
21.  Cyclosporine A in Ullrich Congenital Muscular Dystrophy: Long-Term Results 
Six individuals with Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy (UCMD) and mutations in the genes-encoding collagen VI, aging 5–9, received 3–5 mg/kg of cyclosporine A (CsA) daily for 1 to 3.2 years. The primary outcome measure was the muscle strength evaluated with a myometer and expressed as megalimbs. The megalimbs score showed significant improvement (P = 0.01) in 5 of the 6 patients. Motor function did not change. Respiratory function deteriorated in all. CsA treatment corrected mitochondrial dysfunction, increased muscle regeneration, and decreased the number of apoptotic nuclei. Results from this study demonstrate that long-term treatment with CsA ameliorates performance in the limbs, but not in the respiratory muscles of UCMD patients, and that it is well tolerated. These results suggest considering a trial of CsA or nonimmunosuppressive cyclosporins, that retains the PTP-desensitizing properties of CsA, as early as possible in UCMD patients when diaphragm is less compromised.
PMCID: PMC3199070  PMID: 22028947
23.  Preclinical PK and PD Studies on 2′-O-Methyl-phosphorothioate RNA Antisense Oligonucleotides in the mdx Mouse Model 
Molecular Therapy  2010;18(6):1210-1217.
Antisense oligonucleotides (AONs) are being developed as RNA therapeutic molecules for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. For oligonucleotides with the 2′-O-methyl-phosphorothioate (2OMePS) RNA chemistry, proof of concept has been obtained in patient-specific muscle cell cultures, the mouse and dog disease models, and recently by local administration in Duchenne patients. To further explore the pharmacokinetic (PK)/pharmacodynamic (PD) properties of this chemical class of oligonucleotides, we performed a series of preclinical studies in mice. The results demonstrate that the levels of oligonucleotides in dystrophin-deficient muscle fibers are much higher than in healthy fibers, leading to higher exon-skipping levels. Oligonucleotide levels and half-life differed for specific muscle groups, with heart muscle showing the lowest levels but longest half-life (~46 days). Intravenous (i.v.), subcutaneous (s.c.), and intraperitoneal (i.p.) delivery methods were directly compared. For each method, exon-skipping and novel dystrophin expression were observed in all muscles, including arrector pili smooth muscle in skin biopsies. After i.v. administration, the oligonucleotide peak levels in plasma, liver, and kidney were higher than after s.c. or i.p. injections. However, as the bioavailability was similar, and the levels of oligonucleotide, exon-skipping, and dystrophin steadily accumulated overtime after s.c. administration, we selected this patient-convenient delivery method for future clinical study protocols.
PMCID: PMC2889733  PMID: 20407428
24.  Custom CGH array profiling of copy number variations (CNVs) on chromosome 6p21.32 (HLA locus) in patients with venous malformations associated with multiple sclerosis 
BMC Medical Genetics  2010;11:64.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a complex disorder thought to result from an interaction between environmental and genetic predisposing factors which have not yet been characterised, although it is known to be associated with the HLA region on 6p21.32. Recently, a picture of chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI), consequent to stenosing venous malformation of the main extra-cranial outflow routes (VM), has been described in patients affected with MS, introducing an additional phenotype with possible pathogenic significance.
In order to explore the presence of copy number variations (CNVs) within the HLA locus, a custom CGH array was designed to cover 7 Mb of the HLA locus region (6,899,999 bp; chr6:29,900,001-36,800,000). Genomic DNA of the 15 patients with CCSVI/VM and MS was hybridised in duplicate.
In total, 322 CNVs, of which 225 were extragenic and 97 intragenic, were identified in 15 patients. 234 known polymorphic CNVs were detected, the majority of these being situated in non-coding or extragenic regions. The overall number of CNVs (both extra- and intragenic) showed a robust and significant correlation with the number of stenosing VMs (Spearman: r = 0.6590, p = 0.0104; linear regression analysis r = 0.6577, p = 0.0106).
The region we analysed contains 211 known genes. By using pathway analysis focused on angiogenesis and venous development, MS, and immunity, we tentatively highlight several genes as possible susceptibility factor candidates involved in this peculiar phenotype.
The CNVs contained in the HLA locus region in patients with the novel phenotype of CCSVI/VM and MS were mapped in detail, demonstrating a significant correlation between the number of known CNVs found in the HLA region and the number of CCSVI-VMs identified in patients. Pathway analysis revealed common routes of interaction of several of the genes involved in angiogenesis and immunity contained within this region. Despite the small sample size in this pilot study, it does suggest that the number of multiple polymorphic CNVs in the HLA locus deserves further study, owing to their possible involvement in susceptibility to this novel MS/VM plus phenotype, and perhaps even other types of the disease.
PMCID: PMC2880319  PMID: 20426824
25.  Identification of a deep intronic mutation in the COL6A2 gene by a novel custom oligonucleotide CGH array designed to explore allelic and genetic heterogeneity in collagen VI-related myopathies 
BMC Medical Genetics  2010;11:44.
Molecular characterization of collagen-VI related myopathies currently relies on standard sequencing, which yields a detection rate approximating 75-79% in Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy (UCMD) and 60-65% in Bethlem myopathy (BM) patients as PCR-based techniques tend to miss gross genomic rearrangements as well as copy number variations (CNVs) in both the coding sequence and intronic regions.
We have designed a custom oligonucleotide CGH array in order to investigate the presence of CNVs in the coding and non-coding regions of COL6A1, A2, A3, A5 and A6 genes and a group of genes functionally related to collagen VI. A cohort of 12 patients with UCMD/BM negative at sequencing analysis and 2 subjects carrying a single COL6 mutation whose clinical phenotype was not explicable by inheritance were selected and the occurrence of allelic and genetic heterogeneity explored.
A deletion within intron 1A of the COL6A2 gene, occurring in compound heterozygosity with a small deletion in exon 28, previously detected by routine sequencing, was identified in a BM patient. RNA studies showed monoallelic transcription of the COL6A2 gene, thus elucidating the functional effect of the intronic deletion. No pathogenic mutations were identified in the remaining analyzed patients, either within COL6A genes, or in genes functionally related to collagen VI.
Our custom CGH array may represent a useful complementary diagnostic tool, especially in recessive forms of the disease, when only one mutant allele is detected by standard sequencing. The intronic deletion we identified represents the first example of a pure intronic mutation in COL6A genes.
PMCID: PMC2850895  PMID: 20302629

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