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Concept: Morpholino


Identification of a systemically acting and universal small molecule therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy would be an enormous advance for this condition. Based on evidence gained from studies on mouse genetic models we have identified tyrosine phosphorylation and degradation of β-dystroglycan as a key event in the aetiology of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Thus preventing tyrosine phosphorylation and degradation of β-dystroglycan presents itself as a potential therapeutic strategy. Using the dystrophic sapje zebrafish we have investigated the use of tyrosine kinase and other inhibitors to treat the dystrophic symptoms in this model of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Dasatinib, a potent and specific Src tyrosine kinase inhibitor was found to decrease the levels of β-dystroglycan phosphorylation on tyrosine and increase the relative levels of non-phosphorylated β-dystroglycan in sapje zebrafish. Furthermore, dasatinib treatment resulted in the improved physical appearance of the sapje zebrafish musculature and increased swimming ability as measured by both duration and distance of swimming dasatinib treated fish compared to control animals. These data suggest great promise for pharmacological agents that prevent the phosphorylation of β-dystroglycan on tyrosine and subsequent steps in the degradation pathway as therapeutic targets for the treatment of Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Concepts: Morpholino, Protein kinase, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Electromyography, Signal transduction, Enzyme inhibitor, Phosphorylation, Muscular dystrophy


Duchenne muscular dystrophy is caused by mutations in DMD which disrupt the reading frame. Therapeutic strategies that restore DMD’s reading frame, such as exon skipping and CRISPR/Cas9, need to be tested in the context of the human DMD sequence in vivo. We have developed a novel dystrophic mouse model by using CRISPR/Cas9 to delete exon 45 in the human DMD gene in hDMD mice, which places DMD out-of-frame. We have utilized this model to demonstrate that our clinically-relevant CRISPR/Cas9 platform, which targets deletion of human DMD exons 45-55, can be directly applied in vivo to restore dystrophin.

Concepts: Dystrophin, Genetics, Gene, Spliceosome, Morpholino, Muscular dystrophy, DNA, Duchenne muscular dystrophy


BACKGROUND: In mammals, ABCB1 constitutes a cellular “first line of defense” against a wide array of chemicals and drugs conferring cellular multidrug or multixenobiotic resistance (MDR/MXR). We tested the hypothesis that an ABCB1 ortholog serves as protection of the sensitive developmental processes in zebrafish embryos against adverse compounds dissolved in the water. RESULTS: Indication for ABCB1-type efflux counteracting the accumulation of chemicals in zebrafish embryos comes from experiments with fluorescent and toxic transporter substrates and inhibitors. With inhibitors present, levels of fluorescent dyes in embryo tissue and sensitivity of embryos to toxic substrates were generally elevated. We verified two predicted sequences from zebrafish, previously annotated as abcb1, by cloning; our synteny analyses, however, identified them as abcb4 and abcb5, respectively. The abcb1 gene is absent in the zebrafish genome and we explored whether instead Abcb4 and/or Abcb5 show toxicant defense properties. Quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) analyses showed presence of transcripts of both genes throughout the first 48 hrs of zebrafish development. Similar to transporter inhibitors, morpholino knock-down of Abcb4 increased accumulation of fluorescent substrates in embryo tissue and sensitivity of embryos toward toxic compounds. In contrast, morpholino knock-down of Abcb5 did not exert this effect. ATPase assays with recombinant protein obtained with the baculovirus expression system confirmed that dye and toxic compounds act as substrates of zebrafish Abcb4 and inhibitors block its function. The compounds tested comprised model substrates of human ABCB1, namely the fluorescent dyes rhodamine B and calcein-am and the toxic compounds vinblastine, vincristine and doxorubicin; cyclosporin A, PSC833, MK571 and verapamil were applied as inhibitors. Additionally, tests were performed with ecotoxicologically relevant compounds: phenanthrene (a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon) and galaxolide and tonalide (two polycyclic musks). CONCLUSIONS: We show that zebrafish Abcb4 is a cellular toxicant transporter and provides protection of embryos against toxic chemicals dissolved in the water. Zebrafish Abcb4 thus is functionally similar to mammalian ABCB1, but differs to mammalian ABCB4, which is not involved in cellular resistance to chemicals but specifically transports phospholipids in liver. Our data have important implications: Abcb4 could affect bioavailability - and thus toxicologic and pharmacologic potency - of chemicals to zebrafish embryos and inhibition of Abcb4 therefore causes chemosensitization, i.e., enhanced sensitivity of embryos to toxicants. These aspects should be considered in (eco)toxicologic and pharmacologic chemical screens with the zebrafish embryo, a major vertebrate model.

Concepts: Model organism, The First 48, Mammal, Polymerase chain reaction, Morpholino, DNA, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, Zebrafish


Until recently, Ebola virus (EBOV) was a rarely encountered human pathogen that caused disease among small populations with extraordinarily high lethality. At the end of 2013, EBOV initiated an unprecedented disease outbreak in West Africa that is still ongoing and has already caused thousands of deaths. Recent studies revealed the genomic changes this particular EBOV variant undergoes over time during human-to-human transmission. Here we highlight the genomic changes that might negatively impact the efficacy of currently available EBOV sequence-based candidate therapeutics, such as small interfering RNAs (siRNAs), phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomers (PMOs), and antibodies. Ten of the observed mutations modify the sequence of the binding sites of monoclonal antibody (MAb) 13F6, MAb 1H3, MAb 6D8, MAb 13C6, and siRNA EK-1, VP24, and VP35 targets and might influence the binding efficacy of the sequence-based therapeutics, suggesting that their efficacy should be reevaluated against the currently circulating strain.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Bacteria, Microbiology, RNA, DNA, Immune system, Morpholino, Protein


In prior open-label studies, eteplirsen, a phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomer (PMO), enabled dystrophin production in Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) with genetic mutations amenable to skipping exon 51. The present study used a double-blind placebo-controlled protocol to test eteplirsen’s ability to induce dystrophin production and improve distance walked on the 6-minute walk test (6MWT).

Concepts: Electromyography, Mutation, Muscular Dystrophy Association, Dystrophin, DNA, Morpholino, Muscular dystrophy, Duchenne muscular dystrophy


Antisense oligonucleotides (AONs) hold promise for therapeutic correction of many genetic diseases via exon skipping, and the first AON-based drugs have entered clinical trials for neuromuscular disorders. However, despite advances in AON chemistry and design, systemic use of AONs is limited because of poor tissue uptake, and recent clinical reports confirm that sufficient therapeutic efficacy has not yet been achieved. Here we present a new class of AONs made of tricyclo-DNA (tcDNA), which displays unique pharmacological properties and unprecedented uptake by many tissues after systemic administration. We demonstrate these properties in two mouse models of Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), a neurogenetic disease typically caused by frame-shifting deletions or nonsense mutations in the gene encoding dystrophin and characterized by progressive muscle weakness, cardiomyopathy, respiratory failure and neurocognitive impairment. Although current naked AONs do not enter the heart or cross the blood-brain barrier to any substantial extent, we show that systemic delivery of tcDNA-AONs promotes a high degree of rescue of dystrophin expression in skeletal muscles, the heart and, to a lesser extent, the brain. Our results demonstrate for the first time a physiological improvement of cardio-respiratory functions and a correction of behavioral features in DMD model mice. This makes tcDNA-AON chemistry particularly attractive as a potential future therapy for patients with DMD and other neuromuscular disorders or with other diseases that are eligible for exon-skipping approaches requiring whole-body treatment.

Concepts: Neuromuscular disease, Heart, DNA, Muscle, Morpholino, Muscular dystrophy, Muscular system, Duchenne muscular dystrophy


Decreased clearance of α-synuclein (aSyn) and aSyn protein misfolding and aggregation are seen as major factors in the pathogenesis of Parkinson’s disease (PD) and other synucleinopathies that leads to disruption in neuronal function and eventually to cell death. Prolyl oligopeptidase (PREP) can accelerate the aSyn aggregation process, while inhibition of PREP by a small molecule inhibitor decreases aSyn oligomer formation and enhances its clearance via autophagy in different aSyn overexpressing cell types and in transgenic PD animal models. In this study, we investigated the impact of chronic PREP inhibition by a small molecule inhibitor, 4-phenylbutanoyl-l-prolyl-2(S)-cyanopyrrolidine (KYP-2047), on aSyn oligomerization, clearance, and underlying spontaneous motor behavior in a virus vector-based aSyn overexpression mouse model 4 weeks after aSyn microinjections and after the onset of symptomatic forepaw bias. Following 4 weeks of PREP inhibition, we saw an improved spontaneous forelimb use in mice that correlated with a decreased immunoreactivity against oligomer-specific forms of aSyn. Additionally, KYP-2047 had a trend to enhance dopaminergic systems activity. Our results suggest that PREP inhibition exhibits a beneficial effect on the aSyn clearance and aggregation in a virus mediated aSyn overexpression PD mouse model and that PREP inhibitors could be a novel therapeutic strategy for synucleinopathies.

Concepts: Morpholino, Gene, Inhibitor, Oligomer, DNA, Dopamine, Enzyme inhibitor, Protein


Loss of Survival Motor Neuron-1 (SMN1) causes Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a devastating neurodegenerative disease. SMN2 is a nearly identical copy gene; however SMN2 cannot prevent disease development in the absence of SMN1 since the majority of SMN2-derived transcripts are alternatively spliced, encoding a truncated, unstable protein lacking exon 7. Nevertheless, SMN2 retains the ability to produce low levels of functional protein. Previously we have described a splice-switching Morpholino antisense oligonucleotide (ASO) sequence that targets a potent intronic repressor, Element1 (E1), located upstream of SMN2 exon 7. In this study, we have assessed a novel panel of Morpholino ASOs with the goal of optimizing E1 ASO activity. Screening for efficacy in the SMNΔ7 mouse model, a single ASO variant was more active in vivo compared to the original E1(MO)-ASO. Sequence variant eleven (E1(MOv11)) consistently showed greater efficacy by increasing the lifespan of severe SMA mice after a single intracerebroventricular (ICV) injection in the CNS, exhibited a strong dose-response across an order of magnitude, and demonstrated excellent target engagement by partially reversing the pathogenic SMN2 splicing event. We conclude that Morpholino modified ASOs are effective in modifying SMN2 splicing and have the potential for future SMA clinical applications.Molecular Therapy (2016); doi:10.1038/mt.2016.145.

Concepts: Intron, Antisense therapy, Morpholino, Target Corporation, Spinal muscular atrophy, DNA, Exon, Oligonucleotide


Carbohydrate-based infusion solutions are widely used in the clinic. Here we show that co-administration of phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomers (PMOs) with glucose enhances exon-skipping activity in Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) mdx mice. We identify a glucose-fructose (GF) formulation that potentiates PMO activity, completely corrects aberrant Dmd transcripts, restores dystrophin levels in skeletal muscles and achieves functional rescue without detectable toxicity. This activity is attributed to enhancement of GF-mediated PMO uptake in the muscle. We demonstrate that PMO cellular uptake is energy dependent, and that ATP from GF metabolism contributes to enhanced cellular uptake of PMO in the muscle. Collectively, we show that GF potentiates PMO activity by replenishing cellular energy stores under energy-deficient conditions in mdx mice. Our findings provide mechanistic insight into hexose-mediated oligonucleotide delivery and have important implications for the development of DMD exon-skipping therapy.

Concepts: Metabolism, Muscular system, Energy, Glycogen, Muscular dystrophy, Muscle, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Morpholino


Collagen VI (COLVI), a protein ubiquitously expressed in connective tissues, is crucial for structural integrity, cellular adhesion, migration and survival. Six different genes are recognized in mammalians, encoding six COLVI chains that assemble as 2 “short” (α1, α2) and 1 “long” chain (theoretically any one of α3-6). In humans, defects in the most widely expressed heterotrimer (α123), due to mutations in the COL6A1-3 genes, cause a heterogeneous group of neuromuscular disorders, collectively termed COLVI-related muscle disorders. Little is known about the function(s) of the recently described α4-6 chains and no mutations have been detected yet. In this study, we characterized 2 novel COLVI long chains in zebrafish that are most homologous to the mammalian α4 chain; therefore we named the corresponding genes col6a4a and col6a4b. These orthologs represent ancestors of the mammalian Col6a4-6 genes. By in situ hybridization and RT-qPCR, we unveiled a distinctive expression kinetics for col6a4b, compared to the other col6a genes. Using morpholino antisense oligonucleotides targeting col6a4a, col6a4b and col6a2, we modelled partial and complete COLVI deficiency, respectively. All morphant embryos presented altered muscle structure and impaired motility. While apoptosis was not drastically increased, autophagy induction was defective in all morphants. Furthermore, motoneuron axon growth was abnormal in these morphants.Importantly, some phenotypical differences emerged between col6a4a and col6a4b morphants, suggesting only partial functional redundancy. Overall, our results further confirm the importance of COLVI in zebrafish muscle development and may provide important clues for potential human phenotypes associated with deficiency of the recently described COLVI chains.

Concepts: Collagen, Phenotype, Neuromuscular disease, Morpholino, Genetics, DNA, Gene, Evolution