Specific removal of the nonsense mutation from the mdx dystrophin mRNA using antisense oligonucleotides

S D Wilton, F Lloyd, K Carville, S Fletcher, K Honeyman, S Agrawal, R Kole
Neuromuscular Disorders: NMD 1999, 9 (5): 330-8
The mdx mouse, which carries a nonsense mutation in exon 23 of the dystrophin gene, has been used as an animal model of Duchenne muscular dystrophy to evaluate cell or gene replacement therapies. Despite the mdx mutation, which should preclude the synthesis of a functional dystrophin protein, rare, naturally occurring dystrophin-positive fibres have been observed in mdx muscle tissue. These dystrophin-positive fibres are thought to have arisen from an exon-skipping mechanism, either somatic mutations or alternative splicing. Increasing the frequency of these fibres may offer another therapeutic approach to reduce the severity of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Antisense oligonucleotides have been shown to block aberrant splicing in the human beta-globin gene. We wished to use a similar approach to re-direct normal processing of the dystrophin pre-mRNA and induce specific exon skipping. Antisense 2'-O-methyl-oligoribonucleotides, directed to the 3' and 5' splice sites of introns 22 and 23, respectively in the mdx pre-mRNA, were used to transfect myoblast cultures. The 5' antisense oligonucleotide appeared to efficiently displace factors normally involved in the removal of intron 23 so that exon 23 was also removed during the splicing of the dystrophin pre-mRNA. Approximately 50% of the dystrophin gene mRNAs were missing this exon 6 h after transfection of primary mdx myotubes, with all transcripts showing skipping of exon 23 after 24 h. Deletion of exon 23 does not disrupt the reading frame and should allow the synthesis of a shorter but presumably functional Becker-like dystrophin. Molecular intervention at dystrophin pre-mRNA splicing has the potential to reduce the severity of a Duchenne mutation to the milder Becker phenotype.

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