Differential effects of dystrophin and utrophin gene transfer in immunocompetent muscular dystrophy (mdx) mice

S Ebihara, G H Guibinga, R Gilbert, J Nalbantoglu, B Massie, G Karpati, B J Petrof
Physiological Genomics 2000 September 8, 3 (3): 133-44
Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a fatal disease caused by defects in the gene encoding dystrophin. Dystrophin is a cytoskeletal protein, which together with its associated protein complex, helps to protect the sarcolemma from mechanical stresses associated with muscle contraction. Gene therapy efforts aimed at supplying a normal dystrophin gene to DMD muscles could be hampered by host immune system recognition of dystrophin as a "foreign" protein. In contrast, a closely related protein called utrophin is not foreign to DMD patients and is able to compensate for dystrophin deficiency when overexpressed throughout development in transgenic mice. However, the issue of which of the two candidate molecules is superior for DMD therapy has remained an open question. In this study, dystrophin and utrophin gene transfer effects on dystrophic muscle function were directly compared in the murine (mdx) model of DMD using E1/E3-deleted adenovirus vectors containing either a dystrophin (AdV-Dys) or a utrophin (AdV-Utr) transgene. In immunologically immature neonatal animals, AdV-Dys and AdV-Utr improved tibialis anterior muscle histopathology, force-generating capacity, and the ability to resist injury caused by high-stress contractions to an equivalent degree. By contrast, only AdV-Utr was able to achieve significant improvement in force generation and the ability to resist stress-induced injury in the soleus muscle of immunocompetent mature mdx animals. In addition, in mature mdx mice, there was significantly greater transgene persistence and reduced inflammation with utrophin compared to dystrophin gene transfer. We conclude that dystrophin and utrophin are largely equivalent in their intrinsic abilities to prevent the development of muscle necrosis and weakness when expressed in neonatal mdx animals with an immature immune system. However, because immunity against dystrophin places an important limitation on the efficacy of dystrophin gene replacement in an immunocompetent mature host, the use of utrophin as an alternative to dystrophin gene transfer in this setting appears to offer a significant therapeutic advantage.

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