SOD1 provides instructions for making an enzyme called superoxide dismutase, which is found throughout the body and breaks down toxic molecules that can be damaging to cells. When mutated, the SOD1 gene yields a faulty version of the enzyme that is especially harmful to motor neurons. One of the mutations, which is found in about half of all familial ALS patients, is particularly devastating, with death usually coming within 18 months of diagnosis. SOD1 has also been implicated in other types of ALS, called sporadic ALS, which means the therapy could prove beneficial for larger numbers of patients suffering with this disease.
Earlier work by Dr. Kaspar and others found that they could halt production of the mutated enzyme by blocking SOD1 expression, which in turn, they suspected, would slow ALS progression. To test this hypothesis, the researchers would not only need to come up with an approach that would block the gene, but also figure out how to specifically target cells implicated in the disease, which include motor neurons and glial cells. What's more, the therapy would preferably be administered noninvasively instead of direct delivery via burr holes drilled into the skull.
Dr. Kaspar's team accomplished the second part of this challenge in 2009, when they discovered that adeno-associated virus serotype 9 (AAV9) could cross the blood-brain barrier, making it an ideal transport system for delivering genes and RNA interference strategies designed to treat disease.
In this new work, funded by the National Institutes of Health, the researchers blocked human SOD1, using a technology known as short hairpin RNA, or shRNA. These single strands of RNA are designed in the lab to seek out specific sequences found in the human SOD1 gene, latch onto them and block gene expression.
In one of the mouse models used in the study, ALS develops
|Contact: Gina Bericchia|
Nationwide Children's Hospital