The mission of the University of Massachusetts Senator Paul D. Wellstone Muscular Dystrophy Cooperative Research Center for FSHD is to further our understanding of the underlying molecular, genetic and epigenetic pathologies of facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) and to translate this basic understanding into the clinic through development of FSHD therapeutics. This collection showcases journal articles and other publications produced by researchers in the UMass Wellstone Center for FSHD.

Recently Published

  • Outcome Measures in Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy Clinical Trials

    Ghasemi, Mehdi; Emerson, Charles P. Jr.; Hayward, Lawrence J. (2022-02-16)
    Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) is a debilitating muscular dystrophy with a variable age of onset, severity, and progression. While there is still no cure for this disease, progress towards FSHD therapies has accelerated since the underlying mechanism of epigenetic derepression of the double homeobox 4 (DUX4) gene leading to skeletal muscle toxicity was identified. This has facilitated the rapid development of novel therapies to target DUX4 expression and downstream dysregulation that cause muscle degeneration. These discoveries and pre-clinical translational studies have opened new avenues for therapies that await evaluation in clinical trials. As the field anticipates more FSHD trials, the need has grown for more reliable and quantifiable outcome measures of muscle function, both for early phase and phase II and III trials. Advanced tools that facilitate longitudinal clinical assessment will greatly improve the potential of trials to identify therapeutics that successfully ameliorate disease progression or permit muscle functional recovery. Here, we discuss current and emerging FSHD outcome measures and the challenges that investigators may experience in applying such measures to FSHD clinical trial design and implementation.
  • iMyoblasts for ex vivo and in vivo investigations of human myogenesis and disease modeling

    Guo, Dongsheng; Daman, Katelyn; Chen, Jennifer Jc; Shi, Meng-Jiao; Yan, Jing; Matijasevic, Zdenka; Maehr, Rene; King, Oliver D.; Hayward, Lawrence J.; Emerson, Charles P. Jr. (2022-01-25)
    Skeletal muscle myoblasts (iMyoblasts) were generated from human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) using an efficient and reliable transgene-free induction and stem cell selection protocol. Immunofluorescence, flow cytometry, qPCR, digital RNA expression profiling, and scRNA-Seq studies identify iMyoblasts as a PAX3+/MYOD1+ skeletal myogenic lineage with a fetal-like transcriptome signature, distinct from adult muscle biopsy myoblasts (bMyoblasts) and iPSC-induced muscle progenitors. iMyoblasts can be stably propagated for > 12 passages or 30 population doublings while retaining their dual commitment for myotube differentiation and regeneration of reserve cells. iMyoblasts also efficiently xenoengrafted into irradiated and injured mouse muscle where they undergo differentiation and fetal-adult MYH isoform switching, demonstrating their regulatory plasticity for adult muscle maturation in response to signals in the host muscle. Xenograft muscle retains PAX3+ muscle progenitors and can regenerate human muscle in response to secondary injury. As models of disease, iMyoblasts from individuals with Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy revealed a previously unknown epigenetic regulatory mechanism controlling developmental expression of the pathological DUX4 gene. iMyoblasts from Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy R7 and R9 and Walker Warburg Syndrome patients modeled their molecular disease pathologies and were responsive to small molecule and gene editing therapeutics. These findings establish the utility of iMyoblasts for ex vivo and in vivo investigations of human myogenesis and disease pathogenesis and for the development of muscle stem cell therapeutics.
  • Meeting report: the 2021 FSHD International Research Congress

    Jagannathan, Sujatha; de Greef, Jessica C.; Hayward, Lawrence J.; Yokomori, Kyoko; Gabellini, Davide; Mul, Karlien; Sacconi, Sabrina; Arjomand, Jamshid; Kinoshita, June; Harper, Scott Q. (2022-01-17)
    Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) is the second most common genetic myopathy, characterized by slowly progressing and highly heterogeneous muscle wasting with a typical onset in the late teens/early adulthood [1]. Although the etiology of the disease for both FSHD type 1 and type 2 has been attributed to gain-of-toxic function stemming from aberrant DUX4 expression, the exact pathogenic mechanisms involved in muscle wasting have yet to be elucidated [2-4]. The 2021 FSHD International Research Congress, held virtually on June 24-25, convened over 350 researchers and clinicians to share the most recent advances in the understanding of the disease mechanism, discuss the proliferation of interventional strategies and refinement of clinical outcome measures, including results from the ReDUX4 trial, a phase 2b clinical trial of losmapimod in FSHD [NCT04003974].
  • p38 MAPKs - roles in skeletal muscle physiology, disease mechanisms, and as potential therapeutic targets

    Brennan, Christopher M.; Emerson, Charles P. Jr.; Owens, Jane; Christoforou, Nicolas (2021-06-22)
    p38 MAPKs play a central role in orchestrating the cellular response to stress and inflammation and in the regulation of myogenesis. Potent inhibitors of p38 MAPKs have been pursued as potential therapies for several disease indications due to their antiinflammatory properties, although none have been approved to date. Here, we provide a brief overview of p38 MAPKs, including their role in regulating myogenesis and their association with disease progression. Finally, we discuss targeting p38 MAPKs as a therapeutic approach for treating facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy and other muscular dystrophies by addressing multiple pathological mechanisms in skeletal muscle.
  • A meta-analysis of brain DNA methylation across sex, age and Alzheimer’s disease points for accelerated epigenetic aging in neurodegeneration [preprint]

    Pellegrini, C.; Fernandes Durso, Danielle; Bacalini, Maria Giulia (2020-12-02)
    Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is characterized by specific alterations of brain DNA methylation (DNAm) patterns. Age and sex, two major risk factors for AD, are also known to largely affect the epigenetic profiles in the brain, but their contribution to AD-associated DNAm changes has been poorly investigated. In this study we considered publicly available DNAm datasets of 4 brain regions (temporal, frontal, entorhinal cortex and cerebellum) from healthy adult subjects and AD patients, and performed a meta-analysis to identify sex-, age- and AD-associated epigenetic profiles. We showed that DNAm differences between males and females tend to be shared between the 4 brain regions, while aging differently affects cortical regions compared to cerebellum. We found that the proportion of sex-dependent probes whose methylation changes also during aging is higher than expected, but that differences between males and females tend to be maintained, with only few probes showing sex-by-age interaction. We did not find significant overlaps between AD- and sex-associated probes, nor disease-by-sex interaction effects. On the contrary, we found that AD-related epigenetic modifications are significantly enriched in probes whose DNAm changes with age and that there is a high concordance between the direction of changes (hyper or hypo-methylation) in aging and AD, supporting accelerated epigenetic aging in the disease. In conclusion, we demonstrated that age-associated, but not sex-associated DNAm concurs to the epigenetic deregulation observed in AD, providing new insight on how advanced age enables neurodegeneration.
  • Salivary metabolite levels in perinatally HIV-infected youth with periodontal disease

    Schulte, Fabian; King, Oliver D.; Paster, Bruce J.; Moscicki, Anna-Barbara; Yao, Tzy-Jyun; Van Dyke, Russell B.; Shiboski, Caroline; Ryder, Mark; Seage, George; Hardt, Markus (2020-09-11)
    INTRODUCTION: Salivary metabolite profiles are altered in adults with HIV compared to their uninfected counterparts. Less is known about youth with HIV and how oral disorders that commonly accompany HIV infection impact salivary metabolite levels. OBJECTIVE: As part of the Adolescent Master Protocol multi-site cohort study of the Pediatric HIV/AIDS Cohort Study (PHACS) network we compared the salivary metabolome of youth with perinatally-acquired HIV (PHIV) and youth HIV-exposed, but uninfected (PHEU) and determined whether metabolites differ in PHIV versus PHEU. METHODS: We used three complementary targeted and discovery-based liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) workflows to characterize salivary metabolite levels in 20 PHIV and 20 PHEU youth with and without moderate periodontitis. We examined main effects associated with PHIV and periodontal disease, and the interaction between them. RESULTS: We did not identify differences in salivary metabolite profiles that remained significant under stringent control for both multiple between-group comparisons and multiple metabolites. Levels of cadaverine, a known periodontitis-associated metabolite, were more abundant in individuals with periodontal disease with the difference being more pronounced in PHEU than PHIV. In the discovery-based dataset, we identified a total of 564 endogenous peptides in the metabolite extracts, showing that proteolytic processing and amino acid metabolism are important to consider in the context of HIV infection. CONCLUSION: The salivary metabolite profiles of PHIV and PHEU youth were overall very similar. Individuals with periodontitis particularly among the PHEU youth had higher levels of cadaverine, suggesting that HIV infection, or its treatment, may influence the metabolism of oral bacteria.
  • Applying genome-wide CRISPR-Cas9 screens for therapeutic discovery in facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy

    Lek, Angela; DeSimone, Alec; King, Oliver D.; Kunkel, Louis M. (2020-03-25)
    The emergence of CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technologies and genome-wide CRISPR-Cas9 libraries enables efficient unbiased genetic screening that can accelerate the process of therapeutic discovery for genetic disorders. Here, we demonstrate the utility of a genome-wide CRISPR-Cas9 loss-of-function library to identify therapeutic targets for facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD), a genetically complex type of muscular dystrophy for which there is currently no treatment. In FSHD, both genetic and epigenetic changes lead to misexpression of DUX4, the FSHD causal gene that encodes the highly cytotoxic DUX4 protein. We performed a genome-wide CRISPR-Cas9 screen to identify genes whose loss-of-function conferred survival when DUX4 was expressed in muscle cells. Genes emerging from our screen illuminated a pathogenic link to the cellular hypoxia response, which was revealed to be the main driver of DUX4-induced cell death. Application of hypoxia signaling inhibitors resulted in increased DUX4 protein turnover and subsequent reduction of the cellular hypoxia response and cell death. In addition, these compounds proved successful in reducing FSHD disease biomarkers in patient myogenic lines, as well as improving structural and functional properties in two zebrafish models of FSHD. Our genome-wide perturbation of pathways affecting DUX4 expression has provided insight into key drivers of DUX4-induced pathogenesis and has identified existing compounds with potential therapeutic benefit for FSHD. Our experimental approach presents an accelerated paradigm toward mechanistic understanding and therapeutic discovery of a complex genetic disease, which may be translatable to other diseases with well-established phenotypic selection assays.
  • Identification of the hyaluronic acid pathway as a therapeutic target for facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy

    DeSimone, Alec M.; Leszyk, John D.; Wagner, Kathryn; Emerson, Charles P. Jr. (2019-12-18)
    Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) is linked to epigenetic derepression of the germline/embryonic transcription factor DUX4 in skeletal muscle. However, the etiology of muscle pathology is not fully understood, as DUX4 misexpression is not tightly correlated with disease severity. Using a DUX4-inducible cell model, we show that multiple DUX4-induced molecular pathologies that have been observed in patient-derived disease models are mediated by the signaling molecule hyaluronic acid (HA), which accumulates following DUX4 induction. These pathologies include formation of RNA granules, FUS aggregation, DNA damage, caspase activation, and cell death. We also observe previously unidentified pathologies including mislocalization of mitochondria and the DUX4- and HA-binding protein C1QBP. These pathologies are prevented by 4-methylumbelliferone, an inhibitor of HA biosynthesis. Critically, 4-methylumbelliferone does not disrupt DUX4-C1QBP binding and has only a limited effect on DUX4 transcriptional activity, establishing that HA signaling has a central function in pathology and is a target for FSHD therapeutics.
  • Precise therapeutic gene correction by a simple nuclease-induced double-stranded break

    Iyer, Sukanya; Suresh, Sneha; Guo, Dongsheng; Daman, Katelyn; Chen, Jennifer C. J.; Zieger, Marina; Luk, Kevin; Roscoe, Benjamin P.; Mueller, Christian; King, Oliver D.; et al. (2019-04-03)
    Current programmable nuclease-based methods (for example, CRISPR-Cas9) for the precise correction of a disease-causing genetic mutation harness the homology-directed repair pathway. However, this repair process requires the co-delivery of an exogenous DNA donor to recode the sequence and can be inefficient in many cell types. Here we show that disease-causing frameshift mutations that result from microduplications can be efficiently reverted to the wild-type sequence simply by generating a DNA double-stranded break near the centre of the duplication. We demonstrate this in patient-derived cell lines for two diseases: limb-girdle muscular dystrophy type 2G (LGMD2G)(1) and Hermansky-Pudlak syndrome type 1 (HPS1)(2). Clonal analysis of inducible pluripotent stem (iPS) cells from the LGMD2G cell line, which contains a mutation in TCAP, treated with the Streptococcus pyogenes Cas9 (SpCas9) nuclease revealed that about 80% contained at least one wild-type TCAP allele; this correction also restored TCAP expression in LGMD2G iPS cell-derived myotubes. SpCas9 also efficiently corrected the genotype of an HPS1 patient-derived B-lymphoblastoid cell line. Inhibition of polyADP-ribose polymerase 1 (PARP-1) suppressed the nuclease-mediated collapse of the microduplication to the wild-type sequence, confirming that precise correction is mediated by the microhomology-mediated end joining (MMEJ) pathway. Analysis of editing by SpCas9 and Lachnospiraceae bacterium ND2006 Cas12a (LbCas12a) at non-pathogenic 4-36-base-pair microduplications within the genome indicates that the correction strategy is broadly applicable to a wide range of microduplication lengths and can be initiated by a variety of nucleases. The simplicity, reliability and efficacy of this MMEJ-based therapeutic strategy should permit the development of nuclease-based gene correction therapies for a variety of diseases that are associated with microduplications.
  • Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy

    DeSimone, Alec M.; Pakula, Anna; Lek, Angela; Emerson, Charles P. Jr. (2017-09-12)
    Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy is a common form of muscular dystrophy that presents clinically with progressive weakness of the facial, scapular, and humeral muscles, with later involvement of the trunk and lower extremities. While typically inherited as autosomal dominant, facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) has a complex genetic and epigenetic etiology that has only recently been well described. The most prevalent form of the disease, FSHD1, is associated with the contraction of the D4Z4 microsatellite repeat array located on a permissive 4qA chromosome. D4Z4 contraction allows epigenetic derepression of the array, and possibly the surrounding 4q35 region, allowing misexpression of the toxic DUX4 transcription factor encoded within the terminal D4Z4 repeat in skeletal muscles. The less common form of the disease, FSHD2, results from haploinsufficiency of the SMCHD1 gene in individuals carrying a permissive 4qA allele, also leading to the derepression of DUX4, further supporting a central role for DUX4. How DUX4 misexpression contributes to FSHD muscle pathology is a major focus of current investigation. Misexpression of other genes at the 4q35 locus, including FRG1 and FAT1, and unlinked genes, such as SMCHD1, has also been implicated as disease modifiers, leading to several competing disease models. In this review, we describe recent advances in understanding the pathophysiology of FSHD, including the application of MRI as a research and diagnostic tool, the genetic and epigenetic disruptions associated with the disease, and the molecular basis of FSHD. We discuss how these advances are leading to the emergence of new approaches to enable development of FSHD therapeutics.
  • CRISPR/Cas9-mediated genome editing induces exon skipping by alternative splicing or exon deletion

    Mou, Haiwei; Smith, Jordan L.; Peng, Lingtao; Moore, Jill; Zhang, Xiao-Ou; Song, Chun-Qing; Sheel, Ankur; Ozata, Deniz M.; Li, Yingxiang; Emerson, Charles P. Jr.; et al. (2017-06-14)
    CRISPR is widely used to disrupt gene function by inducing small insertions and deletions. Here, we show that some single-guide RNAs (sgRNAs) can induce exon skipping or large genomic deletions that delete exons. For example, CRISPR-mediated editing of beta-catenin exon 3, which encodes an autoinhibitory domain, induces partial skipping of the in-frame exon and nuclear accumulation of beta-catenin. A single sgRNA can induce small insertions or deletions that partially alter splicing or unexpected larger deletions that remove exons. Exon skipping adds to the unexpected outcomes that must be accounted for, and perhaps taken advantage of, in CRISPR experiments.
  • C1QBP Inhibits DUX4-Dependent Gene Activation and Can Be Targeted with 4MU

    DeSimone, Alec M.; Bibat, Genila; Wagner, Kathryn; Stadler, Guido; Wright, Woodring E.; Leszyk, John D.; Emerson, Charles P. Jr. (2017-05-16)
    FSHD is linked to the misexpression of the DUX4 gene contained within the D4Z4 repeat array on chromosome 4. The gene encodes the DUX4 protein, a cytotoxic transcription factor that presumably causes the symptoms of the disease. However, individuals have been identified who express DUX4 in their muscle biopsies, but who remain asymptomatic, suggesting that there are other factors that modify FSHD penetrance or severity. We hypothesized that an FSHD-modifying factor would physically interact with DUX4, and we took a proteomic approach to identify DUX4-interacting proteins. We identified the multifunctional C1QBP protein as one such factor. C1QBP is known to regulate several processes that DUX4 affects, including gene expression, oxidative stress, apoptosis, and pre-mRNA splicing. We used siC1QBP knockdown assays to determine if C1QBP affects DUX4 activity. While C1QBP had little effect on DUX4 activity in myotubes, we found that it inhibits the kinetics of DUX4-target gene activation during myogenic differentiation. This identifies C1QBP as a regulator of DUX4 activity and a potential target for FSHD therapeutics. Importantly, C1QBP is regulated by binding to the signaling molecule hyaluronic acid (HA). Decreasing HA by treating cells with 4-methylumbelliferone (4MU), an inhibitor of HA synthesis, resulted in a sharp decline in DUX4 activity and also greatly reduced its cytotoxicity. We have found that DUX4-induced cytotoxicity is associated with severe mislocalizaton of C1QBP, which is prevented by 4MU. This defect is not a downstream result of DUX4-induced oxidative stress, as it could not be prevented by treating cells with an antioxidant, nor could it be recapitulated by exposing cells to oxidants. This identifies C1QBP as a target for the treatment of FSHD, and in particular indicates that 4MU, already an approved drug in Europe and currently under investigation for other indications, may be an effective C1QBP-targeting FSHD therapeutic compound.
  • Antisense Oligonucleotides Used to Target the DUX4 mRNA as Therapeutic Approaches in FaciosScapuloHumeral Muscular Dystrophy (FSHD)

    Ansseau, Eugenie; Vanderplanck, Celine; Wauters, Armelle; Harper, Scott Q.; Coppee, Frederique; Belayew, Alexandra (2017-03-03)
    FacioScapuloHumeral muscular Dystrophy (FSHD) is one of the most prevalent hereditary myopathies and is generally characterized by progressive muscle atrophy affecting the face, scapular fixators; upper arms and distal lower legs. The FSHD locus maps to a macrosatellite D4Z4 repeat array on chromosome 4q35. Each D4Z4 unit contains a DUX4 gene; the most distal of which is flanked by a polyadenylation site on FSHD-permissive alleles, which allows for production of stable DUX4 mRNAs. In addition, an open chromatin structure is required for DUX4 gene transcription. FSHD thus results from a gain of function of the toxic DUX4 protein that normally is only expressed in germ line and stem cells. Therapeutic strategies are emerging that aim to decrease DUX4 expression or toxicity in FSHD muscle cells. We review here the heterogeneity of DUX4 mRNAs observed in muscle and stem cells; and the use of antisense oligonucleotides (AOs) targeting the DUX4 mRNA to interfere either with transcript cleavage/polyadenylation or intron splicing. We show in primary cultures that DUX4-targeted AOs suppress the atrophic FSHD myotube phenotype; but do not improve the disorganized FSHD myotube phenotype which could be caused by DUX4c over-expression. Thus; DUX4c might constitute another therapeutic target in FSHD.
  • Validity of the 6 minute walk test in facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy

    Eichinger, Katy; Heatwole, Chad; Heininger, Susanne; Stinson, Nikia; Matichak Stock, Carly; Grosmann, Carla; Wagner, Kathryn R.; Tawil, Rabi; Statland, Jeffrey M.; FSHD Clinical Trials Research Network (2017-03-01)
    INTRODUCTION: In preparation for future clinical trials, we determined the reliability, relationship to measures of disease severity, and consistency across sites of the 6 Minute Walk Test (6MWT) in patients with facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD). METHODS: Genetically defined and clinically affected FSHD participants at 2 sites performed the 6MWT, the Timed Up and Go, and the 30 foot Go/Timed 10 meter test as measures of mobility using standard procedures. RESULTS: Eight-six participants representing the full range of severity performed the 6MWT. The mean 6MWT distance was 404.3 meters (SD 123.9), with no difference between sites. The 6MWT was reliable (n = 25; intraclass correlation coefficient = 0.99) and demonstrated moderate to strong correlations with lower extremity strength, functional outcomes, and FSHD Clinical Score. CONCLUSIONS: The 6MWT is reliable and is associated with other measures of FSHD disease severity. Future directions include assessing its sensitivity to disease progression. .
  • Bone Health in Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy: A Cross-Sectional Study

    Chagarlamudi, Hema; Corbett, Alastair; Stoll, Marion; Bibat, Genila; Grosmann, Carla; Stock, Carly Matichak; Stinson, Nikia; Shapiro, Jay; Wagner, Kathryn (2017-02-18)
    INTRODUCTION: We provide a comprehensive overview of bone health in facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD). METHODS: Ninety-four adult individuals with FSHD1 from two sites were included in this cross-sectional study. Clinical characteristics and determinants of bone health were examined. Relationships between bone mineral density (BMD), strength and function were explored. RESULTS: Nearly a third of subjects were deficient in vitamin D3. Mean whole body BMD z-score was -0.7; 11% had greater than age-related reductions in whole body BMD (z-score < -2.0). Whole body and regional BMD were associated with strength and function. Thirty-six percent had a history of fractures. Likelihood for fractures was reduced for those with normal whole body BMD (OR=0.25, 95% CI: 0.04-0.78). DISCUSSION: A diagnosis of FSHD is not necessarily predictive of reduced BMD or increased fracture rate. Given the considerable variability of bone health in the FSHD population, strength and function can serve as predictors of BMD. This article is protected by copyright.
  • Mouse Dux is myotoxic and shares partial functional homology with its human paralog DUX4

    Eidahl, Jocelyn O.; Giesige, Carlee R.; Domire, Jacqueline S.; Wallace, Lindsay M.; Fowler, Allison M.; Guckes, Susan M.; Garwick-Coppens, Sara E.; Labhart, Paul; Harper, Scott Q. (2016-10-15)
    D4Z4 repeats are present in at least 11 different mammalian species, including humans and mice. Each repeat contains an open reading frame encoding a double homeodomain (DUX) family transcription factor. Aberrant expression of the D4Z4 ORF called DUX4 is associated with the pathogenesis of Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD). DUX4 is toxic to numerous cell types of different species, and over-expression caused dysmorphism and developmental arrest in frogs and zebrafish, embryonic lethality in transgenic mice, and lesions in mouse muscle. Because DUX4 is a primate-specific gene, questions have been raised about the biological relevance of over-expressing it in non-primate models, as DUX4 toxicity could be related to non-specific cellular stress induced by over-expressing a DUX family transcription factor in organisms that did not co-evolve its regulated transcriptional networks. We assessed toxic phenotypes of DUX family genes, including DUX4, DUX1, DUX5, DUXA, DUX4-s, Dux-bl and mouse Dux. We found that DUX proteins were not universally toxic, and only the mouse Dux gene caused similar toxic phenotypes as human DUX4. Using RNA-seq, we found that 80% of genes upregulated by Dux were similarly increased in DUX4-expressing cells. Moreover, 43% of Dux-responsive genes contained ChIP-seq binding sites for both Dux and DUX4, and both proteins had similar consensus binding site sequences. These results suggested DUX4 and Dux may regulate some common pathways, and despite diverging from a common progenitor under different selective pressures for millions of years, the two genes maintain partial functional homology.
  • Muscle dysfunction in a zebrafish model of Duchenne muscular dystrophy

    Widrick, Jeffrey J.; Alexander, Matthew; Sanchez, Benjamin; Gibbs, Devin; Kawahara, Genri; Beggs, Alan; Kunkel, Louis (2016-10-07)
    Sapje zebrafish lack the protein dystrophin and are the smallest vertebrate model of Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). Their small size makes them ideal for large-scale drug discovery screens. However, the extent that sapje mimic the muscle dysfunction of higher vertebrate models of DMD is unclear. We used an optical birefringence assay to differentiate affected dystrophic sapje larvae from their unaffected siblings and then studied trunk muscle contractility at 4-7 days post fertilization. Preparation cross-sectional area (CSA) was similar for affected and unaffected larvae, yet tetanic forces of affected preparations were only 30-60% of normal. ANCOVA indicated that the linear relationship observed between tetanic force and CSA for unaffected preparations was absent in the affected population. Consequently, the average force/CSA of affected larvae was depressed 30-70%. Disproportionate reductions in twitch vs. tetanic force, and a slowing of twitch tension development and relaxation, indicated that the myofibrillar disorganization evident in the birefringence assay could not explain the entire force loss. Single eccentric contractions, in which activated preparations were lengthened 5-10%, resulted in tetanic force deficits in both groups of larvae. However, deficits of affected preparations were 3 to 5-fold greater at all strains and ages, even after accounting for any recovery. Based on these functional assessments, we conclude that the sapje mutant zebrafish is a phenotypically severe model of DMD. The severe contractile deficits of sapje larvae represent novel physiological endpoints for therapeutic drug screening.
  • Morpholino-mediated Knockdown of DUX4 Toward Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy Therapeutics

    Chen, Jennifer C. J.; King, Oliver D.; Zhang, Yuanfan; Clayton, Nicholas P.; Spencer, Carrie; Wentworth, Bruce M.; Emerson, Charles P. Jr.; Wagner, Kathryn R. (2016-08-01)
    Derepression of DUX4 in skeletal muscle has emerged as a likely cause of pathology in facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD). Here we report on the use of antisense phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligonucleotides to suppress DUX4 expression and function in FSHD myotubes and xenografts. The most effective was phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligonucleotide FM10, which targets the polyadenylation signal of DUX4. FM10 had no significant cell toxicity, and RNA-seq analyses of FSHD and control myotubes revealed that FM10 down-regulated many transcriptional targets of DUX4, without overt off-target effects. Electroporation of FM10 into FSHD patient muscle xenografts in mice also down-regulated DUX4 and DUX4 targets. These findings demonstrate the potential of antisense phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligonucleotides as an FSHD therapeutic option.
  • Homologous Transcription Factors DUX4 and DUX4c Associate with Cytoplasmic Proteins during Muscle Differentiation

    Ansseau, Eugenie; Eidahl, Jocelyn O.; Lancelot, Celine; Tassin, Alexandra; Matteotti, Christel; Yip, Cassandre; Liu, Jian; Leroy, Baptiste; Hubeau, Celine; Gerbaux, Cecile; et al. (2016-01-27)
    Hundreds of double homeobox (DUX) genes map within 3.3-kb repeated elements dispersed in the human genome and encode DNA-binding proteins. Among these, we identified DUX4, a potent transcription factor that causes facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD). In the present study, we performed yeast two-hybrid screens and protein co-purifications with HaloTag-DUX fusions or GST-DUX4 pull-down to identify protein partners of DUX4, DUX4c (which is identical to DUX4 except for the end of the carboxyl terminal domain) and DUX1 (which is limited to the double homeodomain). Unexpectedly, we identified and validated (by co-immunoprecipitation, GST pull-down, co-immunofluorescence and in situ Proximal Ligation Assay) the interaction of DUX4, DUX4c and DUX1 with type III intermediate filament protein desmin in the cytoplasm and at the nuclear periphery. Desmin filaments link adjacent sarcomere at the Z-discs, connect them to sarcolemma proteins and interact with mitochondria. These intermediate filament also contact the nuclear lamina and contribute to positioning of the nuclei. Another Z-disc protein, LMCD1 that contains a LIM domain was also validated as a DUX4 partner. The functionality of DUX4 or DUX4c interactions with cytoplasmic proteins is underscored by the cytoplasmic detection of DUX4/DUX4c upon myoblast fusion. In addition, we identified and validated (by co-immunoprecipitation, co-immunofluorescence and in situ Proximal Ligation Assay) as DUX4/4c partners several RNA-binding proteins such as C1QBP, SRSF9, RBM3, FUS/TLS and SFPQ that are involved in mRNA splicing and translation. FUS and SFPQ are nuclear proteins, however their cytoplasmic translocation was reported in neuronal cells where they associated with ribonucleoparticles (RNPs). Several other validated or identified DUX4/DUX4c partners are also contained in mRNP granules, and the co-localizations with cytoplasmic DAPI-positive spots is in keeping with such an association. Large muscle RNPs were recently shown to exit the nucleus via a novel mechanism of nuclear envelope budding. Following DUX4 or DUX4c overexpression in muscle cell cultures, we observed their association with similar nuclear buds. In conclusion, our study demonstrated unexpected interactions of DUX4/4c with cytoplasmic proteins playing major roles during muscle differentiation. Further investigations are on-going to evaluate whether these interactions play roles during muscle regeneration as previously suggested for DUX4c.
  • Howard Holtzer -- developmental and cell biologist 1922-2014

    Stockdale, Frank E.; Sanger, Joseph W.; Emerson, Charles P. Jr. (2015-05-15)
    Few developmental biologists have had as great an impact on the conceptual thinking of those in their field as Dr. Howard Holtzer.

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