Dystrophin in C. elegans

Mutations in the human dystrophin gene cause Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a common neuromuscular disease leading to a progressive necrosis of muscle cells. The etiology of this necrosis has not been clearly established, and the cellular function of the dystrophin protein is still unknown. This study reports the identification of a dystrophin-like gene (named dys-1) in the nematode C. elegans. Loss-of-function mutations of the dys-1 gene make animals hyperactive and slightly hypercontracted. Surprisingly, the dys-1 mutants have apparently normal muscle cells. Based on reporter gene analysis and heterologous promoter expression, the site of action of the dys-1 gene seems to be in muscles. A chimeric transgene in which the C-terminal end of the protein has been replaced by the human dystrophin sequence is able to partly suppress the phenotype of the dys-1 mutants, showing that both proteins share some functional similarity. Finally, the dys-1 mutants are hypersensitive to acetylcholine and to the acetylcholinesterase inhibitor aldicarb, suggesting that dys-1 mutations affect cholinergic transmission. This study provides the first functional link between the dystrophin family of proteins and cholinergic transmission (Bessou, 1998).

Mutations of the C. elegans dystrophin/utrophin-like dys-1 gene lead to hyperactivity and hypercontraction of the animals. In addition dys-1 mutants are hypersensitive to acetylcholine and acetylcholinesterase inhibitors. This phenotype was investigated by assaying acetylcholinesterase activity. Total extracts from three different dys-1 alleles showed significantly less acetylcholinesterase-specific activity than wild-type controls. In addition, double mutants carrying a mutation in the dys-1 gene plus a mutation in either of the two major acetylcholinesterase genes (ace-1 and ace-2) display locomotor defects consistent with a strong reduction of acetylcholinesterases, whereas none of the single mutants does. Therefore, in C. elegans, disruption of the dystrophin/utrophin-like dys-1 gene affects acetylcholinesterase activity (Giugia, 1999).

Dystrophin is the product of the gene that is mutated in Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), a progressive neuromuscular disease for which no treatment is available. Mice carrying a mutation in the gene for dystrophin (mdx mice) display only a mild phenotype, but it is aggravated when combined with a mutation in the MyoD gene. The nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans has a dystrophin homologue (dys-1), but null mutations in dys-1 do not result in muscle degeneration. Worms have been generated carrying both the dys-1 null mutation cx18, and a weak mutation, cc561ts, of the C. elegans MyoD homologue hlh-1. The double mutants displayed a time-dependent impairment of locomotion and egg laying, a phenotype not seen in the single mutants, and extensive muscle degeneration. This result allowed a search for genes that, when misexpressed, could suppress the dys-1; hlh-1 phenotype. When overexpressed, the dyc-1 gene - whose loss-of-function phenotype resembles that of dys-1 - partially suppressed the dys-1; hlh-1 phenotype. The dyc-1 gene encodes a novel protein sharing similarities with the mammalian neural nitric oxide synthase (nNOS)-binding protein CAPON, and is expressed in the muscles of the worm. As a C. elegans model for dystrophin-dependent myopathy, the dys-1; hlh-1 worms should permit the identification of genes, and ultimately drugs, that would reverse the muscle degeneration in this model (Gieseler, 2000).

Dystrobrevins are protein components of the dystrophin complex, whose disruption leads to Duchenne muscular dystrophy and related diseases. The C. elegans dystrobrevin gene (dyb-1) encodes a protein 38 % identical with its mammalian counterparts. The C. elegans dystrobrevin is expressed in muscles and neurons. C. elegans dyb-1 mutants have been characterized and the following has been demonstrated: (1) their behavioural phenotype resembles that of dystrophin (dys-1) mutants; (2) the phenotype of dyb-1; dys-1 double mutants is not different from the single ones; (3) dyb-1 mutants are more sensitive than wild-type animals to reductions of acetylcholinesterase levels and have an increased response to acetylcholine; (4) dyb-1 mutations alone do not lead to muscle degeneration, but synergistically produce a progressive myopathy when combined with a mild MyoD/hlh-1 mutation. Together, these findings further substantiate the role of dystrobrevins in cholinergic transmission and as functional partners of dystrophin (Gieseler, 2001).

The nematode C. elegans possesses one dystrophin-like (dys-1) and one dystrobrevin-like (dyb-1) gene. Mutations of dyb-1 and dys-1 lead to similar phenotypes, comprising hyperactivity and a tendency to hypercontract, which suggest that these proteins may participate in a common function. Overexpression of the Dyb-1 protein delays the onset of the myopathy observed in the C. elegans double mutant (dys-1; hlh-1 mutations). This finding indicates that, in C. elegans, (1) the absence of dystrophin can be partly compensated for by extra doses of dystrobrevin, and (2) dystrobrevin is partly functional in absence of dystrophin (Gieseler, 2002).

Since C. elegans possesses a dystrophin-like gene (dys-1), whether homologues of the DGC members could also be found in the C. elegans genome was investigated. Conserved homologues were found for dystroglycan, delta/gamma-sarcoglycan and syntrophin. Divergent but related proteins were found for alpha- and beta-sarcoglycans. No sarcospan counterpart was found. The expression of the conserved homologues was inactivated using the RNA interference technique. Phenotypes similar to that of dys-1 were obtained, both in the wild-type background and in combination with other mutations. These results strongly suggest that a protein complex comprising functional analogies with the DGC exists in C. elegans (Grisoni, 2002).

Syntrophins are a family of PDZ domain-containing adaptor proteins required for receptor localization. Syntrophins are also associated with the dystrophin complex in muscles. This study reports the molecular and functional characterization of the Caenorhabditis elegans gene stn-1 (F30A10.8), which encodes a syntrophin with homology to vertebrate alpha and beta-syntrophins. stn-1 is expressed in neurons and in muscles of C.elegans. stn-1 mutants resemble dystrophin (dys-1) and dystrobrevin (dyb-1) mutants: they are hyperactive, bend their heads when they move forward, tend to hypercontract, and are hypersensitive to the acetylcholinesterase inhibitor aldicarb. These phenotypes are suppressed when stn-1 is expressed under the control of a muscular promoter, indicating that they are caused by the absence of stn-1 in muscles. These results suggest that the role of syntrophin is linked to dystrophin function in C. elegans (Grisoni, 2003).

Muscular dystrophies are among the most common human genetic diseases and are characterized by progressive muscle degeneration. Muscular dystrophies result from genetic defects in components of the dystrophin-glycoprotein complex (DGC), a multimeric complex found in the muscle cell plasma membrane. The DGC links the intracellular cytoskeleton to the extracellular matrix and is thought to be important for maintaining the mechanical integrity of muscles and organizing signalling molecules. The exact role of the DGC in the pathogenesis of disease has, however, remained uncertain. Mutations in C. elegans DGC genes lead to specific defects in coordinated movement and can also cause muscle degeneration. Mutations in the gene snf-6 result in phenotypes indistinguishable from those of the DGC mutants, and snf-6 encodes a novel acetylcholine/choline transporter. SNF-6 mediates the uptake of acetylcholine at neuromuscular junctions during periods of increased synaptic activity. SNF-6 also interacts with the DGC, and mutations in DGC genes cause a loss of SNF-6 at neuromuscular junctions. Improper clearing of acetylcholine and prolonged excitation of muscles might contribute to the pathogenesis of muscular dystrophies (Kim, 2004).

The Caenorhabditis elegans SLO-1 channel belongs to the family of calcium-activated large conductance BK potassium channels. SLO-1 has been shown to be involved in neurotransmitter release and ethanol response. SLO-1 also has a critical role in muscles. Inactivation of the slo-1 gene in muscles leads to phenotypes similar to those caused by mutations of the dystrophin homologue dys-1. Notably, slo-1 mutations result in a progressive muscle degeneration when put into a sensitized genetic background. slo-1 localization was observed by gfp reporter gene in both the M-line and the dense bodies (Z line) of the C. elegans body-wall muscles. Using the inside-out configuration of the patch clamp technique on body-wall muscle cells of acutely dissected wild-type worms, a Ca2+-activated K+ channel was characterized that was identified unambiguously as SLO-1. Since neither the abundance nor the conductance of SLO-1 was changed significantly in dys-1 mutants compared to wild-type animals, it is likely that the inactivation of dys-1 causes a misregulation of SLO-1. All in all, these results indicate that SLO-1 function in C. elegans muscles is related to the dystrophin homologue DYS-1 (Carre-Pierrat, 2006).

The C. elegans dystroglycan (DG) homolog DGN-1 is expressed in epithelia and neurons, and localizes to basement membrane (BM) surfaces. Unlike vertebrate DG, DGN-1 is not expressed in muscle or required for muscle function. dgn-1 null mutants are viable but sterile owing to severe disorganization of the somatic gonad epithelium, and show defects in vulval and excretory cell epithelia and in motoneuron axon guidance. The defects resemble those of epi-1 laminin alphaB mutants, suggesting that DGN-1 serves as a receptor for laminin. dgn-10/+ animals are fertile but show gonad migration defects in addition to the defects seen in homozygotes, indicating that DGN-1 function is dosage sensitive. Phenotypic analyses show that DGN-1 and dystrophin-associated protein complex (DAPC) components have distinct and independent functions, in contrast to the situation in vertebrate muscle. The DAPC-independent functions of DGN-1 in epithelia and neurons suggest that vertebrate DG may also act independently of dystrophin/utrophin in non-muscle tissues (Johnson, 2006).

Phenotype of the Dystrophin-deficient mouse

The absence of dystrophin at the muscle membrane leads to Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), a severe muscle-wasting disease that is inevitably fatal in early adulthood. In contrast, dystrophin-deficient mdx mice appear physically normal despite their underlying muscle pathology. Mice deficient for both dystrophin and the dystrophin-related protein utrophin are described. These mice show many signs typical of DMD in humans: they show severe progressive muscular dystrophy that results in premature death, they have ultrastructural neuromuscular and myotendinous junction abnormalities, and they aberrantly coexpress myosin heavy chain isoforms within a fiber. The data suggest that utrophin and dystrophin have complementing roles in normal functional or developmental pathways in muscle. Detailed study of these mice should provide novel insights into the pathogenesis of DMD and provide an improved model for rapid evaluation of gene therapy strategies (Deconinck, 1997a).

Utrophin is a dystrophin-related cytoskeletal protein expressed in many tissues. It is thought to link F-actin in the internal cytoskeleton to a transmembrane protein complex similar to the dystrophin protein complex (DPC). At the adult neuromuscular junction (NMJ), utrophin is precisely colocalized with acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) and recent studies have suggested a role for utrophin in AChR cluster formation or maintenance during NMJ differentiation. Utrophin expression was disrupted by gene targeting in the mouse. Such mice have no utrophin detectable by Western blotting or immunocytochemistry. Utrophin-deficient mice are healthy and show no signs of weakness. However, their NMJs have reduced numbers of AChRs (alpha-bungarotoxin [alpha-BgTx] binding reduced to approximately 60% normal) and decreased postsynaptic folding, though only minimal electrophysiological changes. Utrophin is thus not essential for AChR clustering at the NMJ but may act as a component of the postsynaptic cytoskeleton, contributing to the development or maintenance of the postsynaptic folds. Defects of utrophin could underlie some forms of congenital myasthenic syndrome in which a reduction of postsynaptic folds is observed (Deconinck, 1997b).

Dystrophin is a cytoskeletal protein of muscle fibers; its loss in humans leads to Duchenne muscular dystrophy, an inevitably fatal wasting of skeletal and cardiac muscle. mdx mice also lack dystrophin, but are only mildly dystrophic. Utrophin, a homolog of dystrophin, is confined to the postsynaptic membrane at skeletal neuromuscular junctions and has been implicated in synaptic development. However, mice lacking utrophin show only subtle neuromuscular defects. This study asks whether the mild phenotypes of the two single mutants reflect compensation between the two proteins. Synaptic development was qualitatively normal in double mutants, but dystrophy was severe and closely resembled that seen in Duchenne. Thus, utrophin attenuates the effects of dystrophin deficiency, and the double mutant may provide a useful model for studies of pathogenesis and therapy (Grady, 1997).

The mdxCv3 mouse is a model for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). DMD is an X-linked disorder with defective expression of the protein dystrophin, and which is associated with a reduced b-wave and has other electroretinogram (ERG) abnormalities. To assess potential causes for the abnormalities, ERGs were recorded from pieces of isolated C57BL/6J and mdxCv3 mouse retinas, including measurements of transretinal and intraretinal potentials. The ERGs from the isolated mdxCv3 retina differ from those of control retinas in that they show reduced b-wave amplitudes and increased b-wave implicit times. Photovoltages obtained by recording across the photoreceptor outer segments of the retinas did not differ from normal, suggesting that the likely causes of the reduced b-wave are localized to the photoreceptor to ON-bipolar synapse. At a concentration of 50 microM, the glutamate analog dl-2-amino-4-phosphonobutyric acid (APB) blocks the b-wave component of the ERG, by binding to sites on the postsynaptic membrane. The On-bipolar cell contribution to the ERG was inferred by extracting the component that was blocked by APB. This component was smaller in amplitude and had longer response latencies in the mdxCv3 mice, but was of similar overall time course. To assess the sensitivity of sites on the postsynaptic membrane to glutamate, the concentration of APB in the media was systematically varied, and the magnitude of blockage of the light response was quantified. It was found that the mdxCv3 retina was 5-fold more sensitive to APB than control retinas. The ability of lower concentrations of APB to block the b-wave in mdxCv3 suggests that the ERG abnormalities may reflect alterations in either glutamate release, the glutamate postsynaptic binding sites, or in other proteins that modulate glutamate function in ON-bipolar cells (Green, 2004).

Duchenne's muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a fatal neuromuscular disease caused by absence of dystrophin. Utrophin is a chromosome 6-encoded dystrophin-related protein (DRP), sharing functional motifs with dystrophin. Utrophin's ability to compensate for dystrophin during development and when transgenically overexpressed has provided an important impetus for identifying activators of utrophin expression. The utrophin promoter A is transcriptionally regulated in part by heregulin-mediated, extracellular signal-related kinase-dependent activation of the GABP(alpha/beta) transcription factor complex. Therefore, this pathway offers a potential mechanism to modulate utrophin expression in muscle. The ability of heregulin to improve the dystrophic phenotype in the mdx mouse model of DMD was tested. Intraperitoneal injections of a small peptide encoding the epidermal growth factor-like region of heregulin ectodomain for 3 months in vivo results in up-regulation of utrophin, a marked improvement in the mechanical properties of muscle as evidenced by resistance to eccentric contraction mediated damage, and a reduction of muscle pathology. The amelioration of dystrophic phenotype by heregulin-mediated utrophin up-regulation offers a pharmacological therapeutic modality and obviates many of the toxicity and delivery issues associated with viral vector-based gene therapy for DMD (Krag, 2004).

Dystrophin mechanically links the costameric cytoskeleton and sarcolemma, yet dystrophin-deficient muscle exhibits abnormalities in cell signaling, gene expression, and contractile function that are not clearly understood. New antibodies specific for cytoplasmic gamma-actin were generated and it was confirmed that gamma-actin most predominantly localizes to the sarcolemma and in a faint reticular lattice within normal muscle cells. However, gamma-actin levels were observed to increase 10-fold at the sarcolemma and within the cytoplasm of striated muscle cells from dystrophin-deficient mdx mice. Transgenic overexpression of the dystrophin homologue utrophin, or functional dystrophin constructs in mdx muscle, restores gamma-actin to normal levels, whereas gamma-actin remains elevated in mdx muscle expressing nonfunctional dystrophin constructs. It is concluded that increased cytoplasmic gamma-actin in dystrophin-deficient muscle may be a compensatory response to fortify the weakened costameric lattice through recruitment of parallel mechanical linkages. However, the presence of excessive myoplasmic gamma-actin may also contribute to altered cell signaling or gene expression in dystrophin-deficient muscle (Hanft, 2006).

Dystrophin deficiency leads to the progressive muscle wasting disease Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). Dystrophin-deficient mdx mice are characterized by skeletal muscle weakness and degeneration but they appear outwardly normal in contrast to DMD patients. Mice lacking both dystrophin and the dystrophin homolog utrophin [double knockout (dko)] have muscle degeneration similar to mdx mice, but they display clinical features similar to DMD patients. Dko limb muscles also lack postsynaptic membrane folding and display fiber-type abnormalities including an abundance of phenotypically oxidative muscle fibers. Extraocular muscles, which are spared in mdx mice, show a significant pathology in dko mice. In this study, microarray analysis was used to characterize gene expression differences between mdx and dko tibialis anterior and extraocular skeletal muscles in an effort to understand the phenotypic differences between these two dystrophic mouse models. Analysis of gene expression differences showed that upregulation of slow muscle genes specifically characterizes dko limb muscle and suggests that upregulation of these genes may directly account for the more severe phenotype of dko mice. To investigate whether any upregulation of slow genes is retained in vitro, independent of postsynaptic membrane abnormalities, mdx and dko primary myogenic cultures were derived and the expression of Myh7 and Myl2 was analyzed. Real-time reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction analysis demonstrates that transcription of these slow genes is also upregulated in dko vs mdx myotubes. This data suggests that at least part of the fiber-type abnormality is due directly to the combined absence of utrophin and dystrophin and is not an indirect effect of the postsynaptic membrane abnormalities (Baker, 2006).

Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a severe disorder caused by mutations in the dystrophin gene. Dystrophin is required for assembly of the dystrophin-glycoprotein complex and provides a mechanically strong link between the cytoskeleton and the extracellular matrix. Several proteins in the complex also participate in signaling cascades, but the relationship between these signaling and mechanical functions in the development of muscular dystrophy is unclear. To explore the mechanisms of myofiber necrosis in dystrophin-deficient muscle, the hypothesis was tested that restoration of this complex without a link to the cytoskeleton ameliorates dystrophic pathology. Transgenic mice were generated that express Dp116, a non-muscle isoform of dystrophin that assembles the dystrophin-glycoprotein complex, in muscles of dystrophin-deficient mdx4cv mice. However, the phenotype of these mice was more severe than in controls. Displacement of utrophin by Dp116 correlated with the severity of dystrophy in different muscle groups. Comparison with other transgenic lines demonstrates that parts of the dystrophin central rod domain are required to localize neuronal nitric oxide synthase to the sarcolemma, but this is not correlated with presence or extent of dystrophy. These results suggest that mechanical destabilization, rather than signaling dysfunction, is the primary cause of myofiber necrosis in dystrophin-deficient muscle (Judge, 2006).

The purpose of this study was to determine whether contractile protein alterations are responsible for force deficits in young dystrophic muscle. Contractility of intact extensor digitorum longus muscles and permeabilized fibers from wild-type (wt), dystrophin-deficient (mdx), and dystrophin/utrophin-deficient (mdx:utrn-/-) mice aged 21 and 35 days was determined. Myosin structural dynamics were assessed by site-directed spin labeling and electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy. The principal finding was that force generation was depressed by approximately 20% in mdx muscles, but fiber Ca(2+)-activated force and myosin structure were not different from wt animals, suggesting that contractile proteins are not responsible for the force deficits in those muscles. For mdx:utrn-/- mice, muscle and fiber forces were approximately 40% lower than wt and the fraction of strong-binding myosin during contraction was reduced by 13%. These data indicate that contractile protein alterations, in addition to myosin dysfunction, cause force deficit in muscles from young mdx:utrn-/- mice. Elucidating the molecular mechanisms underlying muscle weakness at the onset of disease is important for designing treatment strategies (Lowe, 2006).

Brain edema and severe alterations of the glial and endothelial cells have recently been demonstrated in the dystrophin-deficient mdx mouse, an experimental model of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and an increase in microvessel density in patients affected by Duchenne muscular dystrophy has also been shown. In order to further elucidate the mechanisms underlying the angiogenetic processes occurring in Duchenne muscular dystrophy, in this study matrix-metalloproteinase-2 and -9 expression were examined in the brain of 20-month-old mdx mice. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) expression was examined using anti-vascular endothelial growth factor and anti matrix-metalloproteinase-2 and-9 antibodies. High expression of matrix-metalloproteinase-2 and matrix-metalloproteinase-9 protein content occurs in mdx brain and in choroidal plexuses where, by in situ hybridization, matrix-metalloproteinase-2 and matrix-metalloproteinase-9 mRNA was localized in the epithelial cells. Moreover, matrix-metalloproteinase-2 mRNA was found in both mdx perivascular astrocytes and blood vessels, while matrix-metalloproteinase-9 mRNA was localized in mdx vessels. Through zymography, increased expression of matrix-metalloproteinase-2 and matrix-metalloproteinase-9 was found in mdx brain. These enhanced levels were found to be associated with increased VEGF expression and with ultrastructural alterations of the mdx choroidal epithelial cells and brain vessels. Indeed, in the mdx epithelial cells of the plexuses, the apical microvilli were located on the lateral membranes, whereas in the controls they were uniformly distributed over the free ventricular surface. Moreover, a colocalization of VEGF and matrix-metalloproteinase-2 and matrix-metalloproteinase-9 was found in the ependymal and epithelial cells of plexuses in mdx mice, and mdx CD-31 positive vessels were found to be enveloped by less GFAP-positive astrocyte processes than the controls. Overall, these data point to a specific pathogenetic role of matrix-metalloproteinase-2 and matrix-metalloproteinase-9 in neurological dysfunctions associated with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (Nico, 2006).

The dystrophin glycoprotein complex links laminin in the extracellular matrix to the cell cytoskeleton. Loss of dystrophin causes Duchenne muscular dystrophy, the most common human X-chromosome-linked genetic disease. The alpha7beta1 integrin is a second transmembrane laminin receptor expressed in skeletal muscle. Mutations in the alpha7 integrin gene cause congenital myopathy in humans and mice. The alpha7beta1 integrin is increased in the skeletal muscle of Duchenne muscular dystrophy patients and mdx mice. This observation has led to the suggestion that dystrophin and alpha7beta1 integrin have complementary functional and structural roles. To test this hypothesis, mice were generated lacking both dystrophin and alpha7 integrin (mdx/alpha7-/-). The mdx/alpha7-/- mice developed early-onset muscular dystrophy and die at 2-4 weeks of age. Muscle fibers from mdx/alpha7-/- mice exhibit extensive loss of membrane integrity, increased centrally located nuclei and inflammatory cell infiltrate, greater necrosis and increased muscle degeneration compared to mdx or alpha7-integrin null animals. In addition, loss of dystrophin and/or alpha7 integrin results in altered expression of laminin-alpha2 chain. These results point to complementary roles for dystrophin and alpha7beta1 integrin in maintaining the functional integrity of skeletal muscle (Rooney, 2006).

Enzymatic modification of Dystrophins

Calpains are Ca(2+)-dependent cytosolic cysteine proteases that participate in the pathology of Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). Utrophin is a functional homolog of dystrophin that partially compensates for dystrophin deficiency in myofibers of mdx mice. In this study, the susceptibility of utrophin to cleavage by calpain in vitro and in muscle cells was investigated. Utrophin is a direct in vitro substrate of purified calpain I and II. Cleavage of utrophin by calpain I or II generates specific degradation products that are also found in cultured control and DMD myotubes under conditions with elevated intracellular Ca(2+) levels. In addition, activation of cellular calpains by Ca(2+) ionophore treatment reduces utrophin protein levels in muscle cells and calpain inhibition prevents this Ca(2+)-induced reduction in utrophin levels. These observations suggest that, beside its known effect on general muscle protein degradation, calpain contributes to DMD pathology by specifically degrading the compensatory protein utrophin (Courdier-Fruh, 2006).

Dystrobrevins: Dystrophin binding proteins

The dystrobrevins (alphaDB and betaDB) bind directly to dystrophin and are components of a transmembrane dystrophin-glycoprotein complex (DGC) that links the cytoskeleton to extracellular proteins in many tissues. AlphaDB, betaDB, and dystrophin are all concentrated at a discrete subset of inhibitory synapses on the somata and dendrites of cerebellar Purkinje cells. Dystrophin is depleted from these synapses in mice lacking both alphaDB and betaDB, and DBs are depleted from these synapses in mice lacking dystrophin. In dystrophin mutants and alphaDB,betaDB double mutants, the size and number of GABA receptor clusters are decreased at cerebellar inhibitory synapses, and sensorimotor behaviors that reflect cerebellar function are perturbed. Synaptic and behavioral abnormalities are minimal in mice lacking either alphaDB or betaDB. Together, these results show that the DGC is required for proper maturation and function of a subset of inhibitory synapses, that DB is a key component of this DGC, and that interference with this DGC leads to behavioral abnormalities. It is suggested that motor deficits in muscular dystrophy patients, which are their cardinal symptoms, may reflect not only peripheral derangements but also CNS defects (Grady, 2006)

Dystroglycans: Dystrophin binding proteins

Reduced ligand binding activity of alpha-dystroglycan is associated with muscle and central nervous system pathogenesis in a growing number of muscular dystrophies. Posttranslational processing of alpha-dystroglycan is generally accepted to be critical for the expression of functional dystroglycan. Both the N-terminal domain and a portion of the mucin-like domain of alpha-dystroglycan are essential for high-affinity laminin-receptor function. Posttranslational modification of alpha-dystroglycan by glycosyltransferase, LARGE, occurs within the mucin-like domain, but the N-terminal domain interacts with LARGE, defining an intracellular enzyme-substrate recognition motif necessary to initiate functional glycosylation. Gene replacement in dystroglycan-deficient muscle demonstrates that the dystroglycan C-terminal domain is sufficient only for dystrophin-glycoprotein complex assembly, but to prevent muscle degeneration the expression of a functional dystroglycan through LARGE recognition and glycosylation is required. Therefore, molecular recognition of dystroglycan by LARGE is a key determinant in the biosynthetic pathway to produce mature and functional dystroglycan (Kanagawa, 2004).

Regulation of channels by Dystrophin

The skeletal muscle L-type Ca2+ channel [Ca(V)1.1], which is responsible for initiating muscle contraction, is regulated by phosphorylation by cAMP-dependent protein kinase (PKA) in a voltage-dependent manner that requires direct physical association between the channel and the kinase mediated through A-kinase anchoring proteins (AKAPs). The role of the actin cytoskeleton in channel regulation was investigated in skeletal myocytes cultured from wild-type mice, mdx mice that lack the cytoskeletal linkage protein dystrophin, and a skeletal muscle cell line, 129 CB3. Voltage dependence of channel activation is shifted positively, and potentiation is greatly diminished in mdx myocytes and in 129 CB3 cells treated with the microfilament stabilizer phalloidin. Voltage-dependent potentiation by strong depolarizing prepulses is reduced in mdx myocytes but can be restored by positively shifting the stimulus potentials to compensate for the positive shift in the voltage dependence of gating. Inclusion of PKA in the pipette causes a negative shift in the voltage dependence of activation and restores voltage-dependent potentiation in mdx myocytes. These results show that skeletal muscle Ca2+ channel activity and voltage-dependent potentiation are controlled by PKA and microfilaments in a convergent manner. Regulation of Ca2+ channel activity by hormones and neurotransmitters that use the PKA signal transduction pathway may interact in a critical way with the cytoskeleton and may be impaired by deletion of dystrophin, contributing to abnormal regulation of intracellular calcium concentrations in dystrophic muscle (Johnson, 2005).

Interaction of Cytokeratins with Dystrophin

Cytokeratins 8 and 19 concentrate at costameres of striated muscle and copurify with the dystrophin-glycoprotein complex, perhaps through the interaction of the cytokeratins with the actin-binding domain of dystrophin. Dystrophin's actin-binding domain (Dys-ABD), cytokeratins K8 and K19, as well as closely related proteins, were coexpressed in COS-7 cells to assess the basis and specificity of their interaction. Dys-ABD alone associates with actin microfilaments. Expressed with K8 and K19, which form filaments, Dys-ABD associates preferentially with the cytokeratins. This interaction is specific, since the homologous ABD of betaI-spectrin fails to interact with K8/K19 filaments, and Dys-ABD does not associate with desmin or K8/K18 filaments. Studies in COS-7 cells and in vitro show that Dys-ABD binds directly and specifically to K19. Expressed in muscle fibers in vivo, K19 accumulates in the myoplasm in structures that contain dystrophin and spectrin and disrupts the organization of the sarcolemma. K8 incorporates into sarcomeres, with no effect on the sarcolemma. These results show that dystrophin interacts through its ABD with K19 specifically and are consistent with the idea that cytokeratins associate with dystrophin at the sarcolemma of striated muscle (Stone, 2005).

Therapeutic treatment of Duchenne muscular dystrophy

Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a severe muscle wasting disease arising from defects in the dystrophin gene, typically nonsense or frameshift mutations, that preclude the synthesis of a functional protein. A milder, allelic version of the disease, Becker muscular dystrophy, generally arises from in-frame deletions that allow synthesis of a shorter but still semifunctional protein. Therapies to introduce functional dystrophin into dystrophic tissue through either cell or gene replacement have not been successful to date. An alternative approach is reported where 2'-O-methyl antisense oligoribonucleotides have been used to modify processing of the dystrophin pre-mRNA in the mdx mouse model of DMD. By targeting 2'-O-methyl antisense oligoribonucleotides to block motifs involved in normal dystrophin pre-mRNA splicing, excision is induced of exon 23, and the mdx nonsense mutation, without disrupting the reading frame. Exon 23 skipping was first optimized in vitro in transfected H-2K(b)-tsA58 mdx myoblasts and then induced in vivo. Immunohistochemical staining demonstrates the synthesis and correct subsarcolemmal localization of dystrophin and gamma-sarcoglycan in the mdx mouse after intramuscular delivery of antisense oligoribonucleotide:liposome complexes. This approach should reduce the severity of DMD by allowing a dystrophic gene transcript to be modified, such that it can be translated into a Becker-dystrophin-like protein (Mann, 2001).

As a target for gene therapy, Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) presents many obstacles but also an unparalleled prospect for correction by alternative splicing. The majority of mutations in the dystrophin gene occur in the region encoding the spectrin-like central rod domain, which is largely dispensable. Thus, splicing around mutations can generate a shortened but in-frame transcript, permitting translation of a partially functional dystrophin protein. This idea was tested in vivo in the mdx dystrophic mouse (carrying a mutation in exon 23 of the dystrophin gene) by combining a potent transfection protocol with a 2-O-methylated phosphorothioated antisense oligoribonucleotide (2OMeAO) designed to promote skipping of the mutated exon. The treated mice show persistent production of dystrophin at normal levels in large numbers of muscle fibers and show functional improvement of the treated muscle. Repeated administration enhances dystrophin expression without eliciting immune responses. This data establishes the realistic practicality of an approach that is applicable, in principle, to a majority of cases of severe dystrophinopathy (Lu, 2003)

Most mutations in the dystrophin gene create a frameshift or a stop in the mRNA and are associated with severe Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Exon skipping that naturally occurs at low frequency sometimes eliminates the mutation and leads to the production of a rescued protein. Persistent exon skipping that removes the mutated exon on the dystrophin messenger mRNA of the mdx mouse was achieved by a single administration of an AAV vector expressing antisense sequences linked to a modified U7 small nuclear RNA. The sustained production of functional dystrophin at physiological levels in entire groups of muscles and the correction of the muscular dystrophy is reported (Goyenvalle, 2004).

Duchenne muscular dystrophy is an X-linked muscle disease characterized by mutations in the dystrophin gene. Many of these mutations can be corrected at the posttranscriptional level by skipping the mutated exon. Persistent exon skipping has been obtained in mdx mice by tail vein injection with an adeno-associated viral (AAV) vector expressing antisense sequences as part of the stable cellular U1 small nuclear RNA. Systemic delivery of the AAV construct resulted in effective body-wide colonization, significant recovery of the functional properties in vivo, and lower creatine kinase serum levels, suggesting an overall decrease in muscle wasting. The transduced muscles rescued dystrophin expression and displayed a significant recovery of function toward the normal values at single muscle fiber level. This approach provides solid bases for a systemic use of AAV-mediated antisense-U1 small nuclear RNA expression for the therapeutic treatment of Duchenne muscular dystrophy (Denti, 2006).

dystrophin: Biological Overview | Regulation | Developmental Biology | Effects of Mutation | References

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