Prevention of pathology in mdx mice by expression of utrophin: analysis using an inducible transgenic expression system.
Squire S., Raymackers JM., Vandebrouck C., Potter A., Tinsley J., Fisher R., Gillis JM., Davies KE.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy results from the absence of dystrophin, a cytoskeletal protein. Previously, we have shown in a transgenic mouse model of the disease (mdx) that high levels of expression of the dystrophin-related protein, utrophin can prevent pathology. We developed a new transgenic mouse model where muscle specific utrophin expression was conditioned by addition of tetracycline in water. Transgene expression was turned on at different time points: in utero, at birth, 10 and 30 days after birth. We obtained moderate levels of expression, variable from fibre to fibre (mosaicism) but sufficient to induce a correct localization of the dystro-sarcoglycan complex. Histology revealed a reduction of necrotic foci and of the percentage of centronucleated fibres, which remained still largely above the normal level. Isometric force was not improved but the resistance to eccentric contractions was significantly stronger. When utrophin expression was activated 30 days after birth, improvements were marginal, suggesting that the age at which utrophin therapy is initiated could be an important factor. Our results also provide an unexpected insight into the pathogenesis of the dystrophinopathies. We observed a complete normalization of the characteristics of the mechano-sensitive/voltage-independent Ca(2+) channels (occurrence, open probabilities and Ca(2+) currents), while the classical markers of dystrophy were still abnormal. These observations question the role of increased Ca(2+) channel activity in initiating the dystrophic process. The new model shows that utrophin therapy, initiated after birth, can be effective, but the extent of correction of the various symptoms of dystrophinopathy critically depends on the amount of utrophin expressed.