Synthetic zinc finger repressors reduce mutant huntingtin expression in the brain of R6/2 mice

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Abstract

Huntington’s disease (HD) is a dominantly inherited neurodegenerative disorder caused by expanded CAG repeats in the huntingtin (HTT) gene. Although several palliative treatments are available, there is currently no cure and patients generally die 10–15 y after diagnosis. Several promising approaches for HD therapy are currently in development, including RNAi and antisense analogs. We developed a complementary strategy to test repression of mutant HTT with zinc finger proteins (ZFPs) in an HD model. We tested a “molecular tape measure” approach, using long artificial ZFP chains, designed to bind longer CAG repeats more strongly than shorter repeats. After optimization, stable ZFP expression in a model HD cell line reduced chromosomal expression of the mutant gene at both the protein and mRNA levels (95% and 78% reduction, respectively). This was achieved chromosomally in the context of endogenous mouse HTT genes, with variable CAG-repeat lengths. Shorter wild-type alleles, other genomic CAG-repeat genes, and neighboring genes were unaffected. In vivo, striatal adeno-associated virus viral delivery in R6/2 mice was efficient and revealed dose-dependent repression of mutant HTT in the brain (up to 60%). Furthermore, zinc finger repression was tested at several levels, resulting in protein aggregate reduction, reduced decline in rotarod performance, and alleviation of clasping in R6/2 mice, establishing a proof-of-principle for synthetic transcription factor repressors in the brain.

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Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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