Background: Facioscapulohumeral dystrophy (FSHD) is a progressive muscle disease caused by mutations that lead to epigenetic derepression and inappropriate transcription of the double homeobox 4 (DUX4) gene in skeletal muscle. Drugs that enhance the repression of DUX4 and prevent its expression in skeletal muscle cells therefore represent candidate therapies for FSHD.
Methods: We screened an aggregated chemical library enriched for compounds with epigenetic activities and the Pharmakon 1600 library composed of compounds that have reached clinical testing to identify molecules that decrease DUX4 expression as monitored by the levels of DUX4 target genes in FSHD patient-derived skeletal muscle cell cultures.
Results: Our screens identified several classes of molecules that include inhibitors of the bromodomain and extra-terminal (BET) family of proteins and agonists of the beta-2 adrenergic receptor. Further studies showed that compounds from these two classes suppress the expression of DUX4 messenger RNA (mRNA) by blocking the activity of bromodomain-containing protein 4 (BRD4) or by increasing cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) levels, respectively.
Conclusions: These data uncover pathways involved in the regulation of DUX4 expression in somatic cells, provide potential candidate classes of compounds for FSHD therapeutic development, and create an important opportunity for mechanistic studies that may uncover additional therapeutic targets.
Keywords: Adrenergic; Bromodomain; DUX4; FSHD; Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy; High-throughput screening.