Antisense suppression of glial fibrillary acidic protein as a treatment for Alexander disease

Ann Neurol. 2018 Jan;83(1):27-39. doi: 10.1002/ana.25118. Epub 2018 Jan 14.


Objective: Alexander disease is a fatal leukodystrophy caused by autosomal dominant gain-of-function mutations in the gene for glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), an intermediate filament protein primarily expressed in astrocytes of the central nervous system. A key feature of pathogenesis is overexpression and accumulation of GFAP, with formation of characteristic cytoplasmic aggregates known as Rosenthal fibers. Here we investigate whether suppressing GFAP with antisense oligonucleotides could provide a therapeutic strategy for treating Alexander disease.

Methods: In this study, we use GFAP mutant mouse models of Alexander disease to test the efficacy of antisense suppression and evaluate the effects on molecular and cellular phenotypes and non-cell-autonomous toxicity. Antisense oligonucleotides were designed to target the murine Gfap transcript, and screened using primary mouse cortical cultures. Lead oligonucleotides were then tested for their ability to reduce GFAP transcripts and protein, first in wild-type mice with normal levels of GFAP, and then in adult mutant mice with established pathology and elevated levels of GFAP.

Results: Nearly complete and long-lasting elimination of GFAP occurred in brain and spinal cord following single bolus intracerebroventricular injections, with a striking reversal of Rosenthal fibers and downstream markers of microglial and other stress-related responses. GFAP protein was also cleared from cerebrospinal fluid, demonstrating its potential utility as a biomarker in future clinical applications. Finally, treatment led to improved body condition and rescue of hippocampal neurogenesis.

Interpretation: These results demonstrate the efficacy of antisense suppression for an astrocyte target, and provide a compelling therapeutic approach for Alexander disease. Ann Neurol 2018;83:27-39.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alexander Disease / drug therapy*
  • Alexander Disease / genetics
  • Alexander Disease / pathology
  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Brain Chemistry / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein / biosynthesis
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein / genetics
  • Hippocampus / drug effects
  • Hippocampus / growth & development
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Humans
  • Injections, Intraventricular
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Neurogenesis / drug effects
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense / therapeutic use*
  • Spinal Cord / drug effects
  • Spinal Cord / metabolism


  • Biomarkers
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense
  • glial fibrillary astrocytic protein, mouse