Utrophin up-regulation by artificial transcription factors induces muscle rescue and impacts the neuromuscular junction in mdx mice

Biochim Biophys Acta Mol Basis Dis. 2018 Apr;1864(4 Pt A):1172-1182. doi: 10.1016/j.bbadis.2018.01.030. Epub 2018 Jan 31.


Up-regulation of the dystrophin-related gene utrophin represents a promising therapeutic strategy for the treatment of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). In order to re-program the utrophin expression level in muscle, we engineered artificial zinc finger transcription factors (ZF-ATFs) that target the utrophin 'A' promoter. We have previously shown that the ZF-ATF "Jazz", either by transgenic manipulation or by systemic adeno-associated viral delivery, induces significant rescue of muscle function in dystrophic "mdx" mice. We present the full characterization of an upgraded version of Jazz gene named "JZif1" designed to minimize any possible host immune response. JZif1 was engineered on the Zif268 gene-backbone using selective amino acid substitutions to address JZif1 to the utrophin 'A' promoter. Here, we show that JZif1 induces remarkable amelioration of the pathological phenotype in mdx mice. To investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying Jazz and JZif1 induced muscle functional rescue, we focused on utrophin related pathways. Coherently with utrophin subcellular localization and role in neuromuscular junction (NMJ) plasticity, we found that our ZF-ATFs positively impact the NMJ. We report on ZF-ATF effects on post-synaptic membranes in myogenic cell line, as well as in wild type and mdx mice. These results candidate our ZF-ATFs as novel therapeutic molecules for DMD treatment.

Keywords: AAV; DMD; Gene therapy; NMJ; Utrophin; ZF-ATF.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Genetic Therapy / methods*
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred mdx
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology
  • Muscular Dystrophy, Duchenne / genetics
  • Muscular Dystrophy, Duchenne / metabolism
  • Muscular Dystrophy, Duchenne / pathology
  • Muscular Dystrophy, Duchenne / therapy*
  • Neuromuscular Junction / genetics
  • Neuromuscular Junction / metabolism*
  • Neuromuscular Junction / pathology
  • Protein Engineering*
  • Transcription Factors* / biosynthesis
  • Transcription Factors* / genetics
  • Up-Regulation*
  • Utrophin / genetics
  • Zinc Fingers


  • Transcription Factors
  • Utrophin