Artificial MicroRNAs Targeting C9orf72 Can Reduce Accumulation of Intra-nuclear Transcripts in ALS and FTD Patients

Mol Ther Nucleic Acids. 2019 Mar 1:14:593-608. doi: 10.1016/j.omtn.2019.01.010. Epub 2019 Jan 30.


The most common pathogenic mutation in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is an intronic GGGGCC (G4C2) repeat in the chromosome 9 open reading frame 72 (C9orf72) gene. Cellular toxicity due to RNA foci and dipeptide repeat (DPR) proteins produced by the sense and antisense repeat-containing transcripts is thought to underlie the pathogenesis of both diseases. RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) data of C9orf72-ALS patients and controls were analyzed to better understand the sequence conservation of C9orf72 in patients. MicroRNAs were developed in conserved regions to silence C9orf72 (miC), and the feasibility of different silencing approaches was demonstrated in reporter overexpression systems. In addition, we demonstrated the feasibility of a bidirectional targeting approach by expressing two concatenated miC hairpins. The efficacy of miC was confirmed by the reduction of endogenously expressed C9orf72 mRNA, in both nucleus and cytoplasm, and an ∼50% reduction of nuclear RNA foci in (G4C2)44-expressing cells. Ultimately, two miC candidates were incorporated in adeno-associated virus vector serotype 5 (AAV5), and silencing of C9orf72 was demonstrated in HEK293T cells and induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-derived neurons. These data support the feasibility of microRNA (miRNA)-based and AAV-delivered gene therapy that could alleviate the gain of toxicity seen in ALS and FTD patients.

Keywords: ALS; C9orf72; FTD; gene therapy; microRNA.