Lipid nanoparticle-targeted mRNA therapy as a treatment for the inherited metabolic liver disorder arginase deficiency

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Oct 15;116(42):21150-21159. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1906182116. Epub 2019 Sep 9.


Arginase deficiency is caused by biallelic mutations in arginase 1 (ARG1), the final step of the urea cycle, and results biochemically in hyperargininemia and the presence of guanidino compounds, while it is clinically notable for developmental delays, spastic diplegia, psychomotor function loss, and (uncommonly) death. There is currently no completely effective medical treatment available. While preclinical strategies have been demonstrated, disadvantages with viral-based episomal-expressing gene therapy vectors include the risk of insertional mutagenesis and limited efficacy due to hepatocellular division. Recent advances in messenger RNA (mRNA) codon optimization, synthesis, and encapsulation within biodegradable liver-targeted lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) have potentially enabled a new generation of safer, albeit temporary, treatments to restore liver metabolic function in patients with urea cycle disorders, including ARG1 deficiency. In this study, we applied such technologies to successfully treat an ARG1-deficient murine model. Mice were administered LNPs encapsulating human codon-optimized ARG1 mRNA every 3 d. Mice demonstrated 100% survival with no signs of hyperammonemia or weight loss to beyond 11 wk, compared with controls that perished by day 22. Plasma ammonia, arginine, and glutamine demonstrated good control without elevation of guanidinoacetic acid, a guanidino compound. Evidence of urea cycle activity restoration was demonstrated by the ability to fully metabolize an ammonium challenge and by achieving near-normal ureagenesis; liver arginase activity achieved 54% of wild type. Biochemical and microscopic data showed no evidence of hepatotoxicity. These results suggest that delivery of ARG1 mRNA by liver-targeted nanoparticles may be a viable gene-based therapeutic for the treatment of arginase deficiency.

Keywords: arginase deficiency; hyperargininemia; lipid nanoparticle; mRNA; ureagenesis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Ammonia / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Arginase / metabolism
  • Arginine / metabolism
  • Codon / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Glutamine / metabolism
  • Hyperammonemia / drug therapy
  • Hyperammonemia / metabolism
  • Hyperargininemia / drug therapy*
  • Hyperargininemia / metabolism
  • Lipids / pharmacology*
  • Liver / drug effects*
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Liver Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Liver Diseases / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Nanoparticles / administration & dosage*
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism*
  • Urea / metabolism


  • Codon
  • Lipids
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Glutamine
  • Ammonia
  • Urea
  • Arginine
  • Arginase