Gene therapy approaches targeting Schwann cells for demyelinating neuropathies

Brain Res. 2020 Feb 1;1728:146572. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2019.146572. Epub 2019 Nov 29.


Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) encompasses numerous genetically heterogeneous inherited neuropathies, which together are one of the commonest neurogenetic disorders. Axonal CMT types result from mutations in neuronally expressed genes, whereas demyelinating CMT forms mostly result from mutations in genes expressed by myelinating Schwann cells. The demyelinating forms are the most common, and may be caused by dominant mutations and gene dosage effects (as in CMT1), as well as by recessive mutations and loss of function mechanisms (as in CMT4). The discovery of causative genes and increasing insights into molecular mechanisms through the study of experimental disease models has provided the basis for the development of gene therapy approaches. For demyelinating CMT, gene silencing or gene replacement strategies need to be targeted to Schwann cells. Progress in gene replacement for two different CMT forms, including CMT1X caused by GJB1 gene mutations, and CMT4C, caused by SH3TC2 gene mutations, has been made through the use of a myelin-specific promoter to restrict expression in Schwann cells, and by lumbar intrathecal delivery of lentiviral viral vectors to achieve more widespread biodistribution in the peripheral nervous system. This review summarizes the molecular-genetic mechanisms of selected demyelinating CMT neuropathies and the progress made so far, as well as the remaining challenges in the path towards a gene therapy to treat these disorders through the use of optimal gene therapy tools including clinically translatable delivery methods and adeno-associated viral (AAV) vectors.

Keywords: Axons; Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease; Gene editing; Gene replacement; Gene silencing; Myelin; Schwann cells; Viral vectors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease / genetics
  • Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease / therapy*
  • Connexins / genetics*
  • Demyelinating Diseases / genetics
  • Demyelinating Diseases / therapy*
  • Genetic Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / genetics*
  • Mutation
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Schwann Cells / metabolism*


  • Connexins
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • SH3TC2 protein, human
  • connexin 32

Supplementary concepts

  • Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, Type 4C