Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type 2A (CMT2A) is an untreatable childhood peripheral neuropathy caused by mutations of the mitochondrial fusion protein, mitofusin (MFN) 2. Here, pharmacological activation of endogenous normal mitofusins overcame dominant inhibitory effects of CMT2A mutants in reprogrammed human patient motor neurons, reversing hallmark mitochondrial stasis and fragmentation independent of causal MFN2 mutation. In mice expressing human MFN2 T105M, intermittent mitofusin activation with a small molecule, MiM111, normalized CMT2A neuromuscular dysfunction, reversed pre-treatment axon and skeletal myocyte atrophy, and enhanced axon regrowth by increasing mitochondrial transport within peripheral axons and promoting in vivo mitochondrial localization to neuromuscular junctional synapses. MiM111-treated MFN2 T105M mouse neurons exhibited accelerated primary outgrowth and greater post-axotomy regrowth, linked to enhanced mitochondrial motility. MiM111 is the first pre-clinical candidate for CMT2A.
Keywords: CMT2A; cell biology; mitochondria; mitofusin; mouse; neuroscience.
Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type 2A is a rare genetic childhood disease where dying back of nerve cells leads to muscle loss in the arms and legs, causing permanent disability. There is no known treatment. In this form of CMT, mutations in a protein called mitofusin 2 damage structures inside cells known as mitochondria. Mitochondria generate most of the chemical energy to power a cell, but when mitofusin 2 is mutated, the mitochondria are less healthy and are unable to move within the cell, depriving the cells of energy. This particularly causes problems in the long nerve cells that stretch from the spinal cord to the arm and leg muscles. Now, Franco, Dang et al. wanted to see whether re-activating mitofusin 2 could correct the damage to the mitochondria and restore the nerve connections to the muscles. The researchers tested a new class of drug called a mitofusin activator on nerve cells grown in the laboratory after being taken from people suffering from CMT2A, and also from a mouse model of the disease. Mitofusin activators improved the structure, fitness and movement of mitochondria in both human and mice nerve cells. Franco, Dang et al. then tested the drug in the mice with a CMT2A mutation and found that it could also stimulate nerves to regrow and so reverse muscle loss and weakness. This is the first time scientists have succeeded to reverse the effects of CMT2A in nerve cells of mice and humans. However, these drugs will still need to go through extensive testing in clinical trials before being made widely available to patients. If approved, mitofusin activators may also be beneficial for patients suffering from other genetic conditions that damage mitochondria.
© 2020, Franco et al.