Optogenetic modeling of human neuromuscular circuits in Duchenne muscular dystrophy with CRISPR and pharmacological corrections

Sci Adv. 2021 Sep 10;7(37):eabi8787. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abi8787. Epub 2021 Sep 10.


Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is caused by dystrophin gene mutations leading to skeletal muscle weakness and wasting. Dystrophin is enriched at the neuromuscular junction (NMJ), but how NMJ abnormalities contribute to DMD pathogenesis remains unclear. Here, we combine transcriptome analysis and modeling of DMD patient-derived neuromuscular circuits with CRISPR-corrected isogenic controls in compartmentalized microdevices. We show that NMJ volumes and optogenetic motor neuron–stimulated myofiber contraction are compromised in DMD neuromuscular circuits, which can be rescued by pharmacological inhibition of TGFβ signaling, an observation validated in a 96-well human neuromuscular circuit coculture assay. These beneficial effects are associated with normalization of dysregulated gene expression in DMD myogenic transcriptomes affecting NMJ assembly (e.g., MUSK) and axon guidance (e.g., SLIT2 and SLIT3). Our study provides a new human microphysiological model for investigating NMJ defects in DMD and assessing candidate drugs and suggests that enhancing neuromuscular connectivity may be an effective therapeutic strategy.