Toxicity after AAV delivery of RNAi expression constructs into nonhuman primate brain

Nat Med. 2021 Nov;27(11):1982-1989. doi: 10.1038/s41591-021-01522-3. Epub 2021 Oct 18.


RNA interference (RNAi) for spinocerebellar ataxia type 1 can prevent and reverse behavioral deficits and neuropathological readouts in mouse models, with safety and benefit lasting over many months. The RNAi trigger, expressed from adeno-associated virus vectors (AAV.miS1), also corrected misregulated microRNAs (miRNA) such as miR150. Subsequently, we showed that the delivery method was scalable, and that AAV.miS1 was safe in short-term pilot nonhuman primate (NHP) studies. To advance the technology to patients, investigational new drug (IND)-enabling studies in NHPs were initiated. After AAV.miS1 delivery to deep cerebellar nuclei, we unexpectedly observed cerebellar toxicity. Both small-RNA-seq and studies using AAVs devoid of miRNAs showed that this was not a result of saturation of the endogenous miRNA processing machinery. RNA-seq together with sequencing of the AAV product showed that, despite limited amounts of cross-packaged material, there was substantial inverted terminal repeat (ITR) promoter activity that correlated with neuropathologies. ITR promoter activity was reduced by altering the miS1 expression context. The surprising contrast between our rodent and NHP findings highlight the need for extended safety studies in multiple species when assessing new therapeutics for human application.