Antisense oligonucleotide therapy corrects splicing in the common Stargardt disease type 1-causing variant ABCA4 c.5461-10T>C

Mol Ther Nucleic Acids. 2023 Feb 18:31:674-688. doi: 10.1016/j.omtn.2023.02.020. eCollection 2023 Mar 14.


Stargardt disease type 1 (STGD1) is the most common hereditary form of maculopathy and remains untreatable. STGD1 is caused by biallelic variants in the ABCA4 gene, which encodes the ATP-binding cassette (type 4) protein (ABCA4) that clears toxic byproducts of the visual cycle. The c.5461-10T>C p.[Thr1821Aspfs∗6,Thr1821Valfs∗13] variant is the most common severe disease-associated variant, and leads to exon skipping and out-of-frame ABCA4 transcripts that prevent translation of functional ABCA4 protein. Homozygous individuals typically display early onset STGD1 and are legally blind by early adulthood. Here, we applied antisense oligonucleotides (AONs) to promote exon inclusion and restore wild-type RNA splicing of ABCA4 c.5461-10T>C. The effect of AONs was first investigated in vitro using an ABCA4 midigene model. Subsequently, the best performing AONs were administered to homozygous c.5461-10T>C 3D human retinal organoids. Isoform-specific digital polymerase chain reaction revealed a significant increase in correctly spliced transcripts after treatment with the lead AON, QR-1011, up to 53% correct transcripts at a 3 μM dose. Furthermore, western blot and immunohistochemistry analyses identified restoration of ABCA4 protein after treatment. Collectively, we identified QR-1011 as a potent splice-correcting AON and a possible therapeutic intervention for patients harboring the severe ABCA4 c.5461-10T>C variant.

Keywords: ABCA4; MT: Oligonucleotides: Therapies and Applications; RNA therapy; Stargardt disease; antisense oligonucleotides; retinal organoids; splicing correction.