Background: Myoblast transfer has been proposed as a technique to replace dystrophin, the skeletal-muscle protein that is deficient in Duchenne's muscular dystrophy. Donor myoblasts injected into muscles of affected patients can fuse with host muscle fibers, thus contributing their nuclei, which are potentially capable of replacing deficient gene products. Previous controlled trials involving a single transfer of myoblasts have been unsuccessful.
Methods: We injected donor muscle cells once a month for six months to the biceps brachii muscles of one arm of each of 12 boys with Duchenne's muscular dystrophy. The opposite arms served as sham-injected controls. In each procedure 110 million cells donated by fathers or brothers were transferred. The patients were randomly assigned to receive either cyclosporine or placebo. Strength was measured by quantitative isometric muscle testing. Six months after the final myoblast transfer, the presence of dystrophin was assessed with the use of peptide antibodies specific to the deleted exons of the dystrophin gene.
Results: There was no significant difference in muscle strength between arms injected with myoblasts and sham-injected arms. In one patient, 10.3 percent of muscle fibers expressed donor-derived dystrophin after myoblast transfer. Three other patients also had a low level of donor dystrophin (< 1 percent); eight had none.
Conclusions: Myoblasts transferred once a month for six months failed to improve strength in patients with Duchenne's muscular dystrophy. The value of exon-specific peptide antibodies in the interpretation of myoblast-transfer results was demonstrated in a patient with Duchenne's muscular dystrophy who had a high percentage of donor-derived dystrophin. Specific variables affecting the efficiency of myoblast transfer need to be identified in order to improve upon this technique.