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Myology research highlights

Discover our weekly selection of scientific and medical publications in the field of myology and of neuromuscular diseases :  summary of each publication aimed at the general reader, highlighting the main points of the article and the authors’ conclusions
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22/04/2014 - Novel MYH7 mutations widen the clinical and pathological phenotypes

Laing early onset distal myopathy and myosin storage myopathy are caused by mutations of slow skeletal/β-cardiac myosin heavy chain encoded by the gene MYH7, as is a common form of familial hypertrophic/dilated cardiomyopathy. The mechanisms by which different phenotypes are produced by mutations in MYH7, even in the same region of the gene, are not known. To explore the clinical spectrum and pathobiology, the authors screened the MYH7 gene in 88 patients from 21 previously unpublished families presenting with distal or generalised skeletal muscle weakness, with or without cardiac involvement. Twelve novel mutations have been identified in thirteen families. In one of these families the grandfather of the proband was found to be a mosaic for the MYH7 mutation. In eight cases de novo mutation appeared to have occurred, which was proven in three. The presenting complaint was footdrop, sometimes leading to delayed walking or tripping, in members of 17 families (81%), with other presentations including cardiomyopathy in infancy, generalised floppiness and scoliosis. Cardiac involvement as well as skeletal muscle weakness was identified in 9 of 21 families. Spinal involvement such as scoliosis or rigidity was identified in 12 (57%). This report widens the clinical and pathological phenotypes, and the genetics of MYH7 mutations leading to skeletal muscle diseases.

22/04/2014 - miRNA profiles in serum of Myasthenia Gravis patients

Myasthenia gravis (MG) is an autoimmune disease characterized by the presence of autoantibodies, mainly against the acetylcholine receptor (AChR). The mechanisms triggering and maintaining this chronic disease are unknown. MiRNAs are regulatory molecules that play a key role in the immune system and are altered in many autoimmune diseases. The aim of this study was to evaluate miRNA profiles in serum of 61 AChR MG patients. Serum from patients with early onset MG (n = 22), late onset MG (n = 27) and thymoma (n = 12), was studied to identify alterations in the specific subgroups. In a discovery cohort, 381 miRNA arrays were analysed from 5 patients from each subgroup, and 5 healthy controls. The 15 patients had not received any treatment. The authors found 32 miRNAs in different levels in MG and analysed 8 of these in a validation cohort that included 46 of the MG patients. MiR15b, miR122, miR-140-3p, miR185, miR192, miR20b and miR-885-5p were in lower levels in MG patients than in controls. The results of this study suggest that different clinical phenotypes in MG share common altered mechanisms in circulating miRNAs, with no additional contribution of the thymoma. MG treatment intervention does not modify the profile of these miRNAs. Novel insights into the pathogenesis of MG can be reached by the analysis of circulating miRNAs since some of these miRNAs have also been found low in MG peripheral mononuclear cells, and have targets with important roles in B cell survival and antibody production.

22/04/2014 - Comparing quantitative ultrasound and MR imaging in FSHD

Ultrasound and MR imaging are non-invasive methods that can be performed repeatedly and without discomfort. In the assessment of neuromuscular disorders it is unknown if they hold complementary information. In this study, the authors tested this for patients with facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD). Quantitative muscle ultrasound (QMUS) and quantitative MRI (QMRI) of the legs were performed in 5 men with FSHD. The correlation between QMUS determined z-scores and QMRI determined muscle fraction and T1 signal intensity (SI) was very high. QMUS had a wider dynamic range than QMRI, whereas QMRI could detect inhomogeneous distribution of pathology over the length of the muscles. Both QMUS and QMRI are well suited for imaging muscular dystrophy. The larger dynamic range of QMUS can be advantageous in follow-up of advanced disease stages, whereas QMRI seems preferable in pathologies such as FSHD that affect deep muscle layers and show inhomogeneous abnormality distributions.

22/04/2014 - Targeted exon skipping to correct exon duplications in the dystrophin gene

Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a severe muscle-wasting disease caused by mutations in the dystrophin gene that ablate functional protein expression. Although exonic deletions are the most common Duchenne muscular dystrophy lesion, duplications account for 10-15% of reported disease-causing mutations, and exon 2 is the most commonly duplicated exon. Here, the authors describe the in vitro evaluation of phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomers coupled to a cell-penetrating peptide and 2'-O-methyl phosphorothioate oligonucleotides, using three distinct strategies to reframe the dystrophin transcript in patient cells carrying an exon 2 duplication. Differences in exon-skipping efficiencies in vitro were observed between oligomer analogues of the same sequence, with the phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomer coupled to a cell-penetrating peptide proving the most effective. Differences in exon 2 excision efficiency between normal and exon 2 duplication cells, were apparent, indicating that exon context influences oligomer-induced splice switching. Skipping of a single copy of exon 2 was induced in the cells carrying an exon 2 duplication, the simplest strategy to restore the reading frame and generate a normal dystrophin transcript. In contrast, multiexon skipping of exons 2-7 to generate a Becker muscular dystrophy-like dystrophin transcript was more challenging and could only be induced efficiently with the phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomer chemistry.

22/04/2013 - SERCA2a gene therapy improves symptomatic heart failure in delta-sarcoglycan deficient animals

The loss of dystrophin or its associated proteins results in the development of muscle wasting frequently associated with a cardiomyopathy. Contractile cardiac tissue is injured and replaced by fibrous tissue or fatty infiltrates, leading to progressive decrease of the contractile force and finally to end-stage heart failure. At the time symptoms appear, restoration of a functional allele of the causative gene might not be sufficient to prevent disease progression. Alterations in Ca2+ transport and intracellular calcium levels have been implicated in many types of pathological processes, especially in heart disease. Based on a gene transfer strategy, the authors analyzed the therapeutic efficacy of primary gene correction in a delta-sarcoglycan (δ-SG) deficient animal model versus gene transfer of the Ca2+ pump hSERCA2a, at a symptomatic stage of heart disease. Their results strongly suggest that restoration of δ-SG at this stage of disease will not lead to improved clinical outcome. However, restoration of proper Ca2+ handling by means of amplifying SERCA2a expression in the myocardium can lead to functional improvement. Abnormalities in Ca2+ handling play an important role in disease progression towards heart failure and increased SERCA2a levels appear to significantly improve cardiac contraction and relaxation. Beneficial effects persist at least over a period of six months and the evolution of cardiac functional parameters paralleled those of normal controls. Furthermore, it was demonstrated that plasmid formulation based on amphiphilic block copolymers can provide a safe and efficient platform for myocardial gene therapies. The use of synthetic formulations for myocardial gene transfer might thus overcome one of the major hurdles linked to viral vectors, repeat administrations.

15/04/2014 - Association between RNA-processing proteins and muscle disorders

Limb-girdle muscular dystrophies (LGMD) are a heterogeneous group of genetically determined muscle disorders with a primary or predominant involvement of the pelvic or shoulder girdle musculature. More than 20 genes with autosomal recessive (LGMD2A to LGMD2Q) and autosomal dominant inheritance (LGMD1A to LGMD1H) have been mapped/identified to date. Mutations are known for six among the eight mapped autosomal dominant forms: LGMD1A (myotilin), LGMD1B (lamin A/C), LGMD1C (caveolin-3), LGMD1D (desmin), LGMD1E (DNAJB6), and more recently for LGMD1F (transportin-3). This group previously mapped the LGMD1G gene at 4q21 in a Caucasian-Brazilian family. They have now mapped a Uruguayan family with patients displaying a similar LGMD1G phenotype at the same locus. Whole genome sequencing identified, in both families, mutations in the HNRPDL gene. HNRPDL is a heterogeneous ribonucleoprotein (hnRNP) family member, which participates in mRNA biogenesis and metabolism. Functional studies performed in S. cerevisiae showed that the loss of HRP1 (yeast orthologue) had pronounced effects on both protein levels and cell localizations, and yeast proteome revealed dramatic reorganization of proteins involved in RNA processing pathways. In vivo analysis showed that hnrpdl is important for muscle development in zebrafish, causing a myopathic phenotype when knocked down. The present study presents a novel association between a muscular disorder and a RNA-related gene and reinforces the importance of RNA binding/processing proteins in muscle development and muscle disease. Understanding the role of these proteins in muscle might open new therapeutic approaches for muscular dystrophies.

15/04/2014 - A retrospective multicentric study in SMA type 1

Questions about care practices and the role of palliative care in pediatric neurodegenerative diseases have led the Neuromuscular Committee of the French Society of Neurology to conduct a retrospective study in spinal muscular atrophy type 1, a genetic disease most often leading to death before the age of 1 year. This was a multicenter study from paediatricians included in the reference centers of pediatric neuromuscular diseases was carried out on two 10-year periods (1989-1998 and 1999-2009). The 1989-1998 period included 12 centers with 106 patients, the 1999-2009 period 13 centers with 116 children. The mean age of onset of clinical signs was 2.1 months (range, 0-5.5 months), the median age at diagnosis was 4 months (range, 0-9 months) vs 3 months. The median age of death was 7.5 months (range, 0-24 months) vs 6 months. The care modalities included physiotherapy (90 %), motor support (61 % vs 26 % for the previous period), enteral nutrition by nasogastric tube (52 % vs 24 %), and 3.4 % of children had a gastrostomy (vs 1.8 %). At home, pharyngeal aspiration was used in 64 % (vs 41 %), oxygen therapy in 8 %, noninvasive ventilatory support in 7 %. The mean age at death was 8.1 months (range, 0-24 months) vs 7 months, the time from diagnosis to death was 4 months vs 3 months. Death occurred at home in 23 % vs 17 %, in a pediatric unit in 62 % vs 41 %. The use of analgesics and sedative drugs was reported in 60 % of cases: 40 % morphine (vs 18 %) and benzodiazepines in 48 % (vs 29 %). Respiratory support was limited mostly to oxygen by nasal tube (55 % vs 54 %), noninvasive ventilation in 9 % of the cases, and intubation and assisted mechanical ventilation (2 %). These results confirm a change in practices and the development of palliative care in children with a French consensus of practices quite different from the standard care in North-America and closer to the thinking of English medical teams. A prospective study within the 2011 national hospital clinical research program (PHRC 2011) is beginning in order to evaluate practices and the role of families and caregivers.