Duchenne muscular dystrophy is caused by mutations in the DMD gene that disrupt the open reading frame and prevent the full translation of its protein product, dystrophin. Restoration of the open reading frame and dystrophin production can be achieved by exon skipping using antisense oligonucleotides targeted to splicing elements. This approach aims to transform the Duchenne muscular dystrophy phenotype to that of the milder disorder, Becker muscular dystrophy, typically caused by in-frame dystrophin deletions that allow the production of an internally deleted but partially functional dystrophin. There is ongoing debate regarding the functional properties of the different internally deleted dystrophins produced by exon skipping for different mutations; more insight would be valuable to improve and better predict the outcome of exon skipping clinical trials. To this end, we have characterized the clinical phenotype of 17 patients with Becker muscular dystrophy harbouring in-frame deletions relevant to on-going or planned exon skipping clinical trials for Duchenne muscular dystrophy and correlated it to the levels of dystrophin, and dystrophin-associated protein expression. The cohort of 17 patients, selected exclusively on the basis of their genotype, included 4 asymptomatic, 12 mild and 1 severe patient. All patients had dystrophin levels of >40% of control and significantly higher dystrophin (P = 0.013), β-dystroglycan (P = 0.025) and neuronal nitric oxide synthase (P = 0.034) expression was observed in asymptomatic individuals versus symptomatic patients with Becker muscular dystrophy. Furthermore, grouping the patients by deletion, patients with Becker muscular dystrophy with deletions with an end-point of exon 51 (the skipping of which could rescue the largest group of Duchenne muscular dystrophy deletions) showed significantly higher dystrophin levels (P = 0.034) than those with deletions ending with exon 53. This is the first quantitative study on both dystrophin and dystrophin-associated protein expression in patients with Becker muscular dystrophy with deletions relevant for on-going exon skipping trials in Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Taken together, our results indicate that all varieties of internally deleted dystrophin assessed in this study have the functional capability to provide a substantial clinical benefit to patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
- Becker muscular dystrophy
- Duchenne muscular dystrophy
- dystrophin-associated glycoprotein complex