, Volume 69, Issue 24, pp 4191-4204

Replacement of huntingtin exon 1 by trans-splicing

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Huntington’s disease (HD) is an autosomal-dominant neurodegenerative disorder caused by polyglutamine expansion in the amino-terminus of huntingtin (HTT). HD offers unique opportunities for promising RNA-based therapeutic approaches aimed at reducing mutant HTT expression, since the HD mutation is considered to be a “gain-of-function” mutation. Allele-specific strategies that preserve expression from the wild-type allele and reduce the levels of mutant protein would be of particular interest. Here, we have conducted proof-of-concept studies to demonstrate that spliceosome-mediated trans-splicing is a viable molecular strategy to specifically repair the HTT allele. We employed a dual plasmid transfection system consisting of a pre-mRNA trans-splicing module (PTM) containing HTT exon 1 and a HTT minigene to demonstrate that HTT exon 1 can be replaced in trans. We detected the presence of the trans-spliced RNA in which PTM exon 1 was correctly joined to minigene exons 2 and 3. Furthermore, exon 1 from the PTM was trans-spliced to the endogenous HTT pre-mRNA in cultured cells as well as disease-relevant models, including HD patient fibroblasts and primary neurons from a previously described HD mouse model. These results suggest that the repeat expansion of HTT can be repaired successfully not only in the context of synthetic minigenes but also within the context of HD neurons. Therefore, pre-mRNA trans-splicing may be a promising approach for the treatment of HD and other dominant genetic disorders.