, Volume 34, Issue 3, pp 241-248
Date: 18 Jan 2008

Animal Models for Genetic Neuromuscular Diseases

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The neuromuscular disorders are a heterogeneous group of genetic diseases, caused by mutations in genes coding sarcolemmal, sarcomeric, and citosolic muscle proteins. Deficiencies or loss of function of these proteins leads to variable degree of progressive loss of motor ability. Several animal models, manifesting phenotypes observed in neuromuscular diseases, have been identified in nature or generated in laboratory. These models generally present physiological alterations observed in human patients and can be used as important tools for genetic, clinic, and histopathological studies. The mdx mouse is the most widely used animal model for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). Although it is a good genetic and biochemical model, presenting total deficiency of the protein dystrophin in the muscle, this mouse is not useful for clinical trials because of its very mild phenotype. The canine golden retriever MD model represents a more clinically similar model of DMD due to its larger size and significant muscle weakness. Autosomal recessive limb-girdle MD forms models include the SJL/J mice, which develop a spontaneous myopathy resulting from a mutation in the Dysferlin gene, being a model for LGMD2B. For the human sarcoglycanopahties (SG), the BIO14.6 hamster is the spontaneous animal model for δ-SG deficiency, whereas some canine models with deficiency of SG proteins have also been identified. More recently, using the homologous recombination technique in embryonic stem cell, several mouse models have been developed with null mutations in each one of the four SG genes. All sarcoglycan-null animals display a progressive muscular dystrophy of variable severity and share the property of a significant secondary reduction in the expression of the other members of the sarcoglycan subcomplex and other components of the Dystrophin-glycoprotein complex. Mouse models for congenital MD include the dy/dy (dystrophia-muscularis) mouse and the allelic mutant dy2J/dy2J mouse, both presenting significant reduction of α2-laminin in the muscle and a severe phenotype. The myodystrophy mouse (Largemyd) harbors a mutation in the glycosyltransferase Large, which leads to altered glycosylation of α-DG, and also a severe phenotype. Other informative models for muscle proteins include the knockout mouse for myostatin, which demonstrated that this protein is a negative regulator of muscle growth. Additionally, the stress syndrome in pigs, caused by mutations in the porcine RYR1 gene, helped to localize the gene causing malignant hypertermia and Central Core myopathy in humans. The study of animal models for genetic diseases, in spite of the existence of differences in some phenotypes, can provide important clues to the understanding of the pathogenesis of these disorders and are also very valuable for testing strategies for therapeutic approaches.