Combined Hematopoietic and Lentiviral Gene-Transfer Therapies in Newborn Twitcher Mice Reveal Contemporaneous Neurodegeneration and Demyelination in Krabbe Disease

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Abstract

This study characterized the therapeutic benefits of combining hematogenous cell replacement with lentiviral-mediated gene transfer of galactosylceramidase (GALC) in Twitcher mice, a bona fide model for Krabbe disease. Bone marrow cells and GALC-lentiviral vectors were administered intravenously without any preconditioning to newborn Twitcher pups before postnatal day 2. Treated Twitchers survived up to 4 months of age. GALC activity remained less than 5% of normal values in the nervous system for the first 2 months after treatment and reached ˜30% in long-term-surviving mice. Long-term reconstitution of GALC activity in the nervous system was provided primarily by infiltrating macrophages and to a lesser extent by direct lentiviral transduction of neural cells. Treated Twitchers had significant preservation of myelin, with a G-ratio (ratio of the axon diameter to the diameter of the myelinated fiber) in sciatic nerve myelin of 0.75 ± 0.08 compared with 0.85 ± 0.10 in untreated mutants. Although treated mutants had improved locomotor activities during their long-term survival, they died with symptoms of progressive neurological degeneration, indistinguishable from those seen in untreated Twitchers. Examination of long-lived Twitchers showed that treated mutants were not protected from developing degeneration of axons throughout the neuroaxis. These results suggest that GALC deficiency not only affects myelinating glia but also leads to neuronal dysfunction. The contemporaneous neuropathology might help to explain the limited efficacy of current gene and cell therapies.

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