Androgen receptor agonists increase lean mass, improve cardiopulmonary functions and extend survival in preclinical models of Duchenne muscular dystrophy
Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a neuromuscular disease that predominantly affects boys as a result of mutation(s) in the dystrophin gene. DMD is characterized by musculoskeletal and cardiopulmonary complications, resulting in shorter life-span. Boys afflicted by DMD typically exhibit symptoms within 3-5 years of age and declining physical functions before attaining puberty. We hypothesized that rapidly deteriorating health of pre-pubertal boys with DMD could be due to diminished anabolic actions of androgens in muscle, and that intervention with an androgen receptor (AR) agonist will reverse musculoskeletal complications and extend survival. While castration of dystrophin and utrophin double mutant (mdx-dm) mice to mimic pre-pubertal nadir androgen condition resulted in premature death, maintenance of androgen levels extended the survival. Non-steroidal selective-AR modulator, GTx-026, which selectively builds muscle and bone was tested in X-linked muscular dystrophy mice (mdx). GTx-026 significantly increased body weight, lean mass and grip strength by 60-80% over vehicle-treated mdx mice. While vehicle-treated castrated mdx mice exhibited cardiopulmonary impairment and fibrosis of heart and lungs, GTx-026 returned cardiopulmonary function and intensity of fibrosis to healthy control levels. GTx-026 elicits its musculoskeletal effects through pathways that are distinct from dystrophin-regulated pathways, making AR agonists ideal candidates for combination approaches. While castration of mdx-dm mice resulted in weaker muscle and shorter survival, GTx-026 treatment increased the muscle mass, function and survival, indicating that androgens are important for extended survival. These preclinical results support the importance of androgens and the need for intervention with AR agonists to treat DMD-affected boys.