There is currently no way to correct disease-causing mutations in the nervous system without altering the physiological level of the endogenous mRNA. This is a serious challenge because haplo-insufficiency or two-fold over-expression is often sufficient to cause neurological disorders. An example is Rett Syndrome, caused by mutations in the Mecp2 gene. Mecp2 gene duplication, as well as loss-of-function, results in severe disease. We propose to meet the challenge by harnessing the natural ability of RNA editing enzymes to site-specifically fix mutations in endogenous mRNAs. As a target for gene therapy, mRNA offers advantages over DNA. Messenger RNA is cytoplasmic, a readily available substrate, and unlike DNA in which 'mistakes' will be maintained, mRNAs turnover, replenishing the therapeutic target. Our new approach, Site Directed RNA Editing (SDRE), offers enormous untapped potential for correcting mutations, particularly those affecting the nervous system, and for exploring fundamental biological questions. RNA editing, which occurs through adenosine or cytidine deamination, is a natural process. When it occurs within the coding sequence of an mRNA specific codons can be re-coded to produce an altered amino acid sequence. For example, excitatory neurotransmission absolutely depends on the editing of a single adenosine within AMPA-type glutamate receptor mRNAs. Recognizing the power of this activity, we engineered a hybrid modular adenosine deaminase. When used in combination with a small antisense guide RNA we can site-specifically target any chosen adenosine. A similar strategy will be employed to create a site-directed cytidine deaminase. Unlike established therapies that focus strictly on regulating gene expression, SDRE can also fine-tune protein function. Inherited mutations that underlie diseases due to amino acid substitutions or premature stop codons can be corrected, and second-site suppressor mutations that restore function can be selectively introduced. We will demonstrate the power of SDRE within the context of neurobiology, but importantly, it applies to any biological system.
Our innovative approach, called Site Directed RNA Editing (SDRE), has the potential to cure human diseases by fixing adenosine or cytidine mutations in mRNA in situ. Importantly, SDRE achieves this goal without changing the endogenous level of the target mRNA. We will exploit and integrate three different systems, cell-free, zebrafish, and mouse, to translate the SDRE concept into practice and advance its utility for improving public health.
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