The journal of gene medicine vol:7 issue:9 pages:1255-6
This commentary highlights the promising results of recent studies in animal models of Duchenne muscular dystrophy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis that have clearly demonstrated the potential of gene therapy for tackling these diseases. In the absence of effective drugs or other treatments, these advances in gene therapy technology represent the best hope for those patients and families that are blighted by these diseases. BACKGROUND: Diseases characterized by progressive muscle degeneration are often incurable and affect a relatively large number of individuals. The progressive deterioration of muscle function is like the sword of Damocles that constantly reminds patients suffering from these diseases of their tragic fate, since most of them will eventually die from cardiac or pulmonary dysfunction. Some of these disorders are due to mutations in genes that directly influence the integrity of muscle fibers, such as in Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), a recessive X-linked genetic disease. Others result from a progressive neurodegeneration of the motoneurons that are essential for maintaining muscle function, such as in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The genetic basis of DMD is relatively well understood as it is due to mutations in the dystrophin gene that encodes the cognate sarcolemmal protein. In contrast, the cause of ALS is poorly defined, with the exception of some dominantly inherited familial cases of ALS that are due to gain-of-function mutations in the gene encoding superoxide dismutase (SODG93A). Gene therapy for these disorders has been hampered by the inability to achieve widespread gene transfer. Moreover, since familial ALS is due to a dominant gain-of-function mutation, inhibition of gene expression (rather than gene augmentation) would be required to correct the phenotype, which is particularly challenging.