Antisense Oligonucleotide Therapeutics in Neurodegenerative Diseases

The Case of Polyglutamine Disorders

Ana C. Silva; Diana D. Lobo; Inês M. Martins; Sara M. Lopes; Carina Henriques; Sónia P. Duarte; Jean-Cosme Dodart; Rui Jorge Nobre; Luis Pereira de Almeida


Brain. 2020;143(2):407-429. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Polyglutamine (polyQ) disorders are a group of nine neurodegenerative diseases that share a common genetic cause, which is an expansion of CAG repeats in the coding region of the causative genes that are otherwise unrelated. The trinucleotide expansion encodes for an expanded polyQ tract in the respective proteins, resulting in toxic gain-of-function and eventually in neurodegeneration. Currently, no disease-modifying therapies are available for this group of disorders. Nevertheless, given their monogenic nature, polyQ disorders are ideal candidates for therapies that target specifically the gene transcripts. Antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) have been under intense investigation over recent years as gene silencing tools. ASOs are small synthetic single-stranded chains of nucleic acids that target specific RNA transcripts through several mechanisms. ASOs can reduce the levels of mutant proteins by breaking down the targeted transcript, inhibit mRNA translation or alter the maturation of the pre-mRNA via splicing correction. Over the years, chemical optimization of ASO molecules has allowed significant improvement of their pharmacological properties, which has in turn made this class of therapeutics a very promising strategy to treat a variety of neurodegenerative diseases. Indeed, preclinical and clinical strategies have been developed in recent years for some polyQ disorders using ASO therapeutics. The success of ASOs in several animal models, as well as encouraging results in the clinic for Huntington's disease, points towards a promising future regarding the application of ASO-based therapies for polyQ disorders in humans, offering new opportunities to address unmet medical needs for this class of disorders. This review aims to present a brief overview of key chemical modifications, mechanisms of action and routes of administration that have been described for ASO-based therapies. Moreover, it presents a review of the most recent and relevant preclinical and clinical trials that have tested ASO therapeutics in polyQ disorders.