Association of Messenger RNA Level With Phenotype in Patients With Choroideremia: Potential Implications for Gene Therapy Dose.
Fry LE., Patrício MI., Williams J., Aylward JW., Hewitt H., Clouston P., Xue K., Barnard AR., MacLaren RE.
Importance: Gene therapy is a promising treatment for choroideremia, an X-linked retinal degeneration. The required minimum level of gene expression to ameliorate degeneration rate is unknown. This can be interrogated by exploring the association between messenger RNA (mRNA) levels and phenotype in mildly affected patients with choroideremia. Objective: To analyze CHM mRNA splicing outcomes in 2 unrelated patients with the same c.940+3delA CHM splice site variant identified as mildly affected from a previous study of patients with choroideremia. Design, Setting, and Participants: In this retrospective observational case series, 2 patients with c.940+3delA CHM variants treated at a single tertiary referral center were studied. In addition, a third patient with a c.940+2T>A variant that disrupts the canonical dinucleotide sequence at the same donor site served as a positive control. Data were collected from October 2013 to July 2018. Main Outcomes and Measures: Central area of residual fundus autofluorescence was used as a biomarker for disease progression. CHM transcript splicing was assessed by both end point and quantitative polymerase chain reaction. Rab escort protein 1 (REP1) expression was assessed by immunoblot. Results: The 2 mildly affected patients with c.940+3delA variants had large areas of residual autofluorescence for their age and longer degeneration half-lives compared with the previous cohort of patients with choroideremia. The control patient with a c.940+2T>A variant had a residual autofluorescence area within the range expected for his age. Both patients with the c.940+3delA variant expressed residual levels of full-length CHM mRNA transcripts relative to the predominant truncated transcript (mean [SEM] residual level: patient 1, 2.3% [0.3]; patient 2, 4.7% [0.2]), equivalent to approximately less than 1% of the level of full-length CHM expressed in nonaffected individuals. Full-length CHM expression was undetectable in the control patient. REP1 expression was less than the threshold for detection both in patients 1 and 2 and the control patient compared with wild-type controls. Conclusions and Relevance: These results demonstrate the first genotype-phenotype association in choroideremia. A +3 deletion in intron 7 is sufficient to cause choroideremia in a milder form. If replicated with gene therapy, these findings would suggest that relatively low expression (less than 1%) of the wild-type levels of mRNA would be sufficient to slow disease progression.