Researchers at the University of Virginia recently published a paper describing a biological pathway they believe is affected in people with myotonic dystrophy (DM). Previous studies have identified the DNA mutations causing both types of DM, and determined that the RNA molecule made from the DNA is the culprit in causing toxicity in the cell and leading to symptoms of DM.
Though DM symptoms such as myotonia have been linked to the toxic RNA molecule, other symptoms such as muscle weakness and muscle wasting have not been fully explained. This study identifies a possible pathway, the TWEAK/Fn14 pathway, which appears to be activated in DM mouse models and in muscles of people with DM1. The authors suggest this pathway may be responsible for muscle degeneration in DM1, and that blocking the pathway might prove beneficial. A drug blocking this pathway, known as the anti-TWEAK antibody, is currently in trials for other diseases.
When the anti-TWEAK antibody was tested on a very small sample of DM mouse models, there were improvements in muscle appearance and function. However, the treatment was not sufficient to reverse myotonia or cardiac conduction defects in the mouse models. The authors concluded that the treatment will likely not cure myotonic dystrophy, but instead may be better suited for a therapeutic approach involving a combination of experimental treatments.
Further analysis is necessary to determine whether the TWEAK/Fn14 pathway and targeting it in individuals with DM1 provides a worthwhile therapeutic strategy. The pharmaceutical company Biogen Idec and the Mahadevan Lab at the University of Virginia have been conducting an investigative collaboration for several years studying the pathway and the anti-TWEAK molecule. Anti-TWEAK may be used at some point in the future to target specific diseases that may or may not include DM, but plans and dates have not been formulated. MDF will keep the community apprised if developments become available.