Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) is an autosomal dominant or digenic disorder linked to derepression of the toxic DUX4 gene in muscle. There is currently no pharmacological treatment. The emergence of DUX4 enabled development of cell and animal models that could be used for basic and translational research. Since DUX4 is toxic, animal model development has been challenging, but progress has been made, revealing that tight regulation of DUX4 expression is critical for creating viable animals that develop myopathy. Here, we report such a model — the tamoxifen-inducible FSHD mouse model called TIC-DUX4. Uninduced animals are viable, born in Mendelian ratios, and overtly indistinguishable from WT animals. Induced animals display significant DUX4-dependent myopathic phenotypes at the molecular, histological, and functional levels. To demonstrate the utility of TIC-DUX4 mice for therapeutic development, we tested a gene therapy approach aimed at improving muscle strength in DUX4-expressing muscles using adeno-associated virus serotype 1.Follistatin (AAV1.Follistatin), a natural myostatin antagonist. This strategy was not designed to modulate DUX4 but could offer a mechanism to improve muscle weakness caused by DUX4-induced damage. AAV1.Follistatin significantly increased TIC-DUX4 muscle mass and strength even in the presence of DUX4 expression, suggesting that myostatin inhibition may be a promising approach to treat FSHD-associated weakness. We conclude that TIC-DUX4 mice are a relevant model to study DUX4 toxicity and, importantly, are useful in therapeutic development studies for FSHD.
Carlee R. Giesige, Lindsay M. Wallace, Kristin N. Heller, Jocelyn O. Eidahl, Nizar Y. Saad, Allison M. Fowler, Nettie K. Pyne, Mustafa Al-Kharsan, Afrooz Rashnonejad, Gholamhossein Amini Chermahini, Jacqueline S. Domire, Diana Mukweyi, Sara E. Garwick-Coppens, Susan M. Guckes, K. John McLaughlin, Kathrin Meyer, Louise R. Rodino-Klapac, Scott Q. Harper