Pathogenic variants in the human F-box and leucine-rich repeat protein 4 (FBXL4) gene result in an autosomal recessive, multisystemic, mitochondrial disorder involving variable mitochondrial depletion and respiratory chain complex deficiencies with lactic acidemia. As no FDA-approved effective therapies for this disease exist, we sought to characterize translational C. elegans and zebrafish animal models, as well as human fibroblasts, to study FBXL4–/– disease mechanisms and identify preclinical therapeutic leads. Developmental delay, impaired fecundity and neurologic and/or muscular activity, mitochondrial dysfunction, and altered lactate metabolism were identified in fbxl-1(ok3741) C. elegans. Detailed studies of a PDHc activator, dichloroacetate (DCA), in fbxl-1(ok3741) C. elegans demonstrated its beneficial effects on fecundity, neuromotor activity, and mitochondrial function. Validation studies were performed in fbxl4sa12470 zebrafish larvae and in FBXL4–/– human fibroblasts; they showed DCA efficacy in preventing brain death, impairment of neurologic and/or muscular function, mitochondrial biochemical dysfunction, and stress-induced morphologic and ultrastructural mitochondrial defects. These data demonstrate that fbxl-1(ok3741) C. elegans and fbxl4sa12470 zebrafish provide robust translational models to study mechanisms and identify preclinical therapeutic candidates for FBXL4–/– disease. Furthermore, DCA is a lead therapeutic candidate with therapeutic benefit on diverse aspects of survival, neurologic and/or muscular function, and mitochondrial physiology that warrants rigorous clinical trial study in humans with FBXL4–/– disease.
Manuela Lavorato, Eiko Nakamaru-Ogiso, Neal D. Mathew, Elizabeth Herman, Nina Shah, Suraiya Haroon, Rui Xiao, Christoph Seiler, Marni J. Falk