Scientists using an experimental treatment have slowed the progression of scrapie, a degenerative central nervous disease caused by prions, in laboratory mice and greatly extended the rodents’ lives, according to a new report in JCI Insight. The scientists used antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs), synthetic compounds that inhibit the formation of specific proteins.
Prion diseases occur when normally harmless prion protein molecules become abnormal and gather in clusters and filaments in the body, including the brain. The diseases are thought to be always fatal. Scrapie, which affects sheep and goats and can be adapted to rodents, is closely related to human prion diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which is currently untreatable. Thus, scrapie is a valuable experimental model for the development of human prion disease therapies.
In the studies, National Institutes of Health scientists and their colleagues injected ASOs into the spinal fluid of mice already infected with scrapie or that were challenged with scrapie proteins within weeks of the injection. Ionis Pharmaceuticals specifically designed ASO1 and ASO2 to reduce the rodents’ supply of normal prion protein. Rodent studies using different dosages of ASO1 and ASO2 were conducted at Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML) in Hamilton, Montana, (part of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) and at the Broad Institute of Cambridge, Massachusetts.