Six Years and Counting: Restoration of Photopic Retinal Function and Visual Behavior Following Gene Augmentation Therapy in a Sheep Model of CNGA3 Achromatopsia

Ron Ofri*, Edward Averbukh, Raaya Ezra-Elia, Maya Ross, Hen Honig, Alexey Obolensky, Alexander Rosov, William W. Hauswirth, Elisha Gootwine, Eyal Banin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations

Abstract

Achromatopsia causes severely reduced visual acuity, photoaversion, and inability to discern colors due to cone photoreceptor dysfunction. In 2010, we reported on day-blindness in sheep caused by a stop-codon mutation of the ovine CNGA3 gene and began gene augmentation therapy trials in this naturally occurring large animal model of CNGA3 achromatopsia. The purpose of this study was to evaluate long-term efficacy and safety results of treatment, findings that hold great relevance for clinical trials that started recently in CNGA3 achromatopsia patients. Nine day-blind sheep were available for long-term follow up. The right eye of each sheep was treated with a single subretinal injection of an Adeno-Associated Virus Type 5 (AAV5) vector carrying either a mouse (n = 4) or a human (n = 5) CNGA3 transgene under control of the 2.1-Kb red/green opsin promoter. The efficacy of treatment was assessed periodically with photopic maze tests and electroretinographic (ERG) recordings for as long as 74 months postoperatively. Safety was assessed by repeated ophthalmic examinations and scotopic ERG recordings. The retinas of three animals that died of unrelated causes >5 years post-treatment were studied histologically and immunohistochemically using anti-hCNGA3 and anti-red/green cone opsin antibodies. Passage time and number of collisions of treated sheep in the photopic maze test were significantly lower at all follow-up examinations as compared with pretreatment values (p = 0.0025 and p < 0.001, respectively). ERG Critical Flicker Fusion Frequency and flicker amplitudes at 30 and 40 Hz showed significant improvement following treatment (p < 0.0001) throughout the study. Ophthalmic examinations and rod ERG recordings showed no abnormalities in the treated eyes. Immunohistochemistry revealed the presence of CNGA3 protein in red/green opsin-positive cells (cones) of the treated eyes. Our results show significant, long-term improvement in cone function, demonstrating a robust rescue effect up to six years following a single treatment with a viral vector that provides episomal delivery of the transgene. This unique follow-up duration confirms the safe and stable nature of AAV5 gene therapy in the ovine achromatopsia model.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1376-1386
Number of pages11
JournalHuman Gene Therapy
Volume29
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers.

Keywords

  • AAV5
  • cones
  • day-blindness
  • electroretinography
  • sheep

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