Dr. Lori L. Isom, University of Michigan
October 26, 2021
12 p.m. to 1 p.m.
The long-term goal of our research is to understand the mechanisms of SUDEP, defined as Sudden, Unexpected, witnessed or unwitnessed, nontraumatic and non-drowning Death in patients with EPilepsy, excluding cases of documented status epilepticus. The majority of SUDEP patients die during sleep. SUDEP is the most devastating consequence of epilepsy, yet little is understood about its causes and no biomarkers exist to identify at risk patients. While SUDEP accounts for 7.5-20% of all epilepsy deaths, SUDEP risk in the genetic epilepsies varies with affected genes. Patients with ion channel gene variants have the highest SUDEP risk. Indirect evidence variably links SUDEP to seizure-induced apnea, pulmonary edema, dysregulation of cerebral circulation, autonomic dysfunction, and cardiac arrhythmias. Arrhythmias may be primary or secondary to hormonal or metabolic changes, or autonomic discharges. When SUDEP is compared to Sudden Cardiac Death secondary to Long QT Syndrome, especially to LQT3 linked to variants in the voltage-gated sodium channel (VGSC) gene SCN5A, there are parallels in the circumstances of death. To gain insight into SUDEP mechanisms, our approach has focused on channelopathies with high SUDEP incidence. One such disorder is Dravet syndrome (DS), a devastating form of developmental and epileptic encephalopathy (DEE) characterized by multiple pharmacoresistant seizure types, intellectual disability, ataxia, and increased mortality. While all patients with epilepsy are at risk for SUDEP, DS patients may have the highest risk, up to 20%, with a mean age at SUDEP of 4.6 years. Over 80% of DS is caused by de novo heterozygous loss-of-function (LOF) variants in SCN1A, encoding the VGSC Nav1.1 a subunit, resulting in haploinsufficiency. A smaller cohort of patients with DS or a more severe DEE have inherited, homozygous LOF variants in SCN1B, encoding the VGSC b1/b1B non-pore-forming subunits. A related DEE, Early Infantile EE (EIEE) type 13, is linked to de novo heterozygous gain-of-function variants in SCN8A, encoding the VGSC Nav1.6. VGSCs underlie the rising phase and propagation of action potentials in neurons and cardiac myocytes. SCN1A, SCN8A, and SCN1B are expressed in both the heart and brain of humans and mice. Because of this, we proposed that cardiac arrhythmias contribute to the mechanism of SUDEP in DEE.
We have taken a novel approach to the development of therapeutics for DS in collaboration with Stoke Therapeutics. We employed Targeted Augmentation of Nuclear Gene Output (TANGO) technology, which modulates naturally occurring, non-productive splicing events to increase target gene and protein expression and ameliorate disease phenotype in a mouse model. We identified antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) that specifically increase the expression of productive Scn1a transcript in human and mouse cell lines, as well as in mouse brain. We showed that a single intracerebroventricular dose of a lead ASO at postnatal day 2 or 14 reduced the incidence of electrographic seizures and SUDEP in the F1:129S-Scn1a+/- x C57BL/6J mouse model of DS. Increased expression of productive Scn1a transcript and NaV1.1 protein were confirmed in brains of treated mice. Our results suggest that TANGO may provide a unique, gene-specific approach for the treatment of DS.