Charlotte Sumner, associate professor of neurology and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md., was awarded an MDA research grant totaling $300,000 over a period of three years to study the effects of the gene that causes one form of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT).
CMT is characterized by the degeneration of peripheral nerves, resulting in disabling muscle weakness and sensory loss. One form of the disease, called type 2C CMT (CMT2C), is caused by mutations in a gene called TRPV4 that helps control the flow of calcium in and out of cells. “Our long-term goal is to determine how mutations in TRPV4 lead to CMT2C and to develop treatments for this disease,” Sumner says.
Some effects of these gene mutations are known, but how they cause nerve degeneration is still unclear. Sumner has generated fly and mouse models of CMT2C in order to pursue that question. “The advantage of using fruit flies is that they allow us to rapidly evaluate the effects of multiple mutations and potential disease modifiers, as well as to assess TRPV4 function by calcium imaging.” The mouse, in turn, better mimics aspects of human physiology affected in the disease and can be used to test drugs.
“Together, these studies will provide important insights into the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying TRPV4-mediated nerve disease, and in the future, we plan to use these fly and mouse models synergistically to develop new therapeutic interventions,” she says. “Because it is an ion channel expressed at the cell surface membrane [and therefore potentially accessible by therapeutic compounds], TRPV4 inhibition represents an attractive therapeutic strategy for patients with CMT2C.”
Funding for this MDA grant began August 1, 2013.