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Selective Upregulation of SIRT1 Expression in Retinal Ganglion Cells by AAV-Mediated Gene Delivery Increases Neuronal Cell Survival and Alleviates Axon Demyelination Associated with Optic Neuritis

Ross, AG;Chaqour, B;McDougald, DS;Dine, KE;Duong, TT;Shindler, RE;Yue, J;Liu, T;Shindler, KS;

Optic neuritis (ON), the most common ocular manifestation of multiple sclerosis, is an autoimmune inflammatory demyelinating disease also characterized by degeneration of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) and their axons, which commonly leads to visual impairment despite attempted treatments. Although ON disease etiology is not known, changes in the redox system and exacerbated optic nerve inflammation play a major role in the pathogenesis of the disease. Silent information regulator 1 (sirtuin-1/SIRT1) is a ubiquitously expressed NAD+-dependent deacetylase, which functions to reduce/prevent both oxidative stress and inflammation in various tissues. Non-specific upregulation of SIRT1 by pharmacologic and genetic approaches attenuates RGC loss in experimental ON. Herein, we hypothesized that targeted expression of SIRT1 selectively in RGCs using an adeno-associated virus (AAV) vector as a delivery vehicle is an effective approach to reducing neurodegeneration and preserving vision in ON. We tested this hypothesis through intravitreal injection of AAV7m8.SNCG.SIRT1, an AAV2-derived vector optimized for highly efficient SIRT1 transgene transfer and protein expression into RGCs in mice with experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), a model of multiple sclerosis that recapitulates optic neuritis RGC loss and axon demyelination. Our data show that EAE mice injected with a control vehicle exhibit progressive alteration of visual function reflected by decreasing optokinetic response (OKR) scores, whereas comparatively, AAV7m8.SNCG.SIRT1-injected EAE mice maintain higher OKR scores, suggesting that SIRT1 reduces the visual deficit imparted by EAE. Consistent with this, RGC survival determined by immunolabeling is increased and axon demyelination is decreased in the AAV7m8.SNCG.SIRT1 RGC-injected group of EAE mice compared to the mouse EAE counterpart injected with a vehicle or with control vector AAV7m8.SNCG.eGFP. However, immune cell infiltration of the optic nerve is not significantly different among all EAE groups of mice injected with either vehicle or AAV7m8.SNCG.SIRT1. We conclude that despite minimally affecting the inflammatory response in the optic nerve, AAV7m8-mediated SIRT1 transfer into RGCs has a neuroprotective potential against RGC loss, axon demyelination and vison deficits associated with EAE. Together, these data suggest that SIRT1 exerts direct effects on RGC survival and function.