Background: Dmdmdx, harbouring the c.2983C>T nonsense mutation in Dmd exon 23, is a mouse model for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), frequently used to test therapies aimed at dystrophin restoration. Current translational research is methodologically hampered by the lack of a reporter mouse model, which would allow direct visualization of dystrophin expression as well as longitudinal in vivo studies.
Methods: We generated a DmdEGFP-mdx reporter allele carrying in cis the mdx-23 mutation and a C-terminal EGFP-tag. This mouse model allows direct visualization of spontaneously and therapeutically restored dystrophin-EGFP fusion protein either after natural fibre reversion, or for example, after splice modulation using tricyclo-DNA to skip Dmd exon 23, or after gene editing using AAV-encoded CRISPR/Cas9 for Dmd exon 23 excision.
Results: Intravital microscopy in anaesthetized mice allowed live-imaging of sarcolemmal dystrophin-EGFP fusion protein of revertant fibres as well as following therapeutic restoration. Dystrophin-EGFP-fluorescence persisted ex vivo, allowing live-imaging of revertant and therapeutically restored dystrophin in isolated fibres ex vivo. Expression of the shorter dystrophin-EGFP isoforms Dp71 in the brain, Dp260 in the retina, and Dp116 in the peripheral nerve remained unabated by the mdx-23 mutation.
Conclusion: Intravital imaging of DmdEGFP-mdx muscle permits novel experimental approaches such as the study of revertant and therapeutically restored dystrophin in vivo and ex vivo.