Zidovudine ameliorates pathology in the mouse model of Duchenne muscular dystrophy via P2RX7 purinoceptor antagonism

Rasha Al-Khalidi, Chiara Panicucci, Paul Cox, Natalia Chira, Justyna Róg, Christopher Young, Rhiannon Lloyd, Kameshwari Ambati, Jayakrishna Ambati, Krzysztof Zabłocki, Elisabetta Gazzerro, Stephen Arkle, Claudio Bruno, Darek Gorecki

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Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is the most common inherited muscle disorder that causes severe disability and death of young men. This disease is characterized by progressive muscle degeneration aggravated by sterile inflammation and is also associated with cognitive impairment and low bone density. Given that no current treatment can improve the long-term outcome, approaches with a strong translational potential are urgently needed. Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) alters P2RX7 signaling in both muscle and inflammatory cells and inhibition of this receptor resulted in a significant attenuation of muscle and non-muscle symptoms in DMDmdx mouse model. As P2RX7 is an attractive target in a range of human diseases, specific antagonists have been developed. Yet, these will require lengthy safety testing in the pediatric population of Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) patients. In contrast, Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTIs) can act as P2RX7 antagonists and are drugs with an established safety record, including in children. We demonstrate here that AZT (Zidovudine) inhibits P2RX7 functions acting via the same allosteric site as other antagonists. Moreover, short-term AZT treatment at the peak of disease in DMDmdx mice attenuated the phenotype without any detectable side effects. Recovery was evident in the key parameters such as reduced sarcolemma permeability confirmed by lower serum creatine kinase levels and IgG influx into myofibres, decreased inflammatory cell numbers and inflammation markers in leg and heart muscles of treated mice. Moreover, this short-term therapy had some positive impact on muscle strength in vivo and no detrimental effect on mitochondria, which is the main side-effect of Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTIs). Given these results, we postulate that AZT could be quickly re-purposed for the treatment of this highly debilitating and lethal disease. This approach is not constrained by causative DMD mutations and may be effective in alleviating both muscle and non-muscle abnormalities.
Original languageEnglish
Article number27
Number of pages17
JournalActa Neuropathologica Communications
Early online date11 Apr 2018
Publication statusEarly online - 11 Apr 2018


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