PAF Grant Maclean

PAF Awards $50,000 New Research Grant

Ken Maclean, PhD, University of Colorado Denver 

“Chemical Chaperone Treatment to Restore Enzyme Activity in Folding Mutations of Propionyl-Co-A Carboxylase: Towards a Personalized Therapeutic Strategy in Propionic Acidemia (PA)” – In Summer 2020, PAF awarded a $50,000 grant.”  

Propionic acidemia (PA) is a severe life-threatening disease for which there is currently no truly effective treatment. The disease is caused by mutation in one of the two genes that code for the enzyme propionyl-CoA carboxylase (PCC). This enzyme is made up of two different proteins that fold around each other into a complex structure with six of each of these two molecules. This is a very unusual and complex structure for a metabolic enzyme and recent work in our laboratory has found that a number of specific mutations that cause PA cause problems by interfering with the protein folding and/or assembly process leading to a non-functional enzyme and thus the disease. In cells, proteins with complicated folding patterns are often assisted in their folding by other proteins called chaperones. We have observed that a number of mutant forms of PCC can be restored to normal activity if they are helped to fold correctly using these chaperone proteins. In our study, we will examine a number of chemicals that can also function as chaperones and assist with protein folding with a view towards restoring full activity in mutant forms of PCC. This work will initially occur in a bacterial PCC expression system to identify promising compounds and then depending upon progress, move into treating human PCC patient derived cells. These studies have the potential to serve as an initial first step in the rational design of a personalized medicine strategy for patients with specific mutations causing PA.

PAF research summary Elango

PAF Awards $44,253 New Research Grant

Rajavel Elango, PhD, University of British Columbia

“Optimizing amino acids in medical foods to manage propionic acidemia”  

Propionic Acidemia (PA) is primarily caused by an enzymatic defect, propionyl-CoA carboxylase (PCC), in the catabolic pathway of valine, isoleucine and other propiogenic precursors. The dietary management of PA mainly depends on protein restriction from food to reduce supply of propiogenic amino acids, and the use of special medical foods. These medical foods contain all essential amino acids and nutrients, but no propiogenic compounds. Recently, concerns have been raised about their use, due to the imbalanced content of the Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) – high leucine, to minimal or no valine and isoleucine. The imbalanced mixture of BCAA negatively impacts plasma concentrations of valine and isoleucine, and has been proposed to affect growth in pediatric PA patients. 

In an ongoing retrospective natural history study (n=4), patients with PA treated at our center from birth (or diagnosis) to age 18y, we observed that higher intake of medical food (compared to intact protein) results in lower ht-for-age Z scores. Based on these pilot data, we propose that there is an immediate need to determine the optimal amounts of leucine to be present in the medical foods.

Therefore, the specific objectives of the current study are to:

  1. Stable isotope studies
    1. Determine the ideal ratio among BCAA in children using the stable isotope-based indicator amino acid method to optimize protein synthesis in a Proof-of-Principle approach.
    2. Test the ratio among BCAA using the same stable isotope-based method in our cohort of PA patients to determine impact on protein synthesis, and plasma metabolite responses.
  2. Determine the impact of the use of natural (intact) vs formula (medical food) protein on anthropometric, biochemical and clinical outcomes via a retrospective natural history study of PA patients treated at BC Children’s Hospital.

Recent dietary guidelines for PA are discouraging the reliance on medical foods as a sole dietary source. However most individuals with PA are at risk for malnutrition and depend on these medical foods as an easy tolerable source of energy and protein. Thus, determining the optimal ratio of BCAA in PA medical foods is necessary to optimize protein synthesis, promote anabolism, growth and prevent the accumulation of toxic metabolites. 

Our laboratory, equipped with use of novel stable isotope tracers to examine protein and amino acid metabolism, is ideally suited to address the question of the ideal BCAA ratio to be used for dietary management of PA and potentially impact health outcomes.

 

Propionic Acidemia Foundation Research Grant – Richard

PAF Awards $33.082.12  Research Grant in 2019

PAF Awards $30,591  Continuation Grant in 2020

Eva Richard, PhD, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, Spain

“Cardiomyocytes derived from induced pluripotent stem cells as a new model for therapy development in propionic acidemia”

Understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms that occur in genetic diseases is essential for the investigation of new strategies for their prevention and treatment. In this context, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) offer unprecedented opportunities for modeling human disease. One of the fundamental powers of iPSC technology lies in the competency of these cells to be directed to become any cell type in the body, thus allowing researchers to examine disease mechanisms and identify and test novel therapeutics in relevant cell types.

The main objective of this project is focused on the generation of human iPSC-derived cardiomyocytes (hiPSC-CMs) from propionic acidemia (PA) patients as a new human cellular model for the disease.In PA, cardiac symptoms, namely cardiac dysfunction and arrhythmias, have been recognized as progressive late-onset complications resulting in one of the major causes of disease mortality. Using hiPSC-CMs we will study cellular processes, such as mitochondrial function and oxidative stress which have been recognized as main contributors for PA pathophysiology. In addition, our aim is to unravel novel altered pathways using high-throughput techniques such as RNAseq and miRNA analysis. We will also examine the potential beneficial effects of an antioxidant and a mitochondrial biogenesis activator in PA cardiomyocytes. The results that derive from this project will be relevant for the disease providing insight into the affected biological processes, and thus providing tools and models for the identification of novel adjuvant treatments for PA.

Update September 2019 – Eva Richard PhD

There is an unmet clinical need to develop effective therapies for propionic acidemia (PA). Advances in supportive treatment based on dietary restriction and carnitine supplementation have allowed patients to live beyond the neonatal period. However, the overall outcome remains poor in most patients, who suffer from numerous complications related to disease progression, among them cardiac alterations, a major cause of PA morbidity and mortality. In our research, we developed a new cellular model of PA based on induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) with the goal of defining new molecular pathways involved in the pathophysiology of PA which would be potential treatment targeting.

Traditionally, disease pathophysiology has been studied in immortalized or human cell lines and in animal models. Unfortunately, immortalizedcells often do not respond as primary cells and animal models do not exactly recapitulate patients‘ symptoms. So far, patients-derived fibroblasts have been mainly usedas cellular models in PAdue to theiravailability and robustness, but they have important limitations.

The ability to reprogram somatic cells to iPSCs has revolutionized the way of modeling human disease. To study rare diseases, stem cell models carrying patient-specific mutations have become highly important as all cell types can be differentiated from iPSCs. We have generated and characterized two iPSC lines from patients-derived fibroblasts with defects in PCCA and PCCB genes. These iPSC lines can be differentiated into cardiomyocytes that mimic the tissue-specific hallmarks of the disease. The presence of PA cardiomyocytes has been easily established by visual observation of spontaneously contracting regions, and the expression of several cardiac markers. We have observed that PCCA-deficient cardiomyocytes present an increase in degradation products and in lipid droplets, and exhibit mitochondrial dysfunction compared to control cells. We further discovered the down-regulation of several miRNAs in PCCA cardiomyocytes compared to control ones, and several miRNAs targets are currently being analyzed in order to investigate underlying cellular pathological mechanisms. Interestingly, we have performed several experiments to analyze the effect of the mitochondrial biogenesis activator, MIN-102 compound (PPAR agonist, derivative of pioglitazone) in cardiomyocytes.

Preliminary results showed an increase in the oxygen consumption rateof PCCA and control cells. In our next steps, we plan to complete the analysis in the PCCA cardiomyocyte line, characterize PCCB cardiomyocytes and to study in depth the therapeutic potential of MitoQ and MIN-102 compounds.

We would like to sincerely thank the Propionic Acidemia Foundation for supporting our research.

Update March 2020

 “Cardiomyocytes derived from induced pluripotent stem cells as a new model for therapy development in propionic acidemia.”

Eva Richard, Associate Professor

There is an unmet clinical need to develop effective therapies for propionic acidemia (PA). Advances in supportive treatment based on dietary restriction and carnitine supplementation have allowed patients to live beyond the neonatal period. However, the overall outcome remains poor in most patients, who suffer from numerous complications related to disease progression, among them cardiac alterations, a major cause of PA morbidity and mortality. In our research, we developed a new cellular model of PA based on induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) with the goal of defining new molecular pathways involved in the pathophysiology of PA which could be potential therapeutical targets.

Traditionally, disease pathophysiology has been studied in immortalized or human cell lines and in animal models. Unfortunately, immortalized cells often do not respond as primary cells and animal models do not exactly recapitulate patients‘ symptoms. So far, patients-derived fibroblasts have been mainly used as cellular models in PA due to their availability and robustness, but they have important limitations.

The ability to reprogram somatic cells to iPSCs has revolutionized the way of modeling human disease. To study rare diseases, stem cell models carrying patient-specific mutations have become highly important as all cell types can be differentiated from iPSCs. We have generated and characterized two iPSC lines from patients-derived fibroblasts with defects in the PCCA and PCCB genes. These iPSC lines can be differentiated into cardiomyocytes that mimic the tissue-specific hallmarks of the disease. The presence of cardiomyocytes has been easily established by visual observation of spontaneously contracting regions, and the expression of several cardiac markers. PCCA iPSC-derived cardiomyocytes exhibited an alteration of autophagy process with an accumulation of residual bodies and mitochondrial dysfunction characterized by reduced oxygen consumption and alteration of mitochondrial biogenesis due to a deregulation of PPARGC1A. We also evaluated the expression of heart-enriched miRNAs previously associated with cardiac dysfunction and several miRNAs were found deregulated. Furthermore, we found increased protein levels of Herp, Grp78, Grp75, sigma-1R and Mfn2 suggesting ER stress and calcium perturbations in these cells.

We are planning to analyze PCCB cardiomyocytes to compare the results with PCCA and control data. We are working to obtain mature cardiomyocytes in order to perform electrophysiology studies (K+ currents) using a whole-cell patch clamp method. We are interested in the study of the tissue-specific bioenergetic signature comparing cardiomyocytes derived from control and PA patients´ iPSCs by reverse phase protein microarrays (RPPMA). Future work also includes testing the effect of the mitochondrial biogenesis activator, MIN-102 compound (PPAR agonist, derivative of pioglitazone) and of the mitochondrial targeting antioxidant MitoQ in PA cardiomyocytes.

We would like to sincerely thank the Propionic Acidemia Foundation for supporting our research.

 

 

 

Propionic Acidemia Foundation Research Grant Guofang Zhang

PAF Awards $48,500 Research Grant

Guofang Zhang, PhD, Duke University

“Propionyl-CoA and propionylcarnitine mediate cardiac complications in patients with propionic acidemia”

Energy production is the central cardiac metabolism for continuous mechanical work. An average human adult heart consumes ~ 6 kg ATP/day. ATP storage in the heart is only sufficient to sustain the heart beat for a few seconds. A tightly coupled cardiac energy metabolism from various substrates is critical for sufficient ATP production required by normal heart function.

One molecule of palmitic acid (fatty acid) generates much more ATP than one molecule of glucose does after their complete metabolism.Fatty acids contribute ~70-90% cardiac energy production in normal condition. However, heart still maintains high flexibility of fuel switch in response to various available substrates. Acetyl-CoA is the first convergent metabolite derived from the diverse fuel substrates via different pathways and enters tricarboxylic acid cycle (TCAC) for energy production. Therefore, the level of acetyl-CoA or the ratio of acetyl-CoA/CoA tightly controls the metabolic fluxes from two major fuels, i.e.,glucose and fatty acid, in the heart. Acetyl-CoA or CoA level is also finely tuned by carnitine acetyltransferase (CrAT) that catalyzes the reversible interconversion between short-chain acyl-CoAs and acylcarnitines.Acetylcarnitine level is ~10-100 fold greater than that of acetyl-CoA in heart and is seen as the buffer of acetyl-CoA. CrAT is highly expressed in high energy demanding organs including heart and mediates fatty acid and glucose metabolism possibly by dynamically interconverting acetyl-CoA and acetylcarnitine into each other.The deficiency of CrAT has been shown to change cardiac fuel selection.

Propionic acidemia (PA) is often associated with cardiac complications. However, the pathological mechanism remains unknown. We have demonstrated that high exogenous propionate led to the propionyl-CoA accumulation and cardiac fuel switch from fatty acid to glucose in the perfused normal rat hearts (Am. J Physiol. Endocrinol. Metab.,2018,315:E622-E633). The deficiency of propionyl-CoA carboxylase in PA also induces the accumulation of propionyl-CoA. Next, we will attempt to understand whether and how the elevated propionyl-CoA in the Pcca-/- heart (collaboration with Dr. Michael Barry)could interrupt cardiac energy metabolism by investigating the fuel switch flexibility, CrAT mediated metabolism, and buffer capacity of acetylcarnitine using stable isotope-based metabolic flux analysis (J. Biol. Chem., 2015,290:8121-32). We hope that the outcome of this project will provide meaningful therapeutic recommendation for patients with PA, especially with the cardiac complication.

Liver Transplantation Part 2

Liver Transplantation

Part 2: Outcomes Following Liver Transplantation in Children with PA and MMA

James Squires, MD, MS

Dr. Squires is a liver disease specialist at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Jodie M. Vento, MGC, LCGC

Jodie Vento is a genetic counselor and manager of the Center for Rare Disease Therapy at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Part 1 of this article, published in the Spring 2018 issue, provided answers to questions that families may have about what to expect from a liver transplant for a child with Propionic Acidemia (PA). Here, in Part 2, the authors summarize and explain the findings of a recent study of outcomes in children with PA and methylmalonic acidemia (MMA) who received liver transplants at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Why did you do this study?

Before we get to why we did this study, please allow us to back up a bit and briefly discuss the history of liver transplantation for PA and MMA, which was first proposed in the early 1990s. Because the enzyme deficiencies that cause PA and MMA exist throughout the body, not just in the liver, liver transplantation was never expected to be a cure for these diseases. The thinking was that by providing enough functional enzyme to minimize, if not eliminate, metabolic crises­––the most severe complications of PA and MMA for affected children, as well as one of the most frightening features of these diseases for families––a liver transplant could enhance stability and improve quality of life for affected children.

In recent years, policies on the allocation of donor livers in the United States have changed to give priority to patients with PA and MMA because of their risk of sudden, life-threatening metabolic crises. As a result, children with these disorders can now be listed for a liver transplant based on their diagnosis alone rather than on disease complications or severity.

A recent study, based on statistical analysis,found that liver transplantation for PA and MMA may increase both the length and quality of patients’ lives and decrease health care costs over a patient’s lifetime. However, because PA and MMA are rare disorders, it has been difficult to gather a strong body of evidence showing how well patients fare after undergoing a liver transplant.

The Pediatric Liver Transplant Program at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh was established in 1981 by world-renowned transplant surgeon Thomas E. Starzl, MD, PhD. Our Director of Pediatric Transplantation, George Mazariegos, MD, FACS, pioneered liver transplantation for children with metabolic diseases in 2004. Since then, UPMC Children’s has performed more than 330 liver transplants for children with metabolic diseases, more than any other transplant center. We’ve also performed more liver transplants in children than any other center in the United States and more living-donor transplants than any other pediatric center in the country. Our one-year survival rate for pediatric liver transplant patients is 98%, exceeding the national average of 95%, according to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (January 2018 release).

We decided to do this study because, given the breadth and depth of our experience in this field, we thought that we could make a useful contribution to medical knowledge by gathering and evaluating all of the information available to us on outcomes for all of the patients who have undergone a liver transplant for PA or MMA at our institution.

How did you do this study?

We searched our medical records database to identify all patients with a diagnosis of either PA or MMA who received either a liver transplant or a combined liver and kidney transplant between 2006 and 2017.To comply with patient privacy regulations, we first removed any and all information that could personally identify these patients. Then we examined data from their medical records and recorded information such as their age and family history, medical treatment received prior to the liver transplant, laboratory tests performed, and how they fared both immediately after the transplant and in the following months and years.

What did the study find?

We identified a total of nine patients with PA (three patients) or MMA (6 patients) who had undergone a liver or liver and kidney transplant at UPMC Children’s between 2006 and 2017. The age at which patients received their transplant ranged from one year old to 21 years old; the median, or midpoint, was nine years old. Five patients were female and four male. Eight of the nine patients had been diagnosed during their first week of life; one patient was diagnosed at age eight months.

Prior to the transplant, all of the patients had been treated with protein restriction and carnitine supplementation. Several were also receiving medication to reduce ammonia levels in the blood. Eight of the nine patients were being fed by a gastrostomy tube (also known as a “G-tube”). All were experiencing frequent metabolic crises that often required hospitalization. Additional disease-related complications included cardiomyopathy (damaged heart muscle), metabolic stroke, pancreatitis, and low blood cell counts.

Five of the six patients with MMA received combined liver and kidney transplants. One patient with MMA and all three patients with PA underwent liver transplants only. Patients’ median post-transplant length of stay in intensive care was just short of 30 days, while the total transplant-related hospital stay averaged 55 days. Patients were followed after their transplant for a median of 3.5 years (range one year to more than 11 years).

Six of the nine patients developed symptoms of liver rejection; one patient developed symptoms of kidney rejection. Rejection episodes were treated with steroids and higher doses of anti-rejection medication to suppress the immune system. None of the nine patients experienced transplant failure.

Two patients needed treatment for blood clots in the main artery that carries blood to the liver. A third patient needed treatment for a blockage in a vein that transports blood from the liver back to the heart.

Four patients experienced a build-up of bile in the liver that was caused by a blocked bile duct and required treatment with a biliary catheter. At the last follow-up, three of the four patients had been able to discontinue use of the biliary catheter.

Five patients developed viral infections that required treatment. No patients experienced a complication known as post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder, a dangerous rapid increase in white blood cells that can sometimes occur in people who are taking medication to prevent rejection of a transplanted organ.

No patients have experienced metabolic crises since the transplant. All nine patients showed improved metabolic control––indicated by normal levels of lactic acid in the blood––during the first month after the transplant. Kidney function stabilized or improved in all patients with MMA. At the two-year post-transplant assessment, heart function had improved in a patient with PA and severe cardiomyopathy.

What conclusions can be drawn from the study’s findings?

In this study of nine children with PA or MMA who were followed for an average of 3.5 years, we show 100 percent survival for both patients and their transplanted organs.

For MMA, these findings are similar to those of other recently published reports. For PA, although our population is relatively small (three patients), our finding of 100 percent survival for both patients and transplanted organs stands in contrast to other published reports that found poor survival among patients with PA following a liver transplant.

Still, many patients experienced complications in the period immediately before, during, and after the transplant. The high rate of complications underscores the complexity of these metabolic diseases. The most common complications were those involving the blood vessels, including blood clotting in the main artery of the liver. This complication has been previously reported.

All patients had reduced levels of lactic acid in the blood, indicating improved metabolic control, both shortly after the transplant and at later postoperative follow-up. Complications such as kidney disease (in patients with MMA) and cardiomyopathy (in patients with PA) stabilized and improved after transplantation.

The fact that no patients experienced metabolic crises after transplantation indicates that partial enzyme replacement via a liver transplant enabled a “resetting” of patients’ metabolic fitness.

At UPMC Children’s our approach to nutritional support after a liver transplant has been to gradually ease protein restriction, with the goal of establishing a long-term individualized level of support for each patient. It is unlikely that protein restriction can ever be completely eliminated. However, the results of this study show that––with close monitoring by an experienced interdisciplinary team––protein restriction can safely be relaxed, in an individualized fashion, after a liver transplant.

What do the study results mean for children with PA and their families?

A liver transplant cannot cure PA. It can, however, reduce or eliminate metabolic crises and result in greater stability and better quality of life for children with PA. The decision as to whether a liver transplant is right for your child with PA is one that every family must make for themselves, based on their knowledge of their child and in consultation with a multidisciplinary team of experts who specialize in liver transplantation for metabolic diseases.

This study adds to the increasing body of evidence that liver transplantation can be performed safely and successfully in patients with severe, complex metabolic conditions such as PA and MMA, especially when performed at centers with broad and deep experience in the management of these highly challenging conditions.

Reference: Critelli K, McKiernan P, Vockley J, Mazariegos G, Squires RH, Soltys K, Squires JE. Liver Transplantation for Propionic Acidemia and Methylmalonic Acidemia: Peri-operative Management and Clinical Outcomes. In press, Liver Transplantation. Accepted for publication June 2018.

Novel therapies for Propionic acidemia – update Sept. 2018

Novel therapies for Propionic acidemia

Nicola Brunetti-Pierri, MD, Fondazione Telethon, Italy

This proposal was focused on the characterization of a fish model of propionic acidemia (PA) and on the development of novel therapies. The PA medaka fish model was found to recapitulate several clinical and biochemical features of the human disease, including reduced survival and locomotor activity, hepatic lipid accumulation, increased propionylcarnitine, methylcitrate, and propionate. Moreover, PA fishes showed better survival when fed with low-protein diet.

To gain insight into the disease pathogenesis and to search for potentially novel therapeutic targets, we performed an unbiased 3’-mRNA-Seq and NMR-based metabolome analyses. Both analyses showed global differences between PA and wild-type (wt) medaka. Interestingly, metabolism of glycine and serine resulted affected both at transcriptional and metabolites level and further studies are ongoing to investigate the role of these changes in the disease pathogenesis. Moreover, we found a marked increase in protein propionylation in PA fishes compared to wt controls. Protein propionylation is a post-translational modification occurring under normal conditions but its physiological role is unknown. Like protein acetylation, it is likely involved in regulation of gene expression, protein-protein interactions, and enzyme function. Interestingly, NAD-dependent sirtuins that are responsible of deacetylation of multiple proteins and have also de-propionylating activity, were significantly reduced in PA fishes. We speculated that aberrant protein propionylation in PA is toxic and proteomic studies are ongoing to reveal proteins with aberrant propionylation. With the support of this grant several drug candidates have been also investigated with the goal of developing new pharmacological approaches for PA.

In conclusion, we performed extensive phenotyping of the PA fish model that can be useful to unravel novel disease mechanisms and therapeutic targets.

updated September 2018

Targeting Serine and Thiol Metabolism in Propionic Acidemia

Targeting Serine and Thiol Metabolism in Propionic Acidemia

Hilary Vernon, MD PhD, Johns Hopkins University

While it has been known for several decades that dysfunction of the enzyme propionyl-CoA carboxylase underlies propionic acidemia (PA), many key downstream metabolic adaptions to this primary defect are not well defined. In our research, we developed and studied a new cellular model of PA, with the goals of understanding how the cell is affected in PA, and to identify new pathways for potential treatment targeting.

We initially studied both protein expression in fibroblasts (skin cells) from individuals with PA, and metabolites in urine from individuals with PA, and discovered changes in pathways related to serine metabolism. Serine is an important amino acid that is involved in the synthesis of folate intermediates, glutathione, and other important cellular metabolites. Serine metabolism is of particular interest because it has also been shown recently to be dysregulated in other mitochondrial diseases, and there is a growing interest in how to target this pathway for therapeutic intervention.  

In order to more closely study these findings, we developed a new cellular model of propionyl-CoA carboxylase deficiency, where we used CRISPR technology to mutate the PCCA gene in a kidney cell line called HEK293. This new model cell line has important biochemical hallmarks of PA, including absence of the PCCA protein, elevated propionyl-carnitine, very low methylmalonyl-carnitine, and elevated glycine. We discovered that when these cells are in the growth phase, they express genes involved in serine synthesis at higher levels than cells that have normal propionyl-CoA carboxylase activity. We further discovered that the PA cells are very sensitive to deprivation of serine in their culture media, and grow slower than cells with intact propionyl-CoA carboxylase activity. This growth abnormality is not seen when the cells are grown in media that contains serine. Interestingly, we looked at these same pathways in a CRISPR model of methylmalonic acidemia, a closely related disorder to PA, and while we found some overlap in sensitivity to serine, the gene expression patterns we different. This highlights the biochemical uniqueness of PA.  Currently, we are completing flux metabolomics studies in these cells, which will determine exactly what this serine is being metabolized to, and we expect these experiments to be completed by the end of August. In our next steps, we plan to study how treating the cells with different metabolites may alleviate this serine growth defect.

We would like to sincerely thank the Propionic Acidemia Foundation for supporting our research. The funding we received has led to important breakthroughs in our work, and we are excited to continue to move this research forward in the coming years.

updated September 2018