Dominic Scaglioni 1 , 2 , Matthew Ellis 3 , 4 , Francesco Catapano 1 , 2 , Silvia Torelli 1 , 2 , Darren Chambers 1 , 5 , Lucy Feng 5 , Caroline Sewry 5 , Jennifer Morgan 1 , 2 , Francesco Muntoni 1 , 2 , Rahul Phadke , 3 , 5 , 6 , 7
17 April 2020
The primary molecular endpoint for many Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) clinical trials is the induction, or increase in production, of dystrophin protein in striated muscle. For accurate endpoint analysis, it is essential to have reliable, robust and objective quantification methodologies capable of detecting subtle changes in dystrophin expression. In this work, we present further development and optimisation of an automated, digital, high-throughput script for quantitative analysis of multiplexed immunofluorescent (IF) whole slide images (WSI) of dystrophin, dystrophin associated proteins (DAPs) and regenerating myofibres (fetal/developmental myosin-positive) in transverse sections of DMD, Becker muscular dystrophy (BMD) and control skeletal muscle biopsies. The script enables extensive automated assessment of myofibre morphometrics, protein quantification by fluorescence intensity and sarcolemmal circumference coverage, colocalisation data for dystrophin and DAPs and regeneration at the single myofibre and whole section level. Analysis revealed significant variation in dystrophin intensity, percentage coverage and amounts of DAPs between differing DMD and BMD samples. Accurate identification of dystrophin via a novel background subtraction method allowed differential assessment of DAP fluorescence intensity within dystrophin positive compared to dystrophin negative sarcolemma regions. This enabled surrogate quantification of molecular functionality of dystrophin in the assembly of the DAP complex. Overall, the digital script is capable of multiparametric and unbiased analysis of markers of myofibre regeneration and dystrophin in relation to key DAPs and enabled better characterisation of the heterogeneity in dystrophin expression patterns seen in BMD and DMD alongside the surrogate assessment of molecular functionality of dystrophin. Both these aspects will be of significant relevance to ongoing and future DMD and other muscular dystrophies clinical trials to help benchmark therapeutic efficacy.