Cerebral cavernous malformations (CCM) are irregular clusters of dilated, leaky capillaries found in the central nervous system in around 0.5% of the general population. Although many of those with the condition will never be aware of the fact, for others the symptoms can be severe. Depending on the specific location of the CCM in the brain or spinal cord, patients may experience seizures, headaches, paralysis, hearing or vision changes, and cerebral haemorrhage. Current treatment options rely on management of the symptoms (e.g. control of seizures with anti-epileptic drugs) or surgical resection.
Researchers at University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill have now identified a potential target for therapeutic intervention in CCM. The disease is associated with mutations in any of three genes, ccm1, ccm2 or ccm3, which encode the corresponding CCM-1, -2 and -3 proteins. These proteins form a common complex and act co-ordinately in regulation of the cytoskeleton. It had previously been shown that loss of CCM-2 resulted in overexpression of the GTPase, RhoA, but this latest study demonstrates that CCM-1 and CCM-3 are also required for regulation of RhoA.
The team were able to restore normal function to endothelial cells lacking CCM-1, -2 or -3 by inhibition of the RhoA-activated Rho Kinase (ROCK), either using an inhibitor, Y-27632, or shRNA knockdown of ROCK2. The results suggest that inhibition of ROCK may represent a target for pharmacological intervention in this disease.
The study is published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.