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Title:  Neurturin antibody
United States Patent: 
March 21, 2006
Johnson; Eugene M. (St. Louis, MO); Milbrandt; Jeffrey D. (St. Louis, MO); Kotzbauer; Paul T. (Swarthmore, PA); Lampe; Patricia A. (St. Louis, MO)
The National Institutes of Health (Bethesda, MD)
Appl. No.: 
December 30, 1999


Executive MBA in Pharmaceutical Management, U. Colorado


A novel growth factor, neurturin, is disclosed and the human and mouse amino acid sequences are identified. Human and mouse neurturin genomic DNA sequences have been cloned and sequenced and the respective cDNA sequences identified. The subcloning into vectors and the preparation of cells stably transformed with the vectors are also disclosed. In addition, methods for treating degenerative conditions, tumor cells and obesity; methods for detecting gene alterations and methods for detecting and monitoring patient levels of neurturin are provided. Methods for identifying additional members of the neurturin-GDNF family of growth factors are also provided.


The present invention is based upon the identification, isolation and sequencing of a new growth factor, neurturin. Surprisingly, this substance has been discovered to be able to promote cell survival and, in particular, the survival of neurons. Prior to this invention, neurturin was unknown and had not been identified as a discrete biologically active substance nor had it been isolated in pure form.

The inventors herein have succeeded in discovering and isolating neurturin from conditioned medium for CHO cells. The initial neuronal survival promoting activity was identified by the inventors in a partially purified preparation of this CHO-conditioned medium. Preparation of conditioned medium for a given cell line is well known in the art (for example, see Reid, in Methods in Enzymology Vol. LVIII, Cell Culture, Jakoby and Pastan, Eds., Academic Press, San Diego, pp 161-164, 1979; Freshney, Culture of Animal Cells in A Manual of Basic Technique, 2d Ed., Wiley-Liss, N.Y., p. 84, 1987 which are incorporated by reference). Thus, although in the present work CHO cells were cultured and the conditioned medium used to identify and to obtain neurturin in purified form, one skilled in the art will readily appreciate that any cell that expresses neurturin can be used as a source. Some of the cells that express neurturin are identified below in Example 11 and the inventors herein believe that any of the cells identified as expressing neurturin can be used to obtain conditioned medium from which neurturin can be isolated.

In the isolation of neurturin from the CHO cell conditioned medium, an initial crude conditioned medium can be obtained by centrifugation and/or filtration to remove cellular debris. For further purification, one skilled in the art will readily appreciate that any of a number of methods known in the art can be used to isolate and purify neurturin from a biological sample such as affinity chromatography, ion exchange chromatography, preparative electrophoresis or the like wherein the methods are used either individually or in combination.

The cell survival promoting effect of neurturin can be assessed in any suitable system for assessing cell survival. The inventors herein believe that neurturin can promote survival in a variety of different tissues based upon what is known for other growth factors and upon the observation that neurturin is expressed in a number of tissues in which it is believed to have a survival promoting effect. In the work reported herein, neuronal activity was assessed using a sympathetic neuronal survival assay (sympathetic cervical ganglia, SCG) which has been extensively characterized (Martin et al, J Cell Biol 106:829-844, 1989; Deckwerth and Johnson, J Cell Biol 123:1207-1222, 1993 which are incorporated by reference) (see FIG. 3). We also show the survival promoting effects of neurturin on sensory neurons (See FIG. 10).

The SCG assay involved, in brief, the culturing of cells obtained from superior cervical ganglia of rat embryo for 5 days at 37° C. in medium containing nerve growth factor (NGF). The medium was then exchanged with a medium containing no NGF and containing anti-NGF antiserum. Removal of NGF results normally in death of the neurons in 24-72 hours. Neuronal survival was visually assessed under a microscope on days 7-8. Maximum neuronal survival criteria included lack of degeneration of both neuronal cell bodies and neurites. Cell body degeneration was indicated when the neuronal cell body was reduced in size, showed irregular membrane swellings, contained vacuoles, or had lost refractility. A field of neurites was scored as showing signs of disintegration when swellings and blebs appeared along the neurite bundles. Survival was determined by comparison with neurons grown in the presence of NGF (positive control) or in the absence of NGF with NGF antisera (negative control).

Activity was quantitated by calculation of a "survival unit". The total survival units in a sample were defined as the minimal volume of an aliquot of the sample which produced maximal survival divided into the total volume of that sample. For example, a volume of 600 ml was eluted from the heparin agarose column and from this eluate, 12.5 μl was the minimum volume that promoted maximal volume. Thus, the survival units in the eluate from the heparin agarose column was 48,000. Specific activity was calculated as the survival units divided by the mg total protein. The intrinsic activity of neurturin is expressed herein in concentration units of pg/ml or pM promoting maximal or half-maximal survival. As shown in FIG. 5, a concentration-response curve of purified neurturin protein indicates that the intrinsic activity of neurturin expressed as an EC50 is approximately 1.5 ng/ml or approximately 50 pM and an EC100 is approximately 3 ng/ml or approximately 100 pM.

Survival units were determined in an assay using approximately 1200 neurons in a 0.5 ml culture assay and a culture period of 48 hours following addition of the fraction. Survival was assessed visually after the 48 hours. Intrinsic activity as shown in FIG. 4 was determined in an assay using approximately 2700 neurons and a culture period of 72 hours. Survival was assessed by fixing the neurons and counting the number of surviving neurons. Because the stability, as assessed by half-life of activity, for neurturin decreases as the number of neurons increases, the intrinsic activity measurement would be expected to be lower than that predicted by Specific Activity determinations. The intrinsic activity measurement would also be expected to be lower than that predicted by specific activity because the survival was measured after 72 hours instead of 48 hours.

The purification of neurturin is described in detail in Example 1 below. The conditioned medium starting material was prepared from a derivative of DG44 Chinese hamster ovary cells, DG44CHO-pHSP-NGFI-B (Day et al, J Biol Chem 265:15253-15260, 1990 which is incorporated by reference). The inventors herein have also isolated neurturin in partially purified form from conditioned medium of other derivatives of DG44 Chinese hamster ovary cells and these other cells could be used equally as well as the DG44CHO-pHSP-NGFI-B cells as could the parent DG44 Chinese hamster ovary Cells, ovary cells from other species and cells from other tissues such as those known to express neurturin (See example 10). In preparing the conditioned medium, cells were placed in serum free medium for 2 days at which time conditioned medium is collected and the medium replenished. This cycle was repeated to yield 5 harvests of conditioned medium from each batch of CHO cells. The collected media was centrifuged to remove cellular debris.

The first step in purification of neurturin from the CHO cell conditioned medium involved the introduction of the conditioned medium onto a heparin agarose column and the elution of partially purified neurturin therefrom. This step resulted in an 111 fold increase in the specific activity and purification of the protein. The buffer used to apply the medium to the column contains 0.5 M NaCl. At this concentration of NaCl the neurturin binds to the heparin agarose matrix. The inventors herein believe that based upon their isoelectric points, LIF and CNTF would either not bind to the heparin agarose matrix or be washed away from the matrix with buffer containing 0.5 M NaCl. Thus, this step would be expected to isolate neurturin from growth factors such as LIF and CNTF. After washing the column, neurturin was eluted from the column using 1.0 M NaCl.

For further purification, the eluted material was then diluted and introduced into a column containing SP SEPHAROSE® High Performance ion exchange resin (Pharmacia, Piscataway, N.J.). Material eluted from this column was further purified using fast protein liquid chromatography (FPLC) on a Chelating Superose HR 10/2 column charged with Cu++ (Pharmacia, Piscataway, N.J.). Eluted fractions from the Cu++ superose column were introduced into a Mono S HR 5/5 cation exchange column (Pharmacia, Piscataway, N.J.) for further FPLC purification. The composition of the proteins in the Mono S fractions were analyzed using non-reducing SDS-PAGE and silver staining.

Fractions collected from the columns at each stage of purification were assayed for biological activity using the neuronal survival assay and for protein content using the dye binding method of Bradford (Anal Blochem 72:248-254, 1976 which is incorporated by reference) with a Bio-Rad protein assay dye reagent (Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc., Hercules, Calif.). The progressive purification using the above steps is shown in table 1.

  Proteina Activityb Activityd Yield Purification
  (mg) (units) (units/mg) (%) (fold)
Conditioned 5000   48000c 9.6
Heparin 45 48000 1068 100 111
SP Sepharose 5.3 48000 9058 100 943
Cu++ Superose 0.31 30000 96700 62 10070
Mono S 0.004 15000 3750000 31 390000
amg protein was determined using the dye binding method of Bradford (Anal Biochem 72:248, 1976).
bThe total activity units or survival units in a sample were defined as the minimal volume of an aliquot of the sample which produced maximal survival divided into the total volume of that sample.
cActivity for Conditioned Medium was derived from the assumption that 100% of the activity was recovered in the heparin agarose fraction because the activity of conditioned medium was too low to be directly assayed.
dSpecific Activity was the Activity units divided by the mg total protein.

The results of this analysis along with the results of the neuronal survival assay of fractions revealed that a protein having an apparent molecular weight of about 25 kD co-purified with the sympathetic neuron survival activity.

The purified material isolated from CHO cell conditioned medium was used to determine partial amino acid sequences of the protein in CHO cell conditioned medium and subsequently as a basis for determining the sequences in different species. The N-terminal amino acid sequence was determined using an automated protein/peptide sequencer and the first 16 amino acids were considered to be, with uncertainty as to position 6, Ser-Gly-Ala-Arg-Pro-Xaa-Gly-Leu-Arg-Glu-Leu-Glu-Val-Ser-Val-Ser where Xaa was an unknown amino acid (SEQ ID NO:3). Internal amino acid fragments were obtained from the purified material following digestion with protease enzymes and the sequences determined. Three internal fragments thus obtained were (1) with uncertainty as to positions 1, 2 and 6, Xaa1-Cys-Ala-Gly-Ala-Xaa2-Glu-Ala-Ala-Val where Xaa1 was unknown amino acid, Xaa2 was Ser or Cys (SEQ ID NO:4); (2) with uncertainty as to positions 1, 2, 4, 10, 17 and 22, Xaa1-Xaa2-Val-Glu-Ala-Lys-Pro-Cys-Cys-Gly-Pro-Thr-
Ala-Tyr-Glu-Asp-Xaa3-Val-Ser-Phe-Leu-Ser-Val where Xaa1 and Xaa2 were unknown, Xaa3 was Gln or Glu (SEQ ID NO:5) and (3) Tyr-His-Thr-Leu-Gln-Glu-Leu-Ser-Ala-Arg (SEQ ID NO:6). Based upon these partial amino acid sequences, DNA probes and primers can be made and used to obtain cDNA clones from different species based upon high sequence conservation between mammalian species. The human cDNA and inferred amino acid sequence is shown in FIG. 7 and the mouse cDNA and inferred amino acid sequence is shown in FIG. 8.

The cDNA clone from mouse was 1.0 kb having an open reading frame of 585 nucleotides (SEQ ID NO:12) encoding the mouse pre-pro neurturin protein (SEQ ID NO:8, FIG. 8). In addition, non-coding regions have been identified at both the 5′ and 3′ ends of the coding region as shown in FIG. 9. (SEQ ID NO:13, 5′ non-coding region, nucleic acids -348 through -1; SEQ ID NO:14, 3′ non-coding region, nucleic acids 589 through 675). The mouse neurturin sequence can be used to obtain PCR primers for use in identifying homologs from other species. A human 192 nucleotide fragment from human genomic DNA was amplified by this method and further used to screen a human genomic library to obtain clones containing the human neurturin genomic locus. The human cDNA sequence was deduced from the sequencing of these clones. (FIG. 7, cDNA sequence of human pre-pro neurturin).

Reference to neurturin herein is intended to be construed to include growth factors of any origin which are substantially homologous to and which are biologically equivalent to the neurturin characterized and described herein. Such substantially homologous growth factors may be native to any tissue or species and, similarly, biological activity can be characterized in any of a number of biological assay systems. Reference to pre-pro neurturin herein is intended to be construed to include pre-pro growth factors containing a pre- or leader or signal sequence region, a pro-sequence region and neurturin as defined herein.

The terms "biologically equivalent" are intended to mean that the compositions of the present invention are capable of demonstrating some or all of the same growth properties in a similar fashion, not necessarily to the same degree as the neurturin isolated from the CHO cell conditioned medium herein or recombinantly produced human or mouse neurturin.

By "substantially homologous" it is meant that the degree of homology of human and mouse neurturin to neurturin from any species is greater than that between neurturin and any previously reported member of the TGF-β superfamily or GDNF (For discussion of homology of TGF-β superfamily members see Kingsley, Genes and Dev 8:133-46, 1994 which is incorporated by reference).

Sequence identity or percent identity is intended to mean the percentage of same residues between two sequences, referenced to human neurturin when determining percent identity with non-human neurturin, referenced to neurturin when determining percent identity with non-neurturin growth factors and referenced to human GDNF when determining percent identity of non-neurturin growth factors with GDNF, when the two sequences are aligned using the Clustlal method (Higgins et al, Cabios 8:189-191, 1992) of multiple sequence alignment in the Lasergene biocomputing software (DNASTAR, INC, Madison, Wis.). In this method, multiple alignments are carried out in a progressive manner, in which larger and larger alignment groups are assembled using similarity scores calculated from a series of pairwise alignments. Optimal sequence alignments are obtained by finding the maximum alignment score, which is the average of all scores between the separate residues in the alignment, determined from a residue weight table representing the probability of a given amino acid change occurring in two related proteins over a given evolutionary interval. Penalties for opening and lengthening gaps in the alignment contribute to the score. The default parameters used with this program are as follows: gap penalty for multiple alignment=10; gap length penalty for multiple alignment=10; k-tuple value in pairwise alignment=1; gap penalty in pairwise alignment=3; window value in pairwise alignment=5; diagonals saved in pairwise alignment=5. The residue weight table used for the alignment program is PAM250 (Dayhoff et al., in Atlas of Protein Sequence and Structure, Dayhoff, Ed., NBRF, Washington, Vol. 5, suppl. 3, p. 345, 1978).

Percent conservation is calculated from the above alignment by adding the percentage of identical residues to the percentage of positions at which the two residues represent a conservative substitution (defined as having a log odds value of greater than or equal to 0.3 in the PAM250 residue weight table). Conservation is referenced to human neurturin when determining percent conservation with non-human neurturin, referenced to neurturin when determining percent conservation with non-neurturin growth factors, and referenced to human GDNF when determining percent conservation to non-neurturin growth factors with GDNF. Conservative amino acid changes satisfying this requirement are: R-K; E-D, Y-F, L-M; V-I, Q-H. The calculations of identity (I) and conservation (C) between mature human and mature mouse neurturin (hNTN and mNTN, respectively) and between each of these and mature human, rat and mouse GDNF (hGDNF, rGDNF and mGDNF, respectively) are shown in table 2.

  HNTN v. MNTN 90 93
  hNTN v. rGDNF 44 53
  hNTN v. mGDNF 43 52
  hNTN v. hGDNF 43 53
  mNTN v. rGDNF 42 52
  mNTN v. mGDNF 41 51
  mNTN v. hGDNF 41 52

The degree of homology between the mature mouse and human neurturin proteins is about 90% sequence identity and all neurturin homologs of non-human mammalian species are believed to similarly have at least about 85% sequence identity with human neurturin. For non-mammalian species such as avian species, it is believed that the degree of homology with neurturin is at least about 65% identity. By way of comparison, the variations between family members of the neurturin-GDNF family of growth factors can be seen by comparing neurturin and GDNF. Human and mouse neurturin have about 40% sequence identity and about 50% sequence conservation with human, mouse and rat GDNF. It is believed that the different family members similarly have a sequence identity of about 40% of that of neurturin and about 40% of that of GDNF and within a range of about 30% to about 85% identity with neurturin and within a range of about 30% to about 85% sequence identity with GDNF. Thus, a given non-neurturin and non-GDNF family member from one species would be expected to show lesser sequence identity with neurturin and with GDNF from the same species than the sequence identity between human neurturin and neurturin from a non-human mammalian species, but greater sequence identity than that between human neurturin and any other known member of the TGF-β superfamily member except GDNF (Kingsley, supra). In the case of pre-pro neurturin, homologs of pre-pro neurturin in non-human mammalian species can be identified by virtue of the neurturin portion of the amino acid sequence having at least about 85% sequence identity with human neurturin and homologs of pre-pro neurturin in non-mammalian species can be identified by virtue of the neurturin portion of the amino acid sequence having at least about 65% identity with human neurturin.

Neurturin can also include hybrid and modified forms of neurturin including fusion proteins and neurturin fragments and hybrid and modified forms in which certain amino acids have been deleted or replaced and modifications such as where one or more amino acids have been changed to a modified amino acid or unusual amino acid and modifications such as glycosolations so long as the hybrid or modified form retains the biological activity of neurturin. By retaining the biological activity, it is meant that neuronal survival is promoted, although not necessarily at the same level of potency as that of the neurturin isolated from CHO cell conditioned medium or that of the recombinantly produced human or mouse neurturin.

Also included within the meaning of substantially homologous is any neurturin which may be isolated by virtue of cross-reactivity with antibodies to the neurturin described herein or whose encoding nucleotide sequences including genomic DNA, mRNA or cDNA may be isolated through hybridization with the complementary sequence of genomic or subgenomic nucleotide sequences or cDNA of the neurturin herein or fragments thereof. It will also be appreciated by one skilled in the art that degenerate DNA sequences can encode human neurturin and these are also intended to be included within the present invention as are allelic variants of neurturin.

In the case of pre-pro neurturin, alternatively spliced protein products resulting from an intron located in the coding sequence of the pro region may exist. The intron is believed to exist in the genomic sequence at a position corresponding to that between nucleic acids 169 and 170 of the cDNA which, in turn, corresponds to a position within amino acid 57 in both the mouse and human pre-pro neurturin sequences (see FIGS. 7 and 8). Thus, alternative splicing at this position might produce a sequence that differs from that identified herein for human and mouse pre-pro neurturin (SEQ ID NO:11 and SEQ ID NO:12, respectively) at the identified amino acid site by addition and/or deletion of one or more amino acids. Any and all alternatively spliced pre-pro neurturin proteins are intended to be included within the terms pre-pro neurturin as used herein.

Although it is not intended that the inventors herein be bound by any theory, it is thought that the human and mouse proteins identified herein as well as homologs from other tissues and species may exist as dimers in their biologically active form in a manner consistent with what is known for other factors of the TGF-β superfamily.

In addition to homodimers, the monomeric units of the dimers of neurturin can be used to construct stable growth factor heterodimers or heteromultimers comprising at least one monomer unit derived from neurturin. This can be done by dissociating a homodimer of neurturin into its component monomeric units and reassociating in the presence of a monomeric unit of a second homodimeric growth factor. This second homodimeric growth factor can be selected from a variety of growth factors including GDNF or a member of the NGF family such as NGF, BDNF, NT-3 and NT-4/5 or a member of the TGF-β superfamily, or a vascular endothelial growth factor or a member of the CNTF/LIF family or the like.

Growth factors are thought to act at specific receptors. For example, the receptors for TGF-β and activins have been identified and make up a family of Ser/Thr kinase transmembrane proteins (Kingsley, Genes and Dev 8:133-146, 1994; Bexk et al Nature 373:339-341, 1995 which are incorporated by reference). In the NGF family, NGF binds to the TrkA receptor in peripheral sensory and sympathetic neurons and in basal forebrain neurons; BDNF and NT-4/5 bind to trkB receptors; and NT-3 binds primarily to trkC receptors that possess a distinct distribution within the CNS (Tuszynski et al., Ann Neurol 35:S9-S12, 1994). The inventors herein believe that GDNF, neurturin and as yet unknown members of this family of growth factors act through specific receptors having distinct distributions as has been shown for other growth factor families. Thus, by forming heterodimers or heteromultimers of neurturin and one or more other growth factors, the resultant growth factor would be expected to be able to bind to at least two distinct receptor types preferentially having a different tissue distribution. The resultant heterodimers or heteromultimers would be expected to show an enlarged spectrum of cells upon which it could act or provide greater potency. It is also possible that the heterodimer or heteromultimer might provide synergistic effects not seen with homodimers or homomultimers. For example, the combination of factors from different classes has been shown to promote long-term survival of oligodendrocytes whereas single factors or combinations of factors within the same class promoted short-term survival (Barres et al., Development 118:283-295, 1993).

Heterodimers can be formed by a number of methods. For example, homodimers can be mixed and subjected to conditions in which dissociation/unfolding occurs, such as in the presence of a dissociation/unfolding agent, followed by subjection to conditions which allow monomer reassociation and formation of heterodimers. Dissociation/unfolding agents include any agent known to promote the dissociation of proteins. Such agents include, but are not limited to, guanidine hydrochloride, urea, potassium thiocyanate, pH lowering agents such as buffered HCl solutions, and polar, water miscible organic solvents such as acetonitrile or alcohols such as propanol or isopropanol. In addition, for homodimers linked covalently by disulfide bonds as is the case with TGF-β family members, reducing agents such as dithiothreitol and β-mercaptoethanol can be used for dissociation/unfolding and for reassociation/refolding.

Heterodimers can also be made by transfecting a cell with two or more factors such that the transformed cell produces heterodimers as has been done with neurotrophin. (Heymach and Schooter, J Biol Chem 270:12297-12304, 1995).

Another method of forming heterodimers is by combining neurturin homodimers and a homodimer from a second growth factor and incubating the mixture at 37° C.

When heterodimers are produced from homodimers, the heterodimers may then be separated from homodimers using methods available to those skilled in the art such as, for example, by elution from preparative, non-denaturing polyacrylamide gels. Alternatively, heterodimers may be purified using high pressure cation exchange chromatography such as with a Mono S cation exchange column or by sequential immunoaffinity columns.

It is well known in the art that many proteins are synthesized within a cell with a signal sequence at the N-terminus of the mature protein sequence and the protein carrying such a leader sequence is referred to as a preprotein. The pre-portion of the protein is cleaved during cellular processing of the protein. In addition to a pre-leader sequence, many proteins contain a distinct pro sequence that describes a region on a protein that is a stable precursor of the mature protein. Proteins synthesized with both pre- and pro-regions are referred to as preproproteins. In view of the processing events known to occur with other TGF-β family members as well as the sequences determined herein, the inventors believe that the form of neurturin protein as synthesized within a cell is the pre-pro neurturin. The pre-pro neurturin is believed to contain an N-terminal 19 amino acid signal sequence (human pre-signal sequence, SEQ ID NO:15, FIG. 7, amino acids 1 through 19 encoded by SEQ ID NO:17, FIG. 7, nucleic acids 1 through 57; mouse pre-signal sequence, SEQ ID NO:16, FIG. 8, amino acids 1 through 19, encoded by SEQ ID NO:18, FIG. 8, nucleic acids 1 through 57). It is known that the full length of a leader sequence is not necessarily required for the sequence to act as a signal sequence and, therefore, within the definition of pre-region of neurturin is included fragments thereof, usually N-terminal fragments, that retain the property of being able to act as a signal sequence, that is to facilitate co-translational insertion into the membranes of one or more cellular organelles such as endoplasmic reticulum, mitochondria, golgi, plasma membrane and the like.

The signal sequence is followed by a pro-domain which contains an RXXR proteolytic processing site immediately before the N-terminal amino acid sequence for the mature neurturin. (human pro-region sequence, SEQ ID NO:19, FIG. 7, amino acids 20 through 95 encoded by the nucleic acid sequence SEQ ID NO:20, FIG. 7 nucleic acids 58 through 285; mouse pro-region sequence, SEQ ID NO:22, FIG. 8, amino acids 19 through 95 encoded by nucleic acid sequence SEQ ID NO:21, FIG. 8, nucleic acids 58 through 285).

The pre- and pro-regions together comprise a pre-pro sequence identified as the human pre-pro sequence (SEQ ID NO:23, FIG. 7, amino acids 1 through 95 encoded by SEQ ID NO:25, nucleic acids 1 through 285) and the mouse pre-pro sequence (SEQ ID NO:24, FIG. 8, amino acids 1 through 95 encoded by SEQ ID NO:26, nucleic acids 1 through 285). The pre-region sequences and pro-region sequences as well as the pre-pro region sequences can be identified and obtained for non-human mammalian species and for non-mammalian species by virtue of the sequences being contained within the pre-pro neurturin as defined herein.

Using the above landmarks, the mature, secreted neurturin molecule is predicted to be approximately 11.5 kD which is likely to form a disulfide linked homodimer of approximately 23 kD by analogy to other members of the TGF-β family. The predicted approximately 23 kD protein is consistent with the 25 kD protein purified from CHO cell conditioned media being a homodimer. The inventors herein have detected an approximately 11.5 kD protein from conditioned medium of Chinese hamster ovary cells transfected with the neurturin expression vector (pCMV-NTN-3-1) using SDS-PAGE under reducing conditions and this protein is thought to be the monomer.

The nucleotide sequences of pre- and/or pro-regions can also be used to construct chimeric genes with the coding sequences of other growth factors or proteins and, similarly, chimeric genes can be constructed from the coding sequence of neurturin coupled to sequences encoding pre- and/or pro-regions from genes for other growth factors or proteins. (Booth et al., Gene 146:303-8, 1994; Ibanez, Gene 146:303-8; 1994; Storici et al., FEBS Letters 337:303-7, 1994; Sha et al J Cell Biol 114:827-839, 1991 which are incorporated by reference). Such chimeric proteins can exhibit altered production or expression of the active protein species.

A preferred neurturin of the present invention has been identified and isolated in purified form from medium conditioned by CHO cells. Also preferred is neurturin prepared by recombinant DNA technology. By "pure form" or "purified form" or "substantially purified form" it is meant that a neurturin composition is substantially free of other proteins which are not neurturin.

Recombinant human neurturin may be made by expressing the DNA sequences encoding neurturin in a suitable transformed host cell. Using methods well known in the art, the DNA encoding neurturin may be linked to an expression vector, transformed into a host cell and conditions established that are suitable for expression of neurturin by the transformed cell.

Any suitable expression vector may be employed to produce recombinant human neurturin such as, for example, the mammalian expression vector pCB6 (Brewer, Meth Cell Biol 43:233-245, 1994) or the E. coli pET expression vectors, specifically, pET-30a (Studier et al., Methods Enzymol 185:60-89, 1990 which is incorporated by reference) both of which were used herein. Other suitable expression vectors for expression in mammalian and bacterial cells are known in the art as are expression vectors for use in yeast or insect cells. Baculovirus expression systems can also be employed.

Neurturin may be expressed in the monomeric units or such monomeric form may be produced by preparation under reducing conditions. In such instances refolding and renaturation can be accomplished using one of the agents noted above that is known to promote dissociation/association of proteins. For example, the monomeric form can be incubated with dithiothreitol followed by incubation with oxidized glutathione disodium salt followed by incubation with a buffer containing a refolding agent such as urea.

By analogy with the N-terminal sequence and internal fragments of the neurturin purified from CHO cell conditioned medium, the mature mouse sequence was deduced and from this the mature human form was predicted using the sequence from the human gene. The amino acid sequence of the mature human form is as shown in FIG. 5 (hNTN, SEQ ID NO:1). The material purified from CHO cell conditioned medium is considered to be mature neurturin and may exist as a dimer or other multimer and may be glycosylated or chemically modified in other ways. As noted above, the mouse and human nucleic acid sequences suggest that neurturin is initially translated as a pre-pro polypeptide and that proteolytic processing of the signal sequence and the "pro" portion of this molecule results in the mature sequence, referenced herein as "mature neurturin", as obtained from medium condition by CHO cells and as exists in human and in non-human species in homologous form. The present invention, therefore, includes any and all "mature neurturin" sequences from human and non-human species and any and all pre-pro neurturin polypeptides that may be translated from the neurturin gene.

It is believed that the coding sequence for the pre-pro-neurturin polypeptide begins at the first ATG codon encoding methionine at the 5′ end of the clone (position 1 in FIG. 9) which is positioned in the same reading frame as the sequence encoding the amino acid sequences obtained from the purified neurturin. Downstream from the first codon is the largest open reading frame containing the coding sequence for the pre- and pro-regions followed by the coding sequence for the mature mouse neurturin.

Sequence analysis of the murine neurturin genomic clones identified a 0.5 kb intron located between nucleotide 169 and 170 of the pre-pro neurturin from the cDNA clones. This intron is located in the coding sequence of the pro-region of the pre-pro-neurturin protein. Thus, it is believed that the mouse neurturin gene contains at least two exons, one of which contains the coding sequences upstream from the splice site and the other contains the coding sequence downstream (FIG. 8, SEQ ID NO:29, SEQ ID NO:30). It is known that the gene for GDNF contains an intron located at an analogous position and an alternately spliced form of GDNF has been detected by RT-PCR experiments (Suter-Crazzolara and Unsicker, Neuroreport 5: 2486-2488, 1994 which is incorporated by reference). This alternate form results from the use of a splice site in the second coding exon located 78 bp 3′ to the original splice site reported. The alternately spliced form encodes a GDNF protein with a deletion of 26 amino acids relative to the originally reported form. The two forms are expressed in different ratios in different tissues. We have not detected alternately spliced forms of neurturin in RT-PCR and RACE experiments using mouse P1 brain and P1 liver cDNAs. The possibility exists, however, that alternate splice sites in the neurturin gene may be utilized in different tissues.

The coding sequence of the human neurturin CDNA has been deduced from the sequence of the human neurturin genomic clones. The coding sequence of the human cDNA, like that of the mouse cDNA, is interrupted by an intron between nucleotides 169 and 170 of the coding sequence. Thus, the human neurturin gene is believed to contain at least two exons, one of which contains the coding sequence upstream from the splice site and the other contains the coding sequence downstream (FIG. 7, SEQ ID NO:27, SEQ ID NO:28). The splice sites at the intron-exon junctions of the human and mouse genes have been conserved.

From the deduced amino acid sequence of human neurturin, the earlier predicted N-terminal sequence lies between positions 286 and 339 and the predicted internal sequences lie between positions 385 and 417, positions 474 and 533, and positions 547 and 576. The TGA stop codon at positions 592-594 terminate the open reading frame.

The predicted length of the purified pre-pro neurturin is 197 amino acid residues for the human pre-pro neurturin (SEQ ID NO:7) and 195 amino acid residues for the mouse pre-pro neurturin (SEQ ID NO:8). The predicted molecular weight of this polypeptide is 22.2 kD for mouse and 22.4 kd for human. The predicted length of the purified neurturin is 100 amino acid residues and its predicted monomeric molecular weight is 11.5 kD. There are no N-linked glycosolation sites, however, potential O-linked glycosolation sites occur at amino acid residues in positions 18, 26, 80, 86 and 95 in human neurturin. Glycosylation at any one or combination of these sites would increase the molecular weight of the molecule.

Different possible cleavage sites may be present in the pre-pro-neurturin sequence. The amino acid sequence of the mature mouse neurturin (FIG. 5, SEQ ID NO:2) is predicted from alignment with the N-terminal amino acid sequence of the purified chinese hamster neurturin. A four residue RRAR cleavage site (amino acids 92-95) is found immediately before the predicted N-terminal amino acid of mature mouse neurturin. This RRAR sequence fits the RXXR consensus sequence at which members of the TGF-β superfamily are usually cleaved. This putative RRAR cleavage sequence is conserved in human neurturin. However, the mature human neurturin is predicted to have a two amino acid N-terminal extension relative to mature mouse neurturin when cleaved at this sequence. Since neurturin contains other sequences which fit the RXXR consensus (for example the sequence RRRR at amino acids 90-93) and the specificities of proteases involved in this cleavage are not completely understood, the possibility exists that in some situations, neurturin is cleaved at sites other than the above RRAR sequence, and the mature neurturin protein may have a variable number of amino acids preceding the cysteine residue at position 101 in the mouse sequence (pre-pro protein) and position 103 in the human sequence. Such alternate cleavage sites could be utilized differently among different organisms and among different tissues of the same organism. The N-terminal amino acids preceding the first of the seven conserved cysteines in the mature forms of members of the TGF-β family vary greatly in both length and sequence. Furthermore, insertion of a ten amino acid sequence two residues upstream of the first conserved cysteine does not affect the known biological activities of one family member, dorsalin (Basler, K., Edlund, T., Jessell, T. M., and Yamada, T., (1993) Cell 73:687-702). Thus neurturin proteins which contain sequences of different lengths preceding the cysteine 101 in mouse and cysteine 103 in human would be likely to retain their biological activity.

The inventors herein believe that at a minimum the sequence of neurturin that will show biological activity will contain the sequence beginning at cysteine 103 and ending at cysteine 196 for human neurturin (FIG. 7, SEQ ID NO:31) and beginning at cysteine 101 and ending at cysteine 194 for mouse neurturin (FIG. 7, SEQ ID NO:32). Thus, within the scope of the present invention are amino acid sequences containing SEQ ID NO:31 and amino acid sequences containing SEQ ID NO:32 and nucleic acid sequences encoding these amino acid sequences.

The present invention includes nucleic acid sequences including sequences that encode human and mouse neurturin (FIG. 5). Also included within the scope of this invention are sequences that are substantially the same as the nucleic acid sequences encoding neurturin. Such substantially the same sequences may, for example, be substituted with codons more readily expressed in a given host cell such as E. coli according to well known and standard procedures. Such modified nucleic acid sequences would be included within the scope of this invention.

Specific nucleic acid sequences can be modified by those skilled in the art and, thus, all nucleic acid sequences which encode for the amino acid sequences of pre-pro neurturin or the pre-region or the pro-region or neurturin can likewise be so modified. The present invention thus also includes nucleic acid sequence which will hybridize with all such nucleic acid sequences—or complements of the nucleic acid sequences where appropriate—and encode for a polypeptide having cell survival promoting activity. The present invention also includes nucleic acid sequences which encode for polypeptides that have neuronal survival promoting activity and that are recognized by antibodies that bind to neurturin.

The present invention also encompasses vectors comprising expression regulatory elements operably linked to any of the nucleic acid sequences included within the scope of the invention. This invention also includes host cells—of any variety—that have been transformed with vectors comprising expression regulatory elements operably linked to any of the nucleic acid sequences included within the scope of the present invention.

Methods are also provided herein for producing neurturin. Preparation can be by isolation from conditioned medium from a variety of cell types so long as the cell type produces neurturin. A second and preferred method involves utilization of recombinant methods by isolating a nucleic acid sequence encoding neurturin, cloning the sequence along with appropriate regulatory sequences into suitable vectors and cell types, and expressing the sequence to produce neurturin.

A mammalian gene family comprised of four neurotrophic factors has been identified including nerve growth factor (NGF), brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDGF), neurotrophin-3 (NT-3), and neurotrophin-4/5 (NT-4/5). These factors share approximately 60 percent nucleic acid sequence homology (Tuszynski and Gage, Ann Neurol 35:S9-S12, 1994 which is incorporated by reference). The neurturin protein displays no significant homology to the NGF family of neurotrophic factors. Neurturin shares less than about 20% homology with the TGF-β superfamily of growth factors. However, neurturin shows approximately 40% sequence identity with GDNF. In particular, the positions of the seven cysteine residues present in both neurturin and GDNF are exactly conserved. The inventors herein believe that other unidentified genes may exist that encode proteins that have substantial amino acid sequence homology to neurturin and GDNF and which function as growth factors selective for the same or different tissues and the same or different biological activities. A different spectrum of activity with respect to tissues affected and/or response elicited could result from preferential activation of different receptors by different family members as is known to occur with members of the NGF family of neurotrophic factors (Tuszynski and Gage, 1994, supra).

As a consequence of members of a particular gene family showing substantial conservation of amino acid sequence among the protein products of the family members, there is considerable conservation of sequences at the DNA level. This forms the basis for a new approach for identifying other members of the gene family to which GDNF and neurturin belong. The method used for such identification is cross-hybridization using nucleic acid probes derived from one family member to form a stable hybrid duplex molecule with nucleic acid sequence from different members of the gene family or to amplify nucleic acid sequences from different family members. (see for example, Kaisho et al. FEBS Letters 266:187-191, 1990 which is incorporated by reference). The sequence from the different family member may not be identical to the probe, but will, nevertheless be sufficiently related to the probe sequence to hybridize with the probe. Alternatively, PCR using primers from one family member can be used to identify additional family members. The above approaches have not heretofore been successful in identifying other gene family members because only one family member, GDNF was known. With the identification of neurturin herein, however, unique new probes and primers can be made that contain sequences from the conserved regions of this gene family. In particular, three conserved regions have been identified herein which can be used as a basis for constructing new probes and primers. The new probes and primers made available from the present work make possible this powerful new approach which can now successfully identify other gene family members. Using this new approach, one may screen for genes related to GDNF and neurturin in sequence homology by preparing DNA or RNA probes based upon the conserved regions in the GDNF and neurturin molecules. Therefore, one embodiment of the present invention comprises probes and primers that are unique to or derived from a nucleotide sequence encoding such conserved regions and a method for identifying further members of the GDNF-neurturin gene family. Conserved region amino acid sequences include Val-Xaa1-Xaa2-Leu-Gly-Leu-Gly-Tyr in which Xaa1 is Ser or Thr and Xaa2 is Glu or Asp (SEQ ID NO:33); Glu-Xaa1-Xaa2-Xaa3-Phe-Arg-Tyr-Cys-Xaa4-Gly-Xaa5-Cys-Xaa6-Xaa7-Ala in which Xaa1 is Thr or Glu, Xaa2 is Val or Leu, Xaa3 is Leu or Ile, Xaa4 is Ala or Ser, Xaa5 is Ala or Ser, Xaa6 is Glu or Asp and Xaa7 is Ala or Ser (SEQ ID NO:34); and Cys-Cys-Arg-Pro-Xaa1-Ala-Xaa2-Xaa3-Asp-Xaa4-Xaa5-Ser-Phe-Leu-Asp in which Xaa1 is Thr or Val or Ile, Xaa2 is Tyr or Phe, Xaa3 is Glu or Asp, Xaa4 is Glu or Asp and Xaa5 is Val or Leu (SEQ ID NO:35). Nucleotide sequences containing a coding sequence for the above conserved sequences or fragments of the above conserved sequences can be used as probes. Exemplary probe and primer sequences include nucleic acid sequences encoding amino acid sequences, SEQ ID NO:33, SEQ ID NO:36, SEQ ID NO:37, SEQ ID NO:38, SEQ ID NO 39, SEQ ID NO:40 and SEQ ID NO:41 and, in particular, nucleic acid sequences, SEQ ID NOS:42, SEQ ID NOS:43, SEQ ID NOS:44, SEQ ID NOS:45, SEQ ID NOS:46, SEQ ID NOS:47, and SEQ ID NOS:48.

Hybridization using the new probes from conserved regions of the nucleic acid sequences would be performed under reduced stringency conditions. Factors involved in determining stringency conditions are well known in the art (for example, see Sambrook et al., Molecular Cloning, 2nd Ed., 1989 which is incorporated by reference). Sources of nucleic acid for screening would include genomic DNA libraries from mammalian species or cDNA libraries constructed using RNA obtained from mammalian cells cloned into any suitable vector.

PCR primers would be utilized under PCR conditions of reduced annealing temperature which would allow amplification of sequences from gene family members other than GDNF and neurturin. Sources of nucleic acid for screening would include genomic DNA libraries from mammalian species cloned into any suitable vector, cDNA transcribed from RNA obtained from mammalian cells, and genomic DNA from mammalian species.

DNA sequences identified on the basis of hybridization or PCR assays would be sequenced and compared to GDNF and neurturin. The DNA sequences encoding the entire sequence of the novel factor would then be obtained in the same manner as described herein. Genomic DNA or libraries of genomic clones can also be used as templates because the intron/exon structures of GDNF and neurturin are conserved and coding sequences of the mature proteins are not interrupted by introns.

Although neurturin has been purified on the basis of its ability to promote the survival of a particular neuronal type, this factor will act on other neuronal cell types as well. For example, neurturin is shown herein to promote the survival of nodose sensory ganglia neurons (see Example 3). Neurturin is also likely to promote the survival of non-neuronal cells. Indeed, all the growth factors isolated to date have been shown to act on many different cell types (for example see Scully and Otten, Cell Biol Int 19:459-469, 1005; Hefti, Neurotrophic Factor Therapy 25:1418-1435, 1994 which are incorporated by reference). It is known that NGF acts on sympathetic neurons, several types of sensory neurons and certain populations of CNS neurons. GDNF, which is more closely related to neurturin, has been shown to act on dopaminergic, sympathetic, motor and several sensory neurons (Henderson et al. supra, 1994; Miles et al, J Cell Biol 130:137-148, 1995; Yan et al, Nature 373:341-344, 1995; Lin et al, Science 260:1130-1132, 1993; Trupp et al, J Cell Biol 130:137-148, 1995; Martin et al Brain Res 683:172-178, 1995; Bowenkamp st al J Comp Neurol 355:479-489, 1995 which are incorporated by reference). Thus, it is likely that in addition to peripheral sympathetic and sensory neurons, neurturin can act on a wide variety of central and peripheral neuronal cell types.

It is also likely that neurturin will act on non-neuronal cells to promote their survival, growth or function. This expectation is based upon the activity of known growth factors. Although NGF is the prototypical neurotrophic factor, this growth factor also acts upon mast cells to increase the number of mast cells when injected into newborn rats (Aloe, J Neuroimmunol 18:1-12, 1988). In addition, mast cells express the trk receptor and respond to NGF such that NGF is a mast cell secretogogue and survival promoting factor (Horigome et al., J Biol Chem 269:2695-2707, 1994 which is incorporated by reference). Moreover, members of the TGF-β superfamily act on many cell types of different function and embryologic origin.

The inventors herein have identified several non-neuronal tissues in which neurturin is expressed including blood, bone marrow, neonatal liver and mast cells. This suggests a role for neurturin in hematopoiesis, inflammation and allergy.

Neurotrophic factors of the NGF family are thought to act through factor-specific high affinity receptors (Tuszynski and Gage, 1994, supra). Only particular portions of the protein acting at a receptor site are required for binding to the receptor. Such particular portions or discrete fragments can serve as agonists where the substances activate the receptor to elicit the promoting action on cell survival and growth and antagonists to neurturin where they bind to, but do not activate, the receptor or promote survival and growth. Such portions or fragments that are agonists and those that are antagonists are also within the scope of the present invention.

Synthetic, pan-growth factors can also be constructed by combining the active domains of neurturin with the active domains of one or more other growth factors. (For example, see Ilag et al., Proc Nat'l Acad Sci 92:607-611, 1995 which is incorporated by reference). These pan-growth factors would be expected to have the combined activities of neurturin and the one or more other growth factors. As such they are believed to be potent and multispecific growth factors that are useful in the treatment of a wide spectrum of degenerative diseases and conditions including conditions that can be treated by any and all of the parent factors from which the active domains were obtained. Such pan-growth factors might also provide synergistic effects beyond the activities of the parent factors (Barres et al., supra).

Pan-growth factors within the scope of the present invention can also include chimeric or hybrid polypeptides that are constructed from portions of fragments of at least two growth factors. Growth factors of the TGF-β superfamily are structurally related having highly conserved sequence landmarks whereby family members are identified. In particular, seven canonical framework cysteine residues are nearly invariant in members of the superfamily (Kingsley, Genes & Dev 8:133-146, 1994 which is incorporated by reference)(see FIG. 17). Chimeric polypeptide molecules can, therefore, be constructed from a sequence that is substantially identical to a portion of the neurturin molecule up to a crossover point and a sequence that is substantially with a portion of another TGF-β superfamily member extending on the other side of the corresponding crossover point in the other TGF-β superfamily member. Such portions of neurturin are preferably from about 10 to about 90, more preferably from about 20 to about 80 and most preferably from about 30 to about 70 contiguous amino acids and such portions of another, non-neurturin TGF-β superfamily member are preferably from about 10 to about 90, more preferably from about 20 to about 80 and most preferably from about 30 to about 70 contiguous amino acids. For example, a particular crossover point might be between the third and fourth canonical framework cysteine residues. One such exemplary construct would contain at the 5′ end a sequence comprised of the human neurturin sequence from residue 1 through the third canonical framework cysteine residue 39 and up to residue 68 but not including the fourth canonical framework cysteine residue 69. The 3′ end of the hybrid construct would constitute a sequence derived another TGF-β superfamily member such as, for example, GDNF which is another TGF-β superfamily member that is closely related to neurturin. Using GDNF as the other TGF-β family member, the hybrid construct from the crossover point would be comprised of a sequence beginning at the fourth canonical framework cysteine residue 101 of human GDNF and continuing through residue 134 at the 3′ end of human GDNF. A second exemplary hybrid construct would be comprised of residues 1 through 100 of human GDNF beginning at the 5′ end of the construct, contiguously linked with residues 69 through 102 of human neurturin. The above constructs with neurturin and GDNF are intended as examples only with the particular TGF-β family member being selected from family members including but not limited to transforming growth factor-β1 (TGFβ1), transforming growth factor-β2 (TGFβ2), transforming growth factor-β3 (TGFβ3), inhibin β A (INHβA), inhibin β B (INHβB), the nodal gene (NODAL), bone morphogenetic proteins 2 and 4 (BMP2 and BMP4), the Drosophila decapentaplegic gene (dpp), bone morphogenetic proteins 5-8 (BMP5, BMP6, BMP7 and BMP8), the Drosophila 60A gene family (60A), bone morphogenetic protein 3 (BMP3), the Vg1 gene, growth differentiation factors 1 and 3 (GDF1 and GDF3), dorsalin (drsln), inhibin a (INHα), the MIS gene (MIS), growth factor 9 (GDF-9), glial-derived neurotropic growth factor (GDNF) and neurturin (NTN) (see FIG. 18). In addition, the crossover point can be any residue between the first and seventh canonical framework cysteines molecules of neurturin and the particular other family member.

In constructing a particular chimeric molecule, the portions of neurturin and portions of the other, non-neurturin growth factor are amplified using PCR, mixed and used as template for a PCR reaction using the forward primer from one and the reverse primer from the other of the two component portions of the chimeric molecule. Thus, for example a forward and reverse primers are selected to amplify the portion of neurturin from the beginning to the selected crossover point between the third and fourth canonical cysteine residues using a neurturin plasmid as template. A forward primer with a short overlapping portion of the neurturin sequence and a reverse primer are then used to amplify the portion of the other, non-neurturin growth factor member of the TGF-β superfamily from the corresponding crossover point through the 3′ end using a plasmid template containing the coding sequence for the non-neurturin TGF-β family member. The products of the two PCR reactions are gel purified and mixed together and a PCR reaction performed. Using an aliquot of this reaction as template a PCR reaction is performed using the neurturin forward primer and the reverse primer for the non-neurturin growth factor. The product is then cloned into an expression vector for production of the chimeric molecule.

Chimeric growth factors would be expected to be effective in promoting the growth and development of cells and for use in preventing the atrophy, degeneration or death of cells, particular in neurons. The chimeric polypeptides may also act as a receptor antagonists of one or both of the full length growth factors from which the chimeric polypeptide was constructed or as an antagonist of any other growth factor that acts at the same receptor or receptors. Such polypeptides can also be used as foodstuffs, combustible energy sources, and viscosity-enhancing solutes.

The present invention also includes therapeutic or pharmaceutical compositions comprising neurturin in an effective amount for treating patients with cellular degeneration and a method comprising administering a therapeutically effective amount of neurturin. These compositions and methods are useful for treating a number of degenerative diseases. Where the cellular degeneration involves neuronal degeneration, the diseases include, but are not limited to peripheral neuropathy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, ischemic stroke, acute brain injury, acute spinal chord injury, nervous system tumors, multiple sclerosis, peripheral nerve trauma or injury, exposure to neurotoxins, metabolic diseases such as diabetes or renal dysfunctions and damage caused by infectious agents. Where the cellular degeneration involves bone marrow cell degeneration, the diseases include, but are not limited to disorders of insufficient blood cells such as, for example, leukopenias including eosinopenia and/or basopenia, lymphopenia, monocytopenia, neutropenia, anemias, thrombocytopenia as well as an insufficiency of stem cells for any of the above. The above cells and tissues can also be treated for depressed function.

The compositions and methods herein can also be useful to prevent degeneration and/or promote survival in other non-neuronal tissues as well. One skilled in the art can readily determine using a variety of assays known in the art for identifying whether neurturin would be useful in promoting survival or functioning in a particular cell type.

In certain circumstances, it may be desirable to modulate or decrease the amount of neurturin expressed. For example, the inventors herein have discovered that overexpression of neurturin in trangenic mice results in obesity with the accumulation of large amounts of fat subcutaneously and in the liver. It is believed that such overproduction of neurturin in humans can alter metabolism such that additional adipose tissue is produced. In such a disease condition, it would be desirable to modulate or decrease the amount of neurturin present and treatments to modulate or decrease neurturin can involve administration of neurturin antibodies, either polyclonal or monoclonal, the use of antisense polynucleotides to modulate neurturin expression, or hybrid or chimeric polypeptides with antagonist properties.

Thus, in another aspect of the present invention, isolated and purified neurturin antisense oligonucleotides can be made and a method utilized for diminishing the level of expression of neurturin by a cell comprising administering one or more neurturin antisense oligonucleotides. By neurturin antisense oligonucleotides reference is made to oligonucleotides that have a nucleotide sequence that interacts through base pairing with a specific complementary nucleic acid sequence involved in the expression of neurturin such that the expression of neurturin is reduced. Preferably, the specific nucleic acid sequence involved in the expression of neurturin is a genomic DNA molecule or mRNA molecule that encodes neurturin. This genomic DNA molecule can comprise regulatory regions of the neurturin gene, the pre- or pro-portions of the neurturin gene or the coding sequence for mature neurturin protein. The term complementary to a nucleotide sequence in the context of neurturin antisense oligonucleotides and methods therefor means sufficiently complementary to such a sequence as to allow hybridization to that sequence in a cell, i.e., under physiological conditions. The neurturin antisense oligonucleotides preferably comprise a sequence containing from about 8 to about 100 nucleotides and more preferably the neurturin antisense oligonucleotides comprise from about 15 to about 30 nucleotides. The neurturin antisense oligonucleotides can also include derivatives which contain a variety of modifications that confer resistance to nucleolytic degradation such as, for example, modified internucleoside linkages modified nucleic acid bases and/or sugars and the like (Uhlmann and Peyman, Chemical Reviews 90:543-584, 1990; Schneider and Banner, Tetrahedron Lett 31:335, 1990; Milligan et al., J Med Chem 36:1923-1937, 1993; Tseng et al., Cancer Gene Therap 1:65-71, 1994; Miller et al., Parasitology 10:92-97, 1994 which are incorporated by reference). Such derivatives include but are not limited to backbone modifications such as phosphotriester, phosphorothioate, methylphosphonate, phosphoramidate, phosphorodithioate and formacetal as well as morpholino, peptide nucleic acid analogue and dithioate repeating units. The neurturin antisense polynucleotides of the present invention can be used in treating overexpression of neurturin or inappropriate expression of neurturin such as in treating obesity or in modulating neoplasia. Such treatment can also include the ex vivo treatment of cells.

The therapeutic or pharmaceutical compositions of the present invention can be administered by any suitable route known in the art including for example intravenous, subcutaneous, intramuscular, transdermal, intrathecal or intracerebral or administration to cells in ex vivo treatment protocols. Administration can be either rapid as by injection or over a period of time as by slow infusion or administration of slow release formulation. For treating tissues in the central nervous system, administration can be by injection or infusion into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). When it is intended that neurturin be administered to cells in the central nervous system, administration can be with one or more agents capable of promoting penetration of neurturin across the blood-brain barrier.

Neurturin can also be linked or conjugated with agents that provide desirable pharmaceutical or pharmacodynamic properties. For example, neurturin can be coupled to any substance known in the art to promote penetration or transport across the blood-brain barrier such as an antibody to the transferrin receptor, and administered by intravenous injection. (See for example, Friden et al., Science 259:373-377, 1993 which is incorporated by reference). Furthermore, neurturin can be stably linked to a polymer such as polyethylene glycol to obtain desirable properties of solubility, stability, half-life and other pharmaceutically advantageous properties. (See for example Davis et al. Enzyme Eng 4:169-73, 1978; Burnham, Am J Hosp Pharm 51:210-218, 1994 which are incorporated by reference).

The compositions are usually employed in the form of pharmaceutical preparations. Such preparations are made in a manner well known in the pharmaceutical art. One preferred preparation utilizes a vehicle of physiological saline solution, but it is contemplated that other pharmaceutically acceptable carriers such as physiological concentrations of other non-toxic salts, five percent aqueous glucose solution, sterile water or the like may also be used. It may also be desirable that a suitable buffer be present in the composition. Such solutions can, if desired, be lyophilized and stored in a sterile ampoule ready for reconstitution by the addition of sterile water for ready injection. The primary solvent can be aqueous or alternatively non-aqueous. Neurturin can also be incorporated into a solid or semi-solid biologically compatible matrix which can be implanted into tissues requiring treatment.

The carrier can also contain other pharmaceutically-acceptable excipients for modifying or maintaining the pH, osmolarity, viscosity, clarity, color, sterility, stability, rate of dissolution, or odor of the formulation. Similarly, the carrier may contain still other pharmaceutically-acceptable excipients for modifying or maintaining release or absorption or penetration across the blood-brain barrier. Such excipients are those substances usually and customarily employed to formulate dosages for parenteral administration in either unit dosage or multi-dose form or for direct infusion into the cerebrospinal fluid by continuous or periodic infusion.

Dose administration can be repeated depending upon the pharmacokinetic parameters of the dosage formulation and the route of administration used.

It is also contemplated that certain formulations containing neurturin are to be administered orally. Such formulations are preferably encapsulated and formulated with suitable carriers in solid dosage forms. Some examples of suitable carriers, excipients, and diluents include lactose, dextrose, sucrose, sorbitol, mannitol, starches, gum acacia, calcium phosphate, alginates, calcium silicate, microcrystalline cellulose, polyvinylpyrrolidone, cellulose, gelatin, syrup, methyl cellulose, methyl- and propylhydroxybenzoates, talc, magnesium, stearate, water, mineral oil, and the like. The formulations can additionally include lubricating agents, wetting agents, emulsifying and suspending agents, preserving agents, sweetening agents or flavoring agents. The compositions may be formulated so as to provide rapid, sustained, or delayed release of the active ingredients after administration to the patient by employing procedures well known in the art. The formulations can also contain substances that diminish proteolytic degradation and promote absorption such as, for example, surface active agents.

The specific dose is calculated according to the approximate body weight or body surface area of the patient or the volume of body space to be occupied. The dose will also be calculated dependent upon the particular route of administration selected. Further refinement of the calculations necessary to determine the appropriate dosage for treatment is routinely made by those of ordinary skill in the art. Such calculations can be made without undue experimentation by one skilled in the art in light of the activity disclosed herein in assay preparations of target cells. Exact dosages are determined in conjunction with standard dose-response studies. It will be understood that the amount of the composition actually administered will be determined by a practitioner, in the light of the relevant circumstances including the condition or conditions to be treated, the choice of composition to be administered, the age, weight, and response of the individual patient, the severity of the patient's symptoms, and the chosen route of administration.

In one embodiment of this invention, neurturin may be therapeutically administered by implanting into patients vectors or cells capable of producing a biologically-active form of neurturin or a precursor of neurturin, i.e. a molecule that can be readily converted to a biological-active form of neurturin by the body. In one approach cells that secrete neurturin may be encapsulated into semipermeable membranes for implantation into a patient. The cells can be cells that normally express neurturin or a precursor thereof or the cells can be transformed to express neurturin or a precursor thereof. It is preferred that the cell be of human origin and that the neurturin be human neurturin when the patient is human. However, the formulations and methods herein can be used for veterinary as well as human applications and the term "patient" as used herein is intended to include human and veterinary patients.

Cells can be grown ex vivo, for example, for use in transplantation or engraftment into patients (Muench et al., Leuk & Lymph 16:1-11, 1994 which is incorporated by reference). Neurturin can be administered to such cells to elicit growth and differentiation. Thus, in another embodiment of the present invention, neurturin is used to promote the ex vivo expansion of cells for transplantation or engraftment. Current methods have used bioreactor culture systems containing factors such as erythropoietin, colony stimulating factors, stem cell factor, and interleukins to expand hematopoietic progenitor cells for erythrocytes, monocytes, neutrophils, and lymphocytes (Verfaillie, Stem Cells 12:466-476, 1994 which is incorporated by reference). These stem cells can be isolated from the marrow of human donors, from human peripheral blood, or from umbilical cord blood cells. The expanded blood cells are used to treat patients who lack these cells as a result of specific disease conditions or as a result of high, dose chemotherapy for treatment of malignancy (George, Stem Cells 12(Suppl 1):249-255, 1994 which is incorporated by reference). In the case of cell transplant after chemotherapy, autologous transplants can be performed by removing bone marrow cells before chemotherapy, expanding the cells ex vivo using methods that also function to purge malignant cells, and transplanting the expanded cells back into the patient following chemotherapy (for review see Rummel and Van Zant, J Hematotherapy 3:213-218, 1994 which is incorporated by reference). Since neurturin is expressed in the developing animal in blood, bone marrow and liver, tissues where proliferation and differentiation of progenitor cells occur, it is believed that neurturin can function to regulate the proliferation of hematopoietic stem cells and the differentiation of mature hematopoietic cells. Thus, the addition of neurturin to culture systems used for ex vivo expansion of cells could stimulate the rate at which certain populations of cells multiply or differentiate, and improve the effectiveness of these expansion systems in generating cells needed for transplant.

It is also believed that neurturin can be used for the ex vivo expansion of precursor cells in the nervous system. Transplant or engraftment of cells is currently being explored as a therapy for diseases in which certain populations of neurons are lost due to degeneration such as, for example, in parkinson's disease (Bjorklund, Curr Opin Neurobiol 2:683-689, 1992 which is incorporated by reference). Neuronal precursor cells can be obtained from animal or human donors or from human fetal tissue and then expanded in culture using neurturin or other growth factors. These cells can then be engrafted into patients where they would function to replace some of the cells lost due to degeneration. Because neurotrophins have been shown to be capable of stimulating the survival and proliferation of neuronal precursors cells such as, for example, NT-3 stimulation of sympathetic neuroblast cells (Birren et al., Develop 119:597-610, 1993 which is incorporated by reference), neurturin could also function in similar ways during the development of the nervous system and could be useful in the ex vivo expansion of neuronal cells.

In a number of circumstances it would be desirable to determine the levels of neurturin in a patient. The identification of neurturin along with the present report showing that neurturin is expressed by a number of tissues provides the basis for the conclusion that the presence of neurturin serves a normal physiologic function related to cell growth and survival. Indeed, other neurotrophic factors are known to play a role in the function of neuronal and non-neuronal tissues. (For review see Scully and Otten, Cell Biol Int 19:459-469, 1995; Otten and Gadient, Int J Devl Neurosciences 13:147-151, 1995 which are incorporated by reference). Endogenously produced neurturin may also play a role in certain disease conditions, particularly where there is cellular degeneration such as in neurodegenerative conditions or diseases. Other neurotrophic factors are known to change during disease conditions. For example, in multiple sclerosis, levels of NGF protein in the cerebrospinal fluid are increased during acute phases of the disease (Bracci-Laudiero et al., Neuroscience Lett 147:9-12, 1992 which is incorporated by reference) and in systemic lupus erythematosus there is a correlation between inflammatory episodes and NGF levels in sera (Bracci-Laudiero et al. NeuroReport 4:563-565, 1993 which is incorporated by reference).

Given that neurturin is expressed in blood cells, bone marrow and mast cells, it is likely that the level of neurturin may be altered in a variety of conditions and that quantification of neurturin levels would provide clinically useful information. Furthermore, in the treatment of degenerative conditions, compositions containing neurturin can be administered and it would likely be desirable to achieve certain target levels of neurturin in sera, in cerebrospinal fluid or in any desired tissue compartment. It would, therefore, be advantageous to be able to monitor the levels of neurturin in a patient. Accordingly, the present invention also provides methods for detecting the presence of neurturin in a sample from a patient.

The term "detection" as used herein in the context of detecting the presence of neurturin in a patient is intended to include the determining of the amount of neurturin or the ability to express an amount of neurturin in a patient, the distinguishing of neurturin from other growth factors, the estimation of prognosis in terms of probable outcome of a degenerative disease and prospect for recovery, the monitoring of the neurturin levels over a period of time as a measure of status of the condition, and the monitoring of neurturin levels for determining a preferred therapeutic regimen for the patient.

To detect the presence of neurturin in a patient, a sample is obtained from the patient. The sample can be a tissue biopsy sample or a sample of blood, plasma, serum, CSF or the like. Neurturin is expressed in a wide variety of tissues as shown in example 10. Samples for detecting neurturin can be taken from any of these tissues. When assessing peripheral levels of neurturin, it is preferred that the sample be a sample of blood, plasma or serum. When assessing the levels of neurturin in the central nervous system a preferred sample is a sample obtained from cerebrospinal fluid.

In some instances it is desirable to determine whether the neurturin gene is intact in the patient or in a tissue or cell line within the patient. By an intact neurturin gene it is meant that there are no alterations in the gene such as point mutations, deletions, insertions, chromosomal breakage, chromosomal rearrangements and the like wherein such alteration might alter production of neurturin or alter its biological activity, stability or the like to lead to disease processes or susceptibility to cellular degenerative conditions. Thus, in one embodiment of the present invention a method is provided for detecting and characterizing any alterations in the neurturin gene. The method comprises providing an oligonucleotide that contains the neurturin cDNA, genomic DNA or a fragment thereof or a derivative thereof. By a derivative of an oligonucleotide, it is meant that the derived oligonucleotide is substantially the same as the sequence from which it is derived in that the derived sequence has sufficient sequence complementarily to the sequence from which it is derived to hybridize to the neurturin gene. The derived nucleotide sequence is not necessarily physically derived from the nucleotide sequence, but may be generated in any manner including for example, chemical synthesis or DNA replication or reverse transcription or transcription.

Typically, patient genomic DNA is isolated from a cell sample from the patient and digested with one or more restriction endonucleases such as, for example, TaqI and AluI. Using the Southern blot protocol, which is well known in the art, this assay determines whether a patient or a particular tissue in a patient has an intact neurturin gene or a neurturin gene abnormality.

Hybridization to the neurturin gene would involve denaturing the chromosomal DNA to obtain a single-stranded DNA; contacting the single-stranded DNA with a gene probe associated with the neurturin gene sequence; and identifying the hybridized DNA-probe to detect chromosomal DNA containing at least a portion of the human neurturin gene.

The term "probe" as used herein refers to a structure comprised of a polynucleotide which forms a hybrid structure with a target sequence, due to complementarity of probe sequence with a sequence in the target region. Oligomers suitable for use as probes may contain a minimum of about 8-12 contiguous nucleotides which are complementary to the targeted sequence and preferably a minimum of about 20.

The neurturin gene probes of the present invention can be DNA or RNA oligonucleotides and can be made by any method known in the art such as, for example, excision, transcription or chemical synthesis. Probes may be labelled with any detectable label known in the art such as, for example, radioactive or fluorescent labels or enzymatic marker. Labeling of the probe can be accomplished by any method known in the art such as by PCR, random priming, end labelling, nick translation or the like. One skilled in the art will also recognize that other methods not employing a labelled probe can be used to determine the hybridization. Examples of methods that can be used for detecting hybridization include Southern blotting, fluorescence in situ hybridization, and single-strand conformation polymorphism with PCR amplification.

Hybridization is typically carried out at 25-45° C., more preferably at 32-40° C. and more preferably at 37-38° C. The time required for hybridization is from about 0.25 to about 96 hours, more preferably from about one to about 72 hours, and most preferably from about 4 to about 24 hours.

Neurturin gene abnormalities can also be detected by using the PCR method and primers that flank or lie within the neurturin gene. The PCR method is well known in the art. Briefly, this method is performed using two oligonucleotide primers which are capable of hybridizing to the nucleic acid sequences flanking a target sequence that lies within a neurturin gene and amplifying the target sequence. The terms "oligonucleotide primer" as used herein refers to a short strand of DNA or RNA ranging in length from about 8 to about 30 bases. The upstream and downstream primers are typically from about 20 to about 30 base pairs in length and hybridize to the flanking regions for replication of the nucleotide sequence. The polymerization is catalyzed by a DNA-polymerase in the presence of deoxynucleotide triphosphates or nucleotide analogs to produce double-stranded DNA molecules. The double strands are then separated by any denaturing method including physical, chemical or enzymatic. Commonly, the method of physical denaturation is used involving heating the nucleic acid, typically to temperatures from about 80° C. to 105° C. for times ranging from about 1 to about 10 minutes. The process is repeated for the desired number of cycles.

The primers are selected to be substantially complementary to the strand of DNA being amplified. Therefore, the primers need not reflect the exact sequence of the template, but must be sufficiently complementary to selectively hybridize with the strand being amplified.

After PCR amplification, the DNA sequence comprising neurturin or pre-pro neurturin or a fragment thereof is then directly sequenced and analyzed by comparison of the sequence with the sequences disclosed herein to identify alterations which might change activity or expression levels or the like.

In another embodiment a method for detecting neurturin is provided based upon an analysis of tissue expressing the neurturin gene. Certain tissues such as those identified below in example 10 have been found to express the neurturin gene. The method comprises hybridizing a polynucleotide to mRNA from a sample of tissues that normally express the neurturin gene. The sample is obtained from a patient suspected of having an abnormality in the neurturin gene or in the neurturin gene of particular cells. The polynucleotide comprises SEQ ID NO:11 or a derivative thereof or a fragment thereof.

To detect the presence of mRNA encoding neurturin protein, a sample is obtained from a patient. The sample can be from blood or from a tissue biopsy sample. The sample may be treated to extract the nucleic acids contained therein. The resulting nucleic acid from the sample is subjected to gel electrophoresis or other size separation techniques.

The MRNA of the sample is contacted with a DNA sequence serving as a probe to form hybrid duplexes. The use of a labeled probes as discussed above allows detection of the resulting duplex.

When using the CDNA encoding neurturin protein or a derivative of the cDNA as a probe, high stringency conditions can be used in order to prevent false positives, that is the hybridization and apparent detection of neurturin nucleotide sequences when in fact an intact and functioning neurturin gene is not present. When using sequences derived from the neurturin cDNA, less stringent conditions could be used, however, this would be a less preferred approach because of the likelihood of false positives. The stringency of hybridization is determined by a number of factors during hybridization and during the washing procedure, including temperature, ionic strength, length of time and concentration of formamide. These factors are outlined in, for example, Sambrook et al. (Sambrook, et al., 1989, supra).

In order to increase the sensitivity of the detection in a sample of mRNA encoding the neurturin protein, the technique of reverse transcription/polymerization chain reaction (RT/PCR) can be used to amplify cDNA transcribed from mRNA encoding the neurturin protein. The method of RT/PCR is well known in the art (see example 10 and FIG. 6 below).

The RT/PCR method can be performed as follows. Total cellular RNA is isolated by, for example, the standard guanidium isothiocyanate method and the total RNA is reverse transcribed. The reverse transcription method involves synthesis of DNA on a template of RNA using a reverse transcriptase enzyme and a 3′ end primer. Typically, the primer contains an oligo(dT) sequence. The cDNA thus produced is then amplified using the PCR method and neurturin specific primers. (Belyavsky et al, Nucl Acid Res 17:2919-2932, 1989; Krug and Berger, Methods in Enzymology, Academic Press, N.Y., Vol. 152, pp. 316-325, 1987 which are incorporated by reference).

The polymerase chain reaction method is performed as described above using two oligonucleotide primers that are substantially complementary to the two flanking regions of the DNA segment to be amplified.

Following amplification, the PCR product is then electrophoresed and detected by ethidium bromide staining or by phosphoimaging.

The present invention further provides for methods to detect the presence of the neurturin protein in a sample obtained from a patient. Any method known in the art for detecting proteins can be used. Such methods include, but are not limited to immunodiffusion, immunoelectrophoresis, immunochemical methods, binder-ligand assays, immunohistochemical techniques, agglutination and complement assays. (for example see Basic and Clinical Immunology, Sites and Terr, eds., Appleton & Lange, Norwalk, Conn. pp 217-262, 1991 which is incorporated by reference). Preferred are binder-ligand immunoassay methods including reacting antibodies with an epitope or epitopes of the neurturin protein and competitively displacing a labeled neurturin protein or derivative thereof.

As used herein, a derivative of the neurturin protein is intended to include a polypeptide in which certain amino acids have been deleted or replaced or changed to modified or unusual amino acids wherein the neurturin derivative is biologically equivalent to neurturin and wherein the polypeptide derivative cross-reacts with antibodies raised against the neurturin protein. By cross-reaction it is meant that an antibody reacts with an antigen other than the one that induced its formation.

Numerous competitive and non-competitive protein binding immunoassays are well known in the art. Antibodies employed in such assays may be unlabeled, for example as used in agglutination tests, or labeled for use in a wide variety of assay methods. Labels that can be used include radionuclides, enzymes, fluorescers, chemiluminescers, enzyme substrates or co-factors, enzyme inhibitors, particles, dyes and the like for use in radioimmunoassay (RIA), enzyme immunoassays, e.g., enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), fluorescent immunoassays and the like.

Polyclonal or monoclonal antibodies to the neurturin protein or an epitope thereof can be made for use in immunoassays by any of a number of methods known in the art. By epitope reference is made to an antigenic determinant of a polypeptide. An epitope could comprise 3 amino acids in a spacial conformation which is unique to the epitope. Generally an epitope consists of at least 5 such amino acids. Methods of determining the spatial conformation of amino acids are known in the art, and include, for example, x-ray crystallography and 2 dimensional nuclear magnetic resonance.

One approach for preparing antibodies to a protein is the selection and preparation of an amino acid sequence of all or part of the protein, chemically synthesizing the sequence and injecting it into an appropriate animal, usually a rabbit or a mouse (See Example 12).

Oligopeptides can be selected as candidates for the production of an antibody to the neurturin protein based upon the oligopeptides lying in hydrophilic regions, which are thus likely to be exposed in the mature protein.

Antibodies to neurturin can also be raised against oligopeptides that include one or more of the conserved regions identified herein such that the antibody can cross-react with other family members. Such antibodies can be used to identify and isolate the other family members.

Methods for preparation of the neurturin protein or an epitope thereof include, but are not limited to chemical synthesis, recombinant DNA techniques or isolation from biological samples. Chemical synthesis of a peptide can be performed, for example, by the classical Merrifeld method of solid phase peptide synthesis (Merrifeld, J Am Chem Soc 85:2149, 1963 which is incorporated by reference) or the FMOC strategy on a Rapid Automated Multiple Peptide Synthesis system (DuPont Company, Wilmington, Del.) (Caprino and Han, J Org Chem 37:3404, 1972 which is incorporated by reference).

Polyclonal antibodies can be prepared by immunizing rabbits or other animals by injecting antigen followed by subsequent boosts at appropriate intervals. The animals are bled and sera assayed against purified neurturin protein usually by ELISA or by bioassay based upon the ability to block the action of neurturin on neurons or other cells. When using avian species, e.g. chicken, turkey and the like, the antibody can be isolated from the yolk of the egg. Monoclonal antibodies can be prepared after the method of Milstein and Kohler by fusing splenocytes from immunized mice with continuously replicating tumor cells such as myeloma or lymphoma cells. (Milstein and Kohler Nature 256:495-497, 1975; Gulfre and Milstein, Methods in Enzymology: Immunochemical Techniques 73:1-46, Langone and Banatis eds., Academic Press, 1981 which are incorporated by reference). The hybridoma cells so formed are then cloned by limiting dilution methods and supernates assayed for antibody production by ELISA, RIA or bioassay.

The unique ability of antibodies to recognize and specifically bind to target proteins provides an approach for treating an over expression of the protein. Thus, another aspect of the present invention provides for a method for preventing or treating diseases involving over expression of the neurturin protein by treatment of a patient with specific antibodies to the neurturin protein.

Specific antibodies, either polyclonal or monoclonal, to the neurturin protein can be produced by any suitable method known in the art as discussed above. For example, murine or human monoclonal antibodies can be produced by hybridoma technology or, alternatively, the neurturin protein, or an immunologically active fragment thereof, or an anti-idiotypic antibody, or fragment thereof can be administered to an animal to elicit the production of antibodies capable of recognizing and binding to the neurturin protein. Such antibodies can be from any class of antibodies including, but not limited to IgG, IgA, IgM, IgD, and IgE or in the case of avian species, IgY and from any subclass of antibodies.


Claim 1 of 3 Claims

1. Isolated or purified antibodies which specifically bind with a neurturin polypeptide, wherein said polypeptide is identified by SEQ ID NO:1, SEQ ID NO:2, SEQ ID NO:7 or SEQ ID NO:8, and wherein said polypeptide promotes survival of superior cervical ganglion cells or nodose ganglion cells.

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