Adeno-associated virus (AAV)-based vectors are commonly used for delivering transgenes in gene therapy studies, but they are also known to cause dorsal root ganglia (DRG) and peripheral nerve toxicities in animals. However, the functional implications of these pathologic findings and their time course remain unclear. At 2, 4, 6, and 8 weeks following a single dose of an AAV9 vector carrying human frataxin transgene in rats, non-standard functional assessments, including von Frey filament, electrophysiology, and Rotarod tests, were conducted longitudinally to measure allodynia, nerve conduction velocity, and coordination, respectively. Additionally, DRGs, peripheral nerves, brain and spinal cord were evaluated histologically and circulating neurofilament light chain (NfL) was quantified at 1, 2, 4, and 8 weeks, respectively. At 2 and 4 weeks after dosing, minimal-to-moderate nerve fiber degeneration and neuronal degeneration were observed in the DRGs in some of the AAV9 vector-dosed animals. At 8 weeks, nerve fiber degeneration was observed in DRGs, with or without neuronal degeneration, and in sciatic nerves of all AAV9 vector-dosed animals. NfL values were higher in AAV9 vector-treated animals at weeks 4 and 8 compared with controls. However, there were no significant differences in the three functional endpoints evaluated between the AAV9 vector- and vehicle-dosed animals, or in a longitudinal comparison between baseline (predose), 4, and 8 week values in the AAV9 vector-dose animals. These findings demonstrate that there is no detectable functional consequence to the minimal-to-moderate neurodegeneration observed with the AAV9 vector treatment in rats, suggesting a functional tolerance or reserve for loss of DRG neurons after systemic administration of AAV9 vector.

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