The Intercostal NMJ Assay — A New Alternative to the Conventional LD50 Assay for the Determination of the Therapeutic Potency of Botulinum Toxin Preparations

Alexander Huber, Richard M. France, Lisa Riccalton-Banks, Jane McLaren, Helen Cox, Robin A. Quirk, Kevin M. Shakesheff, David Thompson, Naveed Panjwani, Sarah Shipley and Andy Pickett

Therapeutic botulinum neurotoxin type A preparations have found an increasing number of clinical uses for a large variety of neuromuscular disorders and dermatological conditions. The accurate determination of potency in the clinical application of botulinum toxins is critical to ensuring clinical efficacy and safety, and is currently achieved by using a lethal dose (LD50) assay in mice. Ethical concerns and operational constraints associated with this assay have prompted the development of alternative assay systems that could potentially lead to its replacement. As one such alternative, we describe the development and evaluation of a novel ex vivo assay (the Intercostal Neuromuscular Junction [NMJ] Assay), which uses substantially fewer animals and addresses ethical concerns associated with the LD50 assay. The assay records the decay of force from electrically-stimulated muscle tissue sections in response to the toxin, and thus combines the important mechanisms of receptor binding, translocation, and the enzymatic action of the toxin molecule. Toxin application leads to a time-related and dose-related reduction in contractile force. A regression model describing the relationship between the applied dose and force decay was determined statistically, and was successfully tested as able to correctly predict the potency of an unknown sample. The tissue sections used were found to be highly reproducible, as determined through the innervation pattern and the localisation of NMJs in situ. Furthermore, the efficacy of the assay protocol to successfully deliver the test sample to the cellular target sites, was critically assessed by using molecular tracer molecules.
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