Revertant mosaicism, or “natural gene therapy”, is the phenomenon in which germline mutations are corrected by somatic events. In recent years, revertant mosaicism has been identified in all major types of epidermolysis bullosa, the group of heritable blistering disorders caused by mutations in the genes encoding epidermal adhesion proteins. Moreover, revertant mosaicism appears to be present in all patients with a specific subtype of recessive epidermolysis bullosa. We therefore hypothesized that revertant mosaicism should be expected at least in all patients with recessive forms of epidermolysis bullosa. Naturally corrected, patient-own cells are of extreme interest for their promising therapeutic potential, and their presence in all patients would open exciting, new treatment perspectives to those patients. To test our hypothesis, we determined the probability that single nucleotide reversions occur in patients’ skin using a mathematical developmental model. According to our model, reverse mutations are expected to occur frequently (estimated 216x) in each patient’s skin. Reverse mutations should, however, occur early in embryogenesis to be able to drive the emergence of recognizable revertant patches, which is expected to occur in only one per ~10,000 patients. This underestimate, compared to our clinical observations, can be explained by the “late-but-fitter revertant cell” hypothesis: reverse mutations arise at later stages of development, but provide revertant cells with a selective growth advantage in vivo that drives the development of recognizable healthy skin patches. Our results can be extrapolated to any other organ with stem cell division numbers comparable to skin, which may offer novel future therapeutic options for other genetic conditions if these revertant cells can be identified and isolated.

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Journal PLoS ONE
van den Akker, P.C, Pasmooij, A.M.G. (Anna M. G.), Joenje, H, Hofstra, R.M.W, te Meerman, G, & Jonkman, M.F. (2018). A "late-but-fitter revertant cell" explains the high frequency of revertant mosaicism in epidermolysis bullosa. PLoS ONE, 13(2). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0192994