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Leber hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON) is the most common primary mitochondrial genetic disease that causes blindness in young adults. Over 50 inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variations are associated with LHON; however, more than 95% of cases are caused by one of three missense variations (m.11778 G > A, m.3460 G > A, and m.14484 T > C) encoding for subunits ND4, ND1, and ND6 of the respiration complex I, respectively. These variants remain silent until further and currently poorly understood genetic and environmental factors precipitate the visual loss. The clinical course that ensues is variable, and a convincing treatment for LHON has yet to emerge. In 2015, an antioxidant idebenone (Raxone) received European marketing authorisation to treat visual impairment in patients with LHON, and since then it was introduced into clinical practice in several European countries. Alternative therapeutic strategies, including gene therapy and gene editing, antioxidant and neurotrophic agents, mitochondrial biogenesis, mitochondrial replacement, and stem cell therapies are being investigated in how effective they might be in altering the course of the disease. Allotopic gene therapies are in the most advanced stage of development (phase III clinical trials) whilst most other agents are in phase I or II trials or at pre-clinical stages. This manuscript discusses the phenotype and genotype of the LHON disease with complexities and peculiarities such as incomplete penetrance and gender bias, which have challenged the therapies in development emphasising the most recent use of gene therapy. Furthermore, we review the latest results of the three clinical trials based on adeno-associated viral (AAV) vector-mediated delivery of NADH dehydrogenase subunit 4 (ND4) with mitochondrial targeting sequence, highlighting the differences in the vector design and the rationale behind their use in the allotopic transfer.

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LHON, NADH dehydrogenase, gene therapy, idebenone, leber hereditary optic neuropathy, mitochondrial inheritance, retinal ganglion cells