Recombinant adeno-associated virus vectors based on serotype 8 (AAV8) have shown significant promise for liver-directed gene therapy. However, to overcome the vector dose dependent immunotoxicity seen with AAV8 vectors, it is important to develop better AAV8 vectors that provide enhanced gene expression at significantly low vector doses. Since it is known that AAV vectors during intracellular trafficking are targeted for destruction in the cytoplasm by the host–cellular kinase/ubiquitination/proteasomal machinery, we modified specific serine/threonine kinase or ubiquitination targets on the AAV8 capsid to augment its transduction efficiency. Point mutations at specific serine (S)/threonine (T)/lysine (K) residues were introduced in the AAV8 capsid at the positions equivalent to that of the effective AAV2 mutants, generated successfully earlier. Extensive structure analysis was carried out subsequently to evaluate the structural equivalence between the two serotypes. scAAV8 vectors with the wild-type (WT) and each one of the S/T→Alanine (A) or K-Arginine (R) mutant capsids were evaluated for their liver transduction efficiency in C57BL/6 mice in vivo. Two of the AAV8-S→A mutants (S279A and S671A), and a K137R mutant vector, demonstrated significantly higher enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) transcript levels (∼9- to 46-fold) in the liver compared to animals that received WT-AAV8 vectors alone. The best performing AAV8 mutant (K137R) vector also had significantly reduced ubiquitination of the viral capsid, reduced activation of markers of innate immune response, and a concomitant two-fold reduction in the levels of neutralizing antibody formation in comparison to WT-AAV8 vectors. Vector biodistribution studies revealed that the K137R mutant had a significantly higher and preferential transduction of the liver (106 vs. 7.7 vector copies/mouse diploid genome) when compared to WT-AAV8 vectors. To further study the utility of the K137R-AAV8 mutant in therapeutic gene transfer, we delivered human coagulation factor IX (h.FIX) under the control of liver-specific promoters (LP1 or hAAT) into C57BL/6 mice. The circulating levels of h.FIX:Ag were higher in all the K137R-AAV8 treated groups up to 8 weeks post-hepatic gene transfer. These studies demonstrate the feasibility of the use of this novel AAV8 vectors for potential gene therapy of hemophilia B.
Sen and colleagues generated AAV8 capsid point mutants by replacing specific serine/threonine kinase or ubiquitination target residues. Two of the mutants yielded significantly higher transgene expression over AAV8 when injected into mice, and the best performing vector also exhibited significantly reduced capsid ubiquitination, innate immune response activation, and neutralizing antibody formation.
Adeno-associated virus (AAV) is gaining momentum as a gene therapy vector for human applications. However, there remain impediments to the development of this virus as a vector. One of these is the incomplete understanding of the biology of the virus, including nuclear targeting of the incoming virion during initial infection, as well as assembly of progeny virions from structural components in the nucleus. Toward this end, we have identified four basic regions (BR) on the AAV2 capsid that represent possible nuclear localization sequence (NLS) motifs. Mutagenesis of BR1 (120QAKKRVL126) and BR2 (140PGKKRPV146) had minor effects on viral infectivity (∼4- and ∼10-fold, respectively), whereas BR3 (166PARKRLN172) and BR4 (307RPKRLN312) were found to be essential for infectivity and virion assembly, respectively. Mutagenesis of BR3, which is located in Vp1 and Vp2 capsid proteins, does not interfere with viral production or trafficking of intact AAV capsids to the nuclear periphery but does inhibit transfer of encapsidated DNA into the nucleus. Substitution of the canine parvovirus NLS rescued the BR3 mutant to wild-type (wt) levels, supporting the role of an AAV NLS motif. In addition, rAAV2 containing a mutant form of BR3 in Vp1 and a wt BR3 in Vp2 was found to be infectious, suggesting that the function of BR3 is redundant between Vp1 and Vp2 and that Vp2 may play a role in infectivity. Mutagenesis of BR4 was found to inhibit virion assembly in the nucleus of transfected cells. This affect was not completely due to the inefficient nuclear import of capsid subunits based on Western blot analysis. In fact, aberrant capsid foci were observed in the cytoplasm of transfected cells, compared to the wild type, suggesting a defect in early viral assembly or trafficking. Using three-dimensional structural analysis, the lysine- and arginine-to-asparagine change disrupts hydrogen bonding between these basic residues and adjacent beta strand glutamine residues that may prevent assembly of intact virions. Taken together, these data support that the BR4 domain is essential for virion assembly. Each BR was also found to be conserved in serotypes 1 to 11, suggesting that these regions are significant and function similarly in each serotype. This study establishes the importance of two BR motifs on the AAV2 capsid that are essential for infectivity and virion assembly.
Direct insertion of amino acid sequences into the adeno-associated virus type 2 (AAV) capsid open reading frame (cap ORF) is one strategy currently being developed for retargeting this prototypical gene therapy vector. While this approach has successfully resulted in the formation of AAV particles that have expanded or retargeted viral tropism, the inserted sequences have been relatively short, linear receptor binding ligands. Since many receptor-ligand interactions involve nonlinear, conformation-dependent binding domains, we investigated the insertion of full-length peptides into the AAV cap ORF. To minimize disruption of critical VP3 structural domains, we confined the insertions to residue 138 within the VP1-VP2 overlap, which has been shown to be on the surface of the particle following insertion of smaller epitopes. The insertion of coding sequences for the 8-kDa chemokine binding domain of rat fractalkine (CX3CL1), the 18-kDa human hormone leptin, and the 30-kDa green fluorescent protein (GFP) after residue 138 failed to lead to formation of particles due to the loss of VP3 expression. To test the ability to complement these insertions with the missing capsid proteins in trans, we designed a system for producing AAV vectors in which expression of one capsid protein is isolated and combined with the remaining two capsid proteins expressed separately. Such an approach allows for genetic modification of a specific capsid protein across its entire coding sequence leaving the remaining capsid proteins unaffected. An examination of particle formation from the individual components of the system revealed that genome-containing particles formed as long as the VP3 capsid protein was present and demonstrated that the VP2 capsid protein is nonessential for viral infectivity. Viable particles composed of all three capsid proteins were obtained from the capsid complementation groups regardless of which capsid proteins were supplied separately in trans. Significant overexpression of VP2 resulted in the formation of particles with altered capsid protein stoichiometry. The key finding was that by using this system we successfully obtained nearly wild-type levels of recombinant AAV-like particles with large ligands inserted after residue 138 in VP1 and VP2 or in VP2 exclusively. While insertions at residue 138 in VP1 significantly decreased infectivity, insertions at residue 138 that were exclusively in VP2 had a minimal effect on viral assembly or infectivity. Finally, insertion of GFP into VP1 and VP2 resulted in a particle whose trafficking could be temporally monitored by using confocal microscopy. Thus, we have demonstrated a method that can be used to insert large (up to 30-kDa) peptide ligands into the AAV particle. This system allows greater flexibility than current approaches in genetically manipulating the composition of the AAV particle and, in particular, may allow vector retargeting to alternative receptors requiring interaction with full-length conformation-dependent peptide ligands.
Infection of cells with adeno-associated virus (AAV) type 2 (AAV-2) is mediated by binding to heparan sulfate proteoglycan and can be competed by heparin. Mutational analysis of AAV-2 capsid proteins showed that a group of basic amino acids (arginines 484, 487, 585, and 588 and lysine 532) contribute to heparin and HeLa cell binding. These amino acids are positioned in three clusters at the threefold spike region of the AAV-2 capsid. According to the recently resolved atomic structure for AAV-2, arginines 484 and 487 and lysine 532 on one site and arginines 585 and 588 on the other site belong to different capsid protein subunits. These data suggest that the formation of the heparin-binding motifs depends on the correct assembly of VP trimers or even of capsids. In contrast, arginine 475, which also strongly reduces heparin binding as well as viral infectivity upon mutation to alanine, is located inside the capsid structure at the border of adjacent VP subunits and most likely influences heparin binding indirectly by disturbing correct subunit assembly. Computer simulation of heparin docking to the AAV-2 capsid suggests that heparin associates with the three basic clusters along a channel-like cavity flanked by the basic amino acids. With few exceptions, mutant infectivities correlated with their heparin- and cell-binding properties. The tissue distribution in mice of recombinant AAV-2 mutated in R484 and R585 indicated markedly reduced infection of the liver, compared to infection with wild-type recombinant AAV, but continued infection of the heart. These results suggest that although heparin binding influences the infectivity of AAV-2, it seems not to be necessary.
We have documented that epidermal growth factor receptor protein tyrosine kinase (EGFR-PTK) signaling negatively affects intracellular trafficking and transduction efficiency of recombinant adeno-associated virus 2 (AAV2) vectors. Specifically, inhibition of EGFR-PTK signaling leads to decreased ubiquitination of AAV2 capsid proteins, which in turn, facilitates viral nuclear transport by limiting proteasome-mediated degradation of AAV2 vectors. In the present studies, we observed that AAV capsids can indeed be phosphorylated at tyrosine residues by EGFR-PTK in in vitro phosphorylation assays and that phosphorylated AAV capsids retain their structural integrity. However, although phosphorylated AAV vectors enter cells as efficiently as their unphosphorylated counterparts, their transduction efficiency is significantly reduced. This reduction is not due to impaired viral second-strand DNA synthesis since transduction efficiency of both single-stranded AAV (ssAAV) and self-complementary AAV (scAAV) vectors is decreased by ~68% and ~74%, respectively. We also observed that intracellular trafficking of tyrosine-phosphorylated AAV vectors from cytoplasm to nucleus is significantly decreased, which leads to ubiquitination of AAV capsids followed by proteasome-mediated degradation, although downstream consequences of capsid ubiquitination may also be affected by tyrosine-phosphorylation. These studies provide new insights into the role of tyrosine-phosphorylation of AAV capsids in various steps in the virus life cycle, which has implications in the optimal use of recombinant AAV vectors in human gene therapy.
AAV2 Vectors; Capsid Proteins; Tyrosine-Phosphorylation; Ubiquitination; Proteasomes; Intracellular Trafficking; Gene Expression; Gene Therapy
The adeno-associated viruses (AAVs) can package and deliver foreign DNA into cells for corrective gene delivery applications. The AAV serotypes have distinct cell binding, transduction, and antigenic characteristics that have been shown to be dictated by the capsid viral protein (VP) sequence. To understand the contribution of capsid structure to these properties, we have determined the crystal structure of AAV serotype 4 (AAV4), one of the most diverse serotypes with respect to capsid protein sequence and antigenic reactivity. Structural comparison of AAV4 to AAV2 shows conservation of the core β strands (βB to βI) and helical (αA) secondary structure elements, which also exist in all other known parvovirus structures. However, surface loop variations (I to IX), some containing compensating structural insertions and deletions in adjacent regions, result in local topological differences on the capsid surface. These include AAV4 having a deeper twofold depression, wider and rounder protrusions surrounding the threefold axes, and a different topology at the top of the fivefold channel from that of AAV2. Also, the previously observed “valleys” between the threefold protrusions, containing AAV2's heparin binding residues, are narrower in AAV4. The observed differences in loop topologies at subunit interfaces are consistent with the inability of AAV2 and AAV4 VPs to combine for mosaic capsid formation in efforts to engineer novel tropisms. Significantly, all of the surface loop variations are associated with amino acids reported to affect receptor recognition, transduction, and anticapsid antibody reactivity for AAV2. This observation suggests that these capsid regions may also play similar roles in the other AAV serotypes.
We hypothesized that the AAV2 vector is targeted for destruction in the cytoplasm by the host cellular kinase/ubiquitination/proteasomal machinery and that modification of their targets on AAV2 capsid may improve its transduction efficiency. In vitro analysis with pharmacological inhibitors of cellular serine/threonine kinases (protein kinase A, protein kinase C, casein kinase II) showed an increase (20–90%) on AAV2-mediated gene expression. The three-dimensional structure of AAV2 capsid was then analyzed to predict the sites of ubiquitination and phosphorylation. Three phosphodegrons, which are the phosphorylation sites recognized as degradation signals by ubiquitin ligases, were identified. Mutation targets comprising eight serine (S) or seven threonine (T) or nine lysine (K) residues were selected in and around phosphodegrons on the basis of their solvent accessibility, overlap with the receptor binding regions, overlap with interaction interfaces of capsid proteins, and their evolutionary conservation across AAV serotypes. AAV2-EGFP vectors with the wild-type (WT) capsid or mutant capsids (15 S/T→alanine [A] or 9 K→arginine [R] single mutant or 2 double K→R mutants) were then evaluated in vitro. The transduction efficiencies of 11 S/T→A and 7 K→R vectors were significantly higher (∼63–90%) than the AAV2-WT vectors (∼30–40%). Further, hepatic gene transfer of these mutant vectors in vivo resulted in higher vector copy numbers (up to 4.9-fold) and transgene expression (up to 14-fold) than observed from the AAV2-WT vector. One of the mutant vectors, S489A, generated ∼8-fold fewer antibodies that could be cross-neutralized by AAV2-WT. This study thus demonstrates the feasibility of the use of these novel AAV2 capsid mutant vectors in hepatic gene therapy.
Gabriel and colleagues examine the in vitro and in vivo efficacy of novel AAV2 vectors, which are modified at critical serine/threonine/lysine residues of the vector capsid. In vitro, they find that the transduction efficiencies of 11 S/T → A and 7 K → R vectors are significantly higher than the AAV2-wild type (WT) vectors. In vivo, they find that hepatic gene transfer of these mutant vectors results in higher vector copy numbers (up to 4.9-fold) and transgene expression (up to 14-fold) than observed from the AAV2-WT vector.
The HI loop is a prominent domain on the adeno-associated virus (AAV) capsid surface that extends from each viral protein (VP) subunit overlapping the neighboring fivefold VP. Despite the highly conserved nature of the residues at the fivefold pore, the HI loops surrounding this critical region vary significantly in amino acid sequence between the AAV serotypes. In order to understand the role of this unique capsid domain, we ablated side chain interactions between the HI loop and the underlying EF loop in the neighboring VP subunit by generating a collection of deletion, insertion, and substitution mutants. A mutant lacking the HI loop was unable to assemble particles, while a substitution mutant (10 glycine residues) assembled particles but was unable to package viral genomes. Substitution mutants carrying corresponding regions from AAV1, AAV4, AAV5, and AAV8 yielded (i) particles with titers and infectivity identical to those of AAV2 (AAV2 HI1 and HI8), (ii) particles with a decreased virus titer (1 log) but normal infectivity (HI4), and (iii) particles that synthesized VPs but were unable to assemble into intact capsids (HI5). AAV5 HI is shorter than all other HI loops by one amino acid. Replacing the missing residue (threonine) in AAV2 HI5 resulted in a moderate particle assembly rescue. In addition, we replaced the HI loop with peptides varying in length and amino acid sequence. This region tolerated seven-amino-acid peptide substitutions unless they spanned a conserved phenylalanine at amino acid position 661. Mutation of this highly conserved phenylalanine to a glycine resulted in a modest decrease in virus titer but a substantial decrease (1 log order) in infectivity. Subsequently, confocal studies revealed that AAV2 F661G is incapable of efficiently completing a key step in the infectious pathway nuclear entry, hinting at a possible perturbation of VP1 phospholipase activity. Molecular modeling studies with the F661G mutant suggest that disruption of interactions between F661 and an underlying P373 residue in the EF loop of the neighboring subunit might adversely affect incorporation of the VP1 subunit at the fivefold axis. Western blot analysis confirmed inefficient incorporation of VP1, as well as a proteolytically processed VP1 subunit that could account for the markedly reduced infectivity. In summary, our studies show that the HI loop, while flexible in amino acid sequence, is critical for AAV capsid assembly, proper VP1 subunit incorporation, and viral genome packaging, all of which implies a potential role for this unique surface domain in viral infectivity.
AAV vectors have shown great promise for clinical gene therapy (GT), but pre-existing human immunity against the AAV capsid often limits transduction. Thus, testing promising AAV-based GT approaches in an animal model with similar pre-existing immunity could better predict clinical outcome. Sheep have long been used for basic biological and preclinical studies. Moreover, we have re-established a line of sheep with severe hemophilia A (HA). Given the impetus to use AAV-based GT to treat hemophilia, we characterized the pre-existing ovine humoral immunity to AAV. ELISA revealed naturally-occurring antibodies to AAV1, AAV2, AAV5, AAV6, AAV8, and AAV9. For AAV2, AAV8, and AAV9 these inhibit transduction in a luciferase-based neutralization assay. Epitope mapping identified peptides that were common to the capsids of all AAV serotypes tested (AAV2, AAV5, AAV8 and AAV9), with each animal harboring antibodies to unique and common capsid epitopes. Mapping using X-ray crystallographic AAV capsid structures demonstrated that these antibodies recognized both surface epitopes and epitopes located within regions of the capsid that are internal or buried in the capsid structure. These results suggest that sheep harbor endogenous AAV, which induces immunity to both intact capsid and to capsid epitopes presented following proteolysis during the course of infection. In conclusion, their clinically relevant physiology and the presence of naturally-occurring antibodies to multiple AAV serotypes collectively make sheep a unique model in which to study GT for HA, and other diseases, and develop strategies to circumvent the clinically important barrier of pre-existing AAV immunity.
Adeno-associated virus type 2 (AAV2) has proven to be a valuable vector for gene therapy. Characterization of the functional domains of the AAV capsid proteins can facilitate our understanding of viral tissue tropism, immunoreactivity, viral entry, and DNA packaging, all of which are important issues for generating improved vectors. To obtain a comprehensive genetic map of the AAV capsid gene, we have constructed 93 mutants at 59 different positions in the AAV capsid gene by site-directed mutagenesis. Several types of mutants were studied, including epitope tag or ligand insertion mutants, alanine scanning mutants, and epitope substitution mutants. Analysis of these mutants revealed eight separate phenotypes. Infectious titers of the mutants revealed four classes. Class 1 mutants were viable, class 2 mutants were partially defective, class 3 mutants were temperature sensitive, and class 4 mutants were noninfectious. Further analysis revealed some of the defects in the class 2, 3, and 4 mutants. Among the class 4 mutants, a subset completely abolished capsid formation. These mutants were located predominantly, but not exclusively, in what are likely to be β-barrel structures in the capsid protein VP3. Two of these mutants were insertions at the N and C termini of VP3, suggesting that both ends of VP3 play a role that is important for capsid assembly or stability. Several class 2 and 3 mutants produced capsids that were unstable during purification of viral particles. One mutant, R432A, made only empty capsids, presumably due to a defect in packaging viral DNA. Additionally, five mutants were defective in heparan binding, a step that is believed to be essential for viral entry. These were distributed into two amino acid clusters in what is likely to be a cell surface loop in the capsid protein VP3. The first cluster spanned amino acids 509 to 522; the second was between amino acids 561 and 591. In addition to the heparan binding clusters, hemagglutinin epitope tag insertions identified several other regions that were on the surface of the capsid. These included insertions at amino acids 1, 34, 138, 266, 447, 591, and 664. Positions 1 and 138 were the N termini of VP1 and VP2, respectively; position 34 was exclusively in VP1; the remaining surface positions were located in putative loop regions of VP3. The remaining mutants, most of them partially defective, were presumably defective in steps of viral entry that were not tested in the preliminary screening, including intracellular trafficking, viral uncoating, or coreceptor binding. Finally, in vitro experiments showed that insertion of the serpin receptor ligand in the N-terminal regions of VP1 or VP2 can change the tropism of AAV. Our results provide information on AAV capsid functional domains and are useful for future design of AAV vectors for targeting of specific tissues.
The adeno-associated virus type 2 (AAV2) uses heparan sulfate proteoglycan (HSPG) as its primary cellular receptor. In order to identify amino acids within the capsid of AAV2 that contribute to HSPG association, we used biochemical information about heparin and heparin sulfate, AAV serotype protein sequence alignments, and data from previous capsid studies to select residues for mutagenesis. Charged-to-alanine substitution mutagenesis was performed on individual residues and combinations of basic residues for the production and purification of recombinant viruses that contained a green fluorescent protein (GFP) reporter gene cassette. Intact capsids were assayed for their ability to bind to heparin-agarose in vitro, and virions that packaged DNA were assayed for their ability to transduce normally permissive cell lines. We found that mutation of arginine residues at position 585 or 588 eliminated binding to heparin-agarose. Mutation of residues R484, R487, and K532 showed partial binding to heparin-agarose. We observed a general correlation between heparin-agarose binding and infectivity as measured by GFP transduction; however, a subset of mutants that partially bound heparin-agarose (R484A and K532A) were completely noninfectious, suggesting that they had additional blocks to infectivity that were unrelated to heparin binding. Conservative mutation of positions R585 and R588 to lysine slightly reduced heparin-agarose binding and had comparable effects on infectivity. Substitution of AAV2 residues 585 through 590 into a location predicted to be structurally equivalent in AAV5 generated a hybrid virus that bound to heparin-agarose efficiently and was able to package DNA but was noninfectious. Taken together, our results suggest that residues R585 and R588 are primarily responsible for heparin sulfate binding and that mutation of these residues has little effect on other aspects of the viral life cycle. Interactive computer graphics examination of the AAV2 VP3 atomic coordinates revealed that residues which contribute to heparin binding formed a cluster of five basic amino acids that presented toward the icosahedral threefold axis from the surrounding spike protrusion. Three other kinds of mutants were identified. Mutants R459A, H509A, and H526A/K527A bound heparin at levels comparable to that of wild-type virus but were defective for transduction. Another mutant, H358A, was defective for capsid assembly. Finally, an R459A mutant produced significantly lower levels of full capsids, suggesting a packaging defect.
Our recent studies have revealed that among the 10 different commonly used AAV serotypes, AAV3 vectors transduce human liver cancer cells extremely efficiently because these cells express high levels of human hepatocyte growth factor receptor (hHGFR), and AAV3 utilizes hHGFR as a cellular co-receptor for viral entry. In this report, we provide further evidence that both extracellular as well as intracellular kinase domains of hHGFR are involved in AAV3 vector entry and AAV3-mediated transgene expression. We also document that AAV3 vectors are targeted for degradation by the host cell proteasome machinery, and that site-directed mutagenesis of surface exposed tyrosine (Y) to phenylalanine (F) residues on AAV3 capsids significantly improves the transduction efficiency of Y701F, Y705F and Y731F mutant AAV3 vectors. The transduction efficiency of the Y705+731F double-mutant vector is significantly higher than each of the single-mutants in liver cancer cells in vitro. In immuno-deficient mouse xenograft models, direct intra-tumor injection of AAV3 vectors also led to high-efficiency transduction of human liver tumor cells in vivo. We also document here that the optimized tyrosine-mutant AAV3 vectors lead to increased transduction efficiency following both intra-tumor and tail-vein injections in vivo. The optimized tyrosine-mutant AAV3 serotype vectors containing pro-apoptotic genes should prove useful for the potential gene therapy of human liver cancers.
AAV vectors; tyrosine mutants; human hepatocyte growth factor receptor; human liver cancer; gene therapy
With the increasing number of retinal gene-based therapies and therapeutic constructs, in vitro bioassays characterizing vector transduction efficiency and quality are becoming increasingly important. Currently, in vitro assays quantifying vector transduction efficiency are performed predominantly for non-ocular tissues. A human retinal pigment epithelial cell line (ARPE19) and a mouse cone photoreceptor cell line, 661W, have been well characterized and are used for many retinal metabolism and biologic pathway studies. The purpose of this study is to quantify transduction efficiencies of a variety of self-complementary (sc) adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors in these biologically relevant ocular cell lines using high-throughput fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) analysis.
ARPE19 and 661W cells were infected with sc-smCBA-mCherry packaged in unmodified AAV capsids or capsids containing single/multiple tyrosine-phenylalanine (Y-F) mutations at multiplicity of infections (MOIs) ranging from 100 to 10,000. Three days post infection fluorescent images verified mCherry expression. Following microscopy, FACS analysis was performed to quantify the number of positive cells and the mean intensity of mCherry fluorescence, the product of which is reported as transduction efficiency for each vector. The scAAV vectors containing cone-specific (sc-mCARpro-green fluorescent protein [GFP]), rod-specific (sc-MOPS500-eGFP), retinal pigment epithelium (RPE)-specific (sc-VMD2-GFP), or ubiquitous (sc-smCBA-GFP) promoters were used to infect both cell lines at an MOI of 10,000. Three days post infection, cells were immunostained with an antibody raised against GFP and imaged. Finally, based on our in vitro results, we tested a prediction of transduction efficiency in vivo.
Expression from unmodified scAAV1, scAAV2, scAAV5, and scAAV8 vectors was detectable by FACS in both ARPE19 and 661W cells, with scAAV1 and scAAV2 being the most efficient in both cell lines. scAAV5 showed moderate efficiency in both ARPE19 and 661W cells. scAAV8 was moderately efficient in 661W cells and was by comparison less so in ARPE19 cells; however, transduction was still apparent. scAAV9 performed poorly in both cell types. With some exceptions, the Y-F capsid mutations generally increased the efficiency of scAAV vector transduction, with the increasing number of mutated residues improving efficiency. Results for single scAAV1 and scAAV8 capsid mutants were mixed. In some cases, efficiency improved; in others, it was unchanged or marginally reduced. Retinal-specific promoters were also active in both cell lines, with the 661W cells showing a pattern consistent with the in vivo activity of the respective promoters tested. The prediction based on in vitro data that AAV2 sextuple Y-F mutants would show higher transduction efficiency in RPE relative to AAV2 triple Y-F capsid mutants was validated by evaluating the transduction characteristics of the two mutant vectors in mouse retina.
Our results suggest that this rapid and quantifiable cell-based assay using two biologically relevant ocular cell lines will prove useful in screening and optimizing AAV vectors for application in retina-targeted gene therapies.
Adeno-associated viruses (AAVs) are being developed as gene therapy vectors, and their efficacy could be improved by a detailed understanding of their viral capsid structures. AAV serotype 8 (AAV8) shows a significantly greater liver transduction efficiency than those of other serotypes, which has resulted in efforts to develop this virus as a gene therapy vector for hemophilia A and familial hypercholesterolemia. Pseudotyping studies show that the differential tissue tropism and transduction efficiencies exhibited by the AAVs result from differences in their capsid viral protein (VP) amino acids. Towards identifying the structural features underpinning these disparities, we report the crystal structure of the AAV8 viral capsid determined to 2.6-Å resolution. The overall topology of its common overlapping VP is similar to that previously reported for the crystal structures of AAV2 and AAV4, with an eight-stranded β-barrel and long loops between the β-strands. The most significant structural differences between AAV8 and AAV2 (the best-characterized serotype) are located on the capsid surface at protrusions surrounding the two-, three-, and fivefold axes at residues reported to control transduction efficiency and antibody recognition for AAV2. In addition, a comparison of the AAV8 and AAV2 capsid surface amino acids showed a reduced distribution of basic charge for AAV8 at the mapped AAV2 heparin sulfate receptor binding region, consistent with an observed non-heparin-binding phenotype for AAV8. Thus, this AAV8 structure provides an additional platform for mutagenesis efforts to characterize AAV capsid regions responsible for differential cellular tropism, transduction, and antigenicity for these promising gene therapy vectors.
Adeno-associated virus type 2 (AAV2) capsid assembly requires the expression of a virally encoded assembly-activating protein (AAP). By providing AAP together with the capsid protein VP3, capsids are formed that are composed of VP3 only. Electron cryomicroscopy analysis of assembled VP3-only capsids revealed all characteristics of the wild-type AAV2 capsids. However, in contrast to capsids assembled from VP1, VP2, and VP3, the pores of VP3-only capsids were more restricted at the inside of the 5-fold symmetry axes, and globules could not be detected below the 2-fold symmetry axes. By comparing the capsid assembly of several AAV serotypes with AAP protein from AAV2 (AAP-2), we show that AAP-2 is able to efficiently stimulate capsid formation of VP3 derived from several serotypes, as demonstrated for AAV1, AAV2, AAV8, and AAV9. Capsid formation, by coexpressing AAV1-, AAV2-, or AAV5-VP3 with AAP-1, AAP-2, or AAP-5 revealed the ability of AAP-1 and AAP-2 to complement each other in AAV1 and AAV2 assembly, whereas for AAV5 assembly more specific conditions are required. Sequence alignment of predicted AAP proteins from the known AAV serotypes indicates a high degree of homology of all serotypes to AAP-2 with some divergence for AAP-4, AAP-5, AAP-11, and AAP-12. Immunolocalization of assembled capsids from different serotypes confirmed the preferred nucleolar localization of capsids, as observed for AAV2; however, AAV8 and AAV9 capsids could also be detected throughout the nucleus. Taken together, the data show that AAV capsid assembly of different AAV serotypes also requires the assistance of AAP proteins.
Hepatitis B virus “e-antigen” is thought to be a soluble dimeric protein that is associated with chronic infection. It shares 149 residues with the viral capsid protein “core-antigen”, but has an additional ten-residue, hydrophobic, cysteine-containing amino-terminal propeptide whose presence correlates with physical, serological, and immunological differences between the two proteins. In core-antigen dimers, the subunits pair by forming a four-helix bundle stabilized by an inter-molecular disulfide bond. The structure of e-antigen is probably similar, but instead has two intra-molecular disulfide bonds involving the propeptide. To compare the proteins directly, and thereby clarify the role of the propeptide, mutations and solution conditions were identified that render both proteins as either soluble dimers or assembled capsids. Thermally induced unfolding monitored by circular dichroism, and electrophoresis of oxidized and reduced dimers, showed that the propeptide has a destabilizing effect, and that the intra-molecular disulfide bond forms preferentially and blocks the formation of the inter-molecular disulfide bond that otherwise stabilizes the dimer. The e-antigen capsids are less regular than core-antigen capsids; nevertheless, cryo-EM reconstructions confirm that they are constructed of dimers resembling those of core-antigen capsids. In them, a portion of the propeptide is visible near the dimer interface, suggesting that it intercalates there, consistent with the known formation of a disulfide bond between C(−7) in the propeptide and C61 in the dimer interface. However, this intercalation distorts the dimer into an assembly-reluctant conformation.
HBeAg; HBcAg; thermal stability; circular dichroism; cryo-EM
The three-dimensional structure of adeno-associated virus (AAV) serotype 6 (AAV6) was determined using cryo-electron microscopy and image reconstruction and using X-ray crystallography to 9.7- and 3.0-Å resolution, respectively. The AAV6 capsid contains a highly conserved, eight-stranded (βB to βI) β-barrel core and large loop regions between the strands which form the capsid surface, as observed in other AAV structures. The loops show conformational variation compared to other AAVs, consistent with previous reports that amino acids in these loop regions are involved in differentiating AAV receptor binding, transduction efficiency, and antigenicity properties. Toward structure-function annotation of AAV6 with respect to its unique dual glycan receptor (heparan sulfate and sialic acid) utilization for cellular recognition, and its enhanced lung epithelial transduction compared to other AAVs, the capsid structure was compared to that of AAV1, which binds sialic acid and differs from AAV6 in only 6 out of 736 amino acids. Five of these residues are located at or close to the icosahedral 3-fold axis of the capsid, thereby identifying this region as imparting important functions, such as receptor attachment and transduction phenotype. Two of the five observed amino acids are located in the capsid interior, suggesting that differential AAV infection properties are also controlled by postentry intracellular events. Density ordered inside the capsid, under the 3-fold axis in a previously reported, conserved AAV DNA binding pocket, was modeled as a nucleotide and a base, further implicating this capsid region in AAV genome recognition and/or stabilization.
Muscle is an attractive target for gene delivery because of its mass and because vectors can be delivered in a noninvasive fashion. Adeno-associated virus (AAV) has been shown to be effective for muscle-targeted gene transfer. Recent progress in characterization of AAV serotype 1 (AAV1) and AAV6 demonstrated that these two AAV serotypes are far more efficient in transducing muscle than is the traditionally used AAV2. Since all cis elements are identical in these vectors, the potential determinants for their differences in transducing muscle appear to be located within the AAV capsid proteins. In the present study, a series of AAV capsid mutants were generated to identify the major regions affecting AAV transduction efficiency in muscle. Replacement of amino acids 350 to 736 of AAV2 VP1 with the corresponding amino acids from VP1 of AAV1 resulted in a hybrid vector that behaved very similarly to AAV1 in vitro and in vivo in muscle. Characterization of additional mutants carrying smaller regions of the AAV1 VP1 amino acid sequence in the AAV2 capsid protein suggested that amino acids 350 to 430 of VP1 function as a major tissue tropism determinant. Further analysis showed that the heparin binding domain and the major antigenic determinants in the AAV capsid region were not necessary for the efficiency of AAV1 transduction of muscle.
We previously reported that self-complementary adeno-associated virus (scAAV) type 2 genomes of up to 3.3 kb can be successfully encapsidated into AAV2 serotype capsids. Here we report that such oversized AAV2 genomes fail to undergo packaging in other AAV serotype capsids, such as AAV1, AAV3, AAV6, and AAV8, as determined by Southern blot analyses of the vector genomes, although hybridization signals on quantitative DNA slot-blots could still be obtained. Recently, it has been reported that quantitative real-time PCR assays may result in substantial differences in determining titers of scAAV vectors depending on the distance between the primer sets and the terminal hairpin structure in the scAAV genomes. We also observed that the vector titers determined by the standard DNA slot-blot assays were highly dependent on the specific probe being used, with probes hybridizing to the ends of viral genomes being significantly overrepresented compared with the probes hybridizing close to the middle of the viral genomes. These differences among various probes were not observed using Southern blot assays. This overestimation of titer is a systemic error during scAAV genome quantification, regardless of viral genome sequences and capsid serotypes. Furthermore, different serotypes capsid and modification of capsid sequence may affect the ability of packaging intact, full-length AAV genomes. Although the discrepancy is modest with wild-type serotype capsid and short viral genomes, the measured titer could be as much as fivefold different with capsid mutant vectors and large genomes. Thus, based on our data, we suggest that Southern blot analyses should be performed routinely to more accurately determine the titers of recombinant AAV vectors. At the very least, the use of probes/primers hybridizing close to the mutant inverted terminal repeat in scAAV genomes is recommended to avoid possible overestimation of vector titers.
Wang and colleagues report that 3.3 kb self-complementary (sc) AAV2 genomes fail to undergo packaging into AAV serotype capsids other than AAV2. Serotypes tested include AAV1, AAV3, AAV6, and AAV8. The authors also address the issue of qPCR titering assays leading to overestimation of scAAV vector titers and suggest Southern blot analyses as a more accurate and reliable titering method.
Adeno-associated virus serotype 9 (AAV9) has enhanced capsid-associated tropism for cardiac muscle and the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier compared to other AAV serotypes. To help identify the structural features facilitating these properties, we have used cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) and three-dimensional image reconstruction (cryo-reconstruction) and X-ray crystallography to determine the structure of the AAV9 capsid at 9.7- and 2.8-Å resolutions, respectively. The AAV9 capsid exhibits the surface topology conserved in all AAVs: depressions at each icosahedral two-fold symmetry axis and surrounding each five-fold axis, three separate protrusions surrounding each three-fold axis, and a channel at each five-fold axis. The AAV9 viral protein (VP) has a conserved core structure, consisting of an eight-stranded, β-barrel motif and the αA helix, which are present in all parvovirus structures. The AAV9 VP differs in nine variable surface regions (VR-I to -IX) compared to AAV4, but at only three (VR-I, VR-II, and VR-IV) compared to AAV2 and AAV8. VR-I differences modify the raised region of the capsid surface between the two-fold and five-fold depressions. The VR-IV difference produces smaller three-fold protrusions in AAV9 that are less “pointed” than AAV2 and AAV8. Significantly, residues in the AAV9 VRs have been identified as important determinants of cellular tropism and transduction and dictate its antigenic diversity from AAV2. Hence, the AAV9 VRs likely confer the unique infection phenotypes of this serotype.
The limited packaging capacity of adeno-associated virus (AAV) precludes the design of vectors for the treatment of diseases associated with larger genes. Autonomous parvoviruses, such as minute virus of mice and B19, while identical in size (25 nm), are known to package larger genomes of 5.1 and 5.6 kb, respectively, compared to AAV genomes of 4.7 kb. One primary difference is the fact that wild-type (wt) AAV utilizes three capsid subunits instead of two to form the virion shell. In this study, we have characterized the packaging capacity of AAV serotypes 1 through 5 with and without the Vp2 subunit. Using reporter transgene cassettes that range in size from 4.4 to 6.0 kb, we determined that serotypes 1 through 5 with and without Vp2 could successfully package, replicate in, and transduce cells. Dot blot analysis established that packaging efficiency was similar for all vector cassettes and that the integrity of encapsidated genomes was intact regardless of size. Although physical characterization determined that virion structures were indistinguishable from wt, transduction experiments determined that all serotype vectors carrying larger genomes (5.3 kb and higher) transduced cells less efficiently (within a log) than AAV encapsidating wt size genomes. This result was not unique to reporter genes and was observed for CFTR vector cassettes ranging in size from 5.1 to 5.9 kb. No apparent advantage in packaging efficiency was observed when Vp2 was present or absent from the virion. Further analysis determined that a postentry step was responsible for the block in infection and specific treatment of cells upon infection with proteasome inhibitors increased transduction of AAV encapsidating larger DNA templates to wt levels, suggesting a preferential degradation of virions encapsidating larger-than-wt genomes. This study illustrates that AAV is capable of packaging and protecting recombinant genomes as large as 6.0 kb but the larger genome-containing virions are preferentially degraded by the proteasome and that this block can be overcome by the addition of proteasome inhibitors.
Viral capsid dynamics are often observed during infectious events such as cell surface attachment, entry and genome release. Structural analysis of adeno-associated virus (AAV), a helper-dependent parvovirus, revealed a cluster of surface-exposed tyrosine residues at the icosahedral two-fold symmetry axis. We exploited the latter observation to carry out selective oxidation of Tyr residues, which yielded crosslinked viral protein (VP) subunit dimers, effectively “stitching” together the AAV capsid two-fold interface. Characterization of different Tyr-to-Phe mutants confirmed that the formation of crosslinked VP dimers is mediated by dityrosine adducts and requires the Tyr704 residue, which crosses over from one neighboring VP subunit to the other. When compared to unmodified capsids, Tyr-crosslinked AAV displayed decreased transduction efficiency in cell culture. Surprisingly, further biochemical and quantitative microscopy studies revealed that restraining the two-fold interface hinders externalization of buried VP N-termini, which contain a phospholipase A2 domain and nuclear localization sequences critical for infection. These adverse effects caused by tyrosine oxidation support the notion that interfacial dynamics at the AAV capsid two-fold symmetry axis play a role in externalization of VP N-termini during infection.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) capsids are formed through a network of inter- and intra-pentameric hydrophobic interactions and disulfide bonds. 72 pentamers of the major capsid protein, L1, and an unknown amount of the minor capsid protein, L2, form the structure of the capsid. There are 12 conserved L1 cysteine residues in HPV16. While C175, C185, and C428 have been implicated in the formation of a critical inter-pentameric disulfide bond, no structural or functional roles have been firmly attributed to any of the other conserved cysteine residues. Here, we show that substitution of cysteine residues C161, C229, and C379 for serine hinders the accumulation of endonuclease-resistant genomes as virions mature within stratifying and differentiating human epithelial tissue. C229S mutant virions form, but are non-infectious. These studies add detail to the differentiation-dependent assembly and maturation that occur during the HPV16 life cycle in human tissue.
The transition from the closed to open state greatly alters the intra- and inter-subunit interactions of the P2X receptor (P2XR). The interactions that occur in the transmembrane domain of the P2X2R remain unclear. We used substituted cysteine mutagenesis disulfide mapping to identify pairs of residues that are in close proximity within the transmembrane domain of rP2X2R and compared our results to the predicted positions of these amino acids obtained from a rat P2X2R homology model of the available open and closed zebrafish P2X4R structures. Alternations in channel function were measured as a change in the ATP-gated current before and after exposure to dithiothreitol. Thirty-six pairs of double mutants of rP2X2R expressed in HEK293 cells produced normal functioning channels. Thirty-five pairs of these mutants did not exhibit a functionally detectable disulfide bond. The double mutant H33C/S345C formed redox-dependent cross-links in the absence of ATP. Dithiothreitol ruptured the disulfide bond of H33C/S345C and induced a 2 to 3-fold increase in current. The EC50 for H33C/S345C before dithiothreitol treatment was ∼2-fold higher than that after dithiothreitol treatment. Dithiothreitol reduced the EC50 to wild-type levels. Furthermore, expression of trimeric concatamer receptors with Cys mutations at some but not all six positions showed that the more disulfide bond formation sites within the concatamer, the greater current potentiation after dithiothreitol incubation. Immunoblot analysis of H33C/S345C revealed one monomer band under nonreducing conditions strongly suggesting that disulfide bonds are formed within single subunits (intra-subunit) and not between two subunits (inter-subunit). Taken together, these data indicate that His33 and Ser345 are proximal to each other across an intra-subunit interface. The relative movement between the first transmembrane and the second transmembrane in the intra-subunit is likely important for transmitting the action of ATP binding to the opening of the channel.
In recent years, there has been an increased interest in using recombinant adeno-associated viruses (AAV) to make localized genetic manipulations within the rodent brain. Differing serotypes of AAV possess divergent capsid protein sequences and these variations greatly influence each serotype’s ability to transduce particular cell types and brain regions. We therefore aimed to determine the AAV serotype that is optimal for targeting neurons within the Basal and Lateral Amygdala (BLA) since the transduction efficiency of AAV has not been previously examined within the BLA. This region is desirable to genetically manipulate due to its role in emotion, learning & memory, and numerous psychiatric disorders. We accomplished this by screening 9 different AAV serotypes (AAV2/1, AAV2/2, AAV2/5, AAV2/7, AAV2/8, AAV2/9, AAV2/rh10, AAV2/DJ and AAV2/DJ8) designed to express red fluorescent protein (RFP) under the regulation of an alpha Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II promoter (αCaMKII).
We determined that these serotypes produce differing amounts of virus under standard laboratory production. Notably AAV2/2 consistently produced the lowest titers compared to the other serotypes examined. These nine serotypes were bilaterally infused into the rat BLA at the highest titers achieved for each serotype and at a normalized titer of 7.8E + 11 GC/ml. Twenty one days following viral infusion the degree of transduction was quantitated throughout the amygdala. These viruses exhibited differential transduction of neurons within the BLA. AAV2/7 exhibited a trend toward having the highest efficiency of transduction and AAV2/5 exhibited significantly lower transduction efficiency as compared to the serotypes examined. AAV2/5′s decreased ability to transduce BLA neurons correlates with its significantly different capsid protein sequences as compared to the other serotypes examined.
For laboratories producing their own recombinant adeno-associated viruses, the use of AAV2/2 is likely less desirable since AAV2/2 produces significantly lower titers than many other serotypes of AAV. Numerous AAV serotypes appear to efficiently transduce BLA neurons, with the exception of AAV2/5. Taking into consideration the ability of certain serotypes to achieve high titers and transduce BLA neurons well, in our hands AAV2/DJ8 and AAV2/9 appear to be ideal serotypes to use when targeting neurons within the BLA.