Formation of pathogenic antibodies is a major problem in replacement therapies for inherited protein deficiencies. For example, antibodies to coagulation factors (‘inhibitors’) seriously complicate treatment of haemophilia. While immune tolerance induction (ITI) protocols have been developed, inhibitors against factor IX (FIX) are difficult to eradicate due to anaphylactic reactions and nephrotic syndrome and thus substantially elevate risks for morbidity and mortality. However, hepatic gene transfer with an adeno-associated virus (AAV) serotype 8 vector expressing FIX (at levels of ≥4% of normal) rapidly reversed pre-existing high-titre inhibitors in haemophilia B mice, eliminated antibody production by B cells, desensitized from anaphylaxis (even if protein therapy was resumed) and provided long-term correction. High levels of FIX protein suppressed memory B cells and increased Treg induction, indicating direct and indirect mechanisms of suppression of inhibitor formation. Persistent presence of Treg was required to prevent relapse of antibodies. Together, these data suggest that hepatic gene transfer-based ITI provides a safe and effective alternative to eradicate inhibitors. This strategy may be broadly applicable to reversal of antibodies in different genetic diseases.
adeno-associated virus; factor IX; haemophilia B; inhibitors; liver gene transfer
Antibodies against adeno-associated viral vectors (AAV) are highly prevalent in humans. Both preclinical and clinical studies showed that antibodies against AAV block transduction even at low titers, particularly when the vector is introduced into the bloodstream. Here we measured the neutralizing antibody (NAb) titer against AAV serotype 2, 5, 6, and 8 in serum and matched synovial fluid (SF) from rheumatoid arthritis patients. The titer in SF was lower than in the matched plasma samples, indicating a difference in distribution of NAb to AAV depending on the body fluid compartment. This difference was more evident for AAV2, against which higher titers were measured. Of all serotypes, anti-AAV5 antibodies were the least prevalent in both serum and SF. We next evaluated the impact on anti-AAV antibodies of B cell depletion in rheumatoid arthritis patients who received one or two courses of the anti-CD20 antibody rituximab as part of their disease management. A drop of NAb titer was observed in a subset of those subjects carrying NAb titers ≤1:1000, however only in a minority of subjects titers dropped below 1:5. This work provides insights into strategies to overcome the limitation of pre-existing humoral immunity to AAV vectors.
adeno-associated virus vectors; neutralizing antibodies; synovial tissue
Background: PRRG proteins were cloned more than a decade ago, but their function is still not known.
Results: Several novel protein-protein interactions for PRRG are identified by array screening and pulldown analysis.
Conclusion: PRRG-initiated signaling events most likely depend on proteins with WW domains.
Significance: The protein-protein interactions identified here may help to elucidate the roles of PRRG proteins in different physiological settings.
The genes encoding a family of proteins termed proline-rich γ-carboxyglutamic acid (PRRG) proteins were identified and characterized more than a decade ago, but their functions remain unknown. These novel membrane proteins have an extracellular γ-carboxyglutamic acid (Gla) protein domain and cytosolic WW binding motifs. We screened WW domain arrays for cytosolic binding partners for PRRG4 and identified novel protein-protein interactions for the protein. We also uncovered a new WW binding motif in PRRG4 that is essential for these newly found protein-protein interactions. Several of the PRRG-interacting proteins we identified are essential for a variety of physiologic processes. Our findings indicate possible novel and previously unidentified functions for PRRG proteins.
Cell Signaling; Membrane Proteins; Molecular Biology; Mutagenesis Site-specific; Protein Carboxylation; Vitamin K; Cytosolic Binding Partners; Gla Domain; PRRG2; PRRG4
Recombinant adenoassociated viral vectors (rAAV) have proven to be excellent candidates for gene therapy clinical applications. Recent results showed that cellular immunity to AAV represents a major challenge facing the clinical use of systemic administration of these vectors. Interestingly, no preclinical animal model has previously fully reproduced the clinical findings. The aim of the present work was to enhance the T cell immune response against AAV capsid in mice by the administration of a rAAV expressing the immunostimulatory cytokine IL-12. Our results indicate that although IL-12 expression enhanced the AAV capsid-specific immune response it failed to eliminate transduced hepatocytes and long-term expression was achieved. We found that AAV-mediated transgene expression is altered by IL-12-induced liver inflammation. However, IL-12 expression has no effect over preexisting AAV-mediated transgene expression. IL-12 down-regulates AAV mediated transgene expression via induction of IFN-γ production by NK and T cells, but without altering the transduction efficiency measured by viral genomes. Our results indicate that liver inflammation affects the formation of transcriptionally active AAV vector genomes through an unknown mechanism that can be avoided by the use of DNA-demethylating or anti-inflammatory agents.
The hepatitis C virus (HCV) chronically infects 2% of the world population and effective treatment is limited by long duration and significant side-effects. Here, we describe a novel drug, intended as a “single-shot ” therapy, which expresses three short hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) that simultaneously target multiple conserved regions of the HCV genome as confirmed in vitro by knockdown of an HCV replicon system. Using a recombinant adeno-associated virus (AAV) serotype 8 vector for delivery, comprehensive transduction of hepatocytes was achieved in vivo in a nonhuman primate (NHP) model following a single intravenous injection. However, dose ranging studies performed in 13 NHP resulted in high-expression levels of shRNA from wild-type (wt) Pol III promoters and dose-dependent hepatocellular toxicity, the first demonstration of shRNA-related toxicity in primates, establishing that the hepatotoxicity arises from highly conserved features of the RNA interference (RNAi) pathway. In the second generation drug, each promoter was re-engineered to reduce shRNA transcription to levels that circumvent toxicity but still inhibit replicon activity. In vivo testing of this modified construct in 18 NHPs showed conservation of hepatocyte transduction but complete elimination of hepatotoxicity, even with sustained shRNA expression for 50 days. These data support progression to a clinical study for treatment of HCV infection.
Tregitopes are regulatory T cell epitopes derived from immunoglobulin G (IgG) that stimulate CD25+ FoxP3+ T cells to expand. In conjunction with these Tregs, Tregitopes can prevent, treat, and even cure autoimmune disease in mouse models, suppress allo-specific responses in murine transplant models, inhibit CD8+ T cell responses to recombinant adeno-associated virus (AAV) gene transfer vectors, and induce adaptive Tregs in DO11.10 mice. In this review of recent Tregitope studies, we summarize their effects in vitro and describe recent comparisons between intravenous IgG (IVIG) and Tregitopes in standard in vivo immune tolerance models. Further investigations of the mechanism of action of Tregitopes in the preclinical models described here will lead to clinical trials where Tregitopes may have the potential to alter the treatment of autoimmune disease, transplantation, and allergy, and to improve the efficiency of gene and protein replacement therapies.
Tregitopes; regulatory T cell epitopes; CD25+ FoxP3+ T cells; autoimmune disease; adeno-associated virus; hemophilia
Derangements in calcium cycling have been described in failing hearts, and preclinical studies have suggested that therapies aimed at correcting this defect can lead to improvements in cardiac function and survival. One strategy to improve calcium cycling would be to inhibit phospholamban (PLB), the negative regulator of SERCA2a that is upregulated in failing hearts. The goal of this study was to evaluate the safety and efficacy of using adeno-associated virus (AAV)-mediated cardiac gene transfer of short hairpin RNA (shRNA) to knock down expression of PLB. Six dogs were treated with self-complementary AAV serotype 6 (scAAV6) expressing shRNA against PLB. Three control dogs were treated with empty AAV6 capsid, and two control dogs were treated with scAAV6 expressing dominant negative PLB. Vector was delivered via a percutaneously inserted cardiac injection catheter. PLB mRNA and protein expression were analyzed in three of six shRNA dogs between days 16 and 26. The other three shRNA dogs and five control dogs were monitored long-term to assess cardiac safety. PLB mRNA was reduced 16-fold, and PLB protein was reduced 5-fold, with treatment. Serum troponin elevation and depressed cardiac function were observed in the shRNA group only at 4 weeks. An enzyme-linked immunospot assay failed to detect any T cells reactive to AAV6 capsid in peripheral blood mononuclear cells, heart, or spleen. Microarray analysis revealed alterations in cardiac expression of several microRNAs with shRNA treatment. AAV6-mediated cardiac gene transfer of shRNA effectively knocks down PLB expression but is associated with severe cardiac toxicity. Toxicity may result from dysregulation of endogenous microRNA pathways.
In this preclinical study, Bish and colleagues report that adeno-associated virus serotype 6 (AAV6)-mediated expression of short hairpin RNA (shRNA) directed against phospholamban (PLB), a regulator of heart failure (HF), is effective at knocking down PLB expression. Yet, safety assessments revealed that healthy canines treated with shRNA, but not empty AAV6 capsid, experienced serum cardiac troponin I elevation, cardiac dysfunction, and alteration of cardiac microRNA expression, suggesting that this approach may not be a feasible therapeutic strategy.
Intravascular delivery of adeno-associated virus (AAV) vector is commonly used for liver-directed gene therapy. In humans, the high prevalence of neutralizing antibodies to AAV-2 capsid and the wide cross-reactivity with other serotypes hamper vector transduction efficacy. Moreover, the safety of gene-based approaches depends on vector biodistribution, vector dose, and route of administration. Here we sought to characterize the safety of AAV-5 and AAV-6 for liver-mediated human factor IX (hFIX) expression in rabbits at doses of 1 × 1012 or 1 × 1013 viral genomes/kg. Circulating therapeutic levels of FIX were observed in both cohorts of AAV-6-hFIX, whereas for AAV-5-hFIX only the high dose was effective. Long-lasting inhibitory antibodies to hFIX were detected in three of the 10 AAV-6-injected animals but were absent in the AAV-5 group. Overall, vector shedding in the semen was transient and vector dose-dependent. However, the kinetics of clearance were remarkably faster for AAV-5 (3–5 weeks) compared with AAV-6 (10–13 weeks). AAV-6 vector sequences outside the liver were minimal at 20–30 weeks post-injection. In contrast, AAV-5 exhibited relatively high amounts of vector DNA in tissues other than the liver. Together these data are useful to further define the safety and potential for clinical translation of these AAV vectors.
In this study, Favaro and colleagues characterize the safety of AAV-5 and AAV-6 for liver-mediated human factor IX (hFIX) expression in rabbits at doses of 1 × 1012 and 1 × 1013 viral genomes/kg. Circulating therapeutic levels of FIX were observed in both AAV-6-hFIX cohorts, whereas for the AAV-5-hFIX cohorts only the high dose was effective. The authors also report that the kinetics of vector clearance from the semen were remarkably faster for AAV-5 (3–5 weeks) compared with AAV-6 (10–13 weeks).
Liver gene transfer for hemophilia B has shown very promising results in recent clinical studies. A potential complication of gene-based treatments for hemophilia and other inherited disorders, however, is the development of neutralizing antibodies (NAb) against the therapeutic transgene. The risk of developing NAb to the coagulation factor IX (F.IX) transgene product following adeno-associated virus (AAV)-mediated hepatic gene transfer for hemophilia is small but not absent, as formation of inhibitory antibodies to F.IX is observed in experimental animals following liver gene transfer. Thus, strategies to modulate antitransgene NAb responses are needed. Here, we used the anti-B cell monoclonal antibody rituximab (rtx) in combination with cyclosporine A (CsA) to eradicate anti-human F.IX NAb in rhesus macaques previously injected intravenously with AAV8 vectors expressing human F.IX. A short course of immunosuppression (IS) resulted in eradication of anti-F.IX NAb with restoration of plasma F.IX transgene product detection. In one animal, following IS anti-AAV6 antibodies also dropped below detection, allowing for successful AAV vector readministration and resulting in high levels (60% or normal) of F.IX transgene product in plasma. Though the number of animals is small, this study supports for the safety and efficacy of B cell-targeting therapies to eradicate NAb developed following AAV-mediated gene transfer.
Hemophilia B, an X-linked disorder, is ideally suited for gene therapy. We investigated the use of a new gene therapy in patients with the disorder.
We infused a single dose of a serotype-8–pseudotyped, self-complementary adenovirus-associated virus (AAV) vector expressing a codon-optimized human factor IX (FIX) transgene (scAAV2/8-LP1-hFIXco) in a peripheral vein in six patients with severe hemophilia B (FIX activity, <1% of normal values). Study participants were enrolled sequentially in one of three cohorts (given a high, intermediate, or low dose of vector), with two participants in each group. Vector was administered without immunosuppressive therapy, and participants were followed for 6 to 16 months.
AAV-mediated expression of FIX at 2 to 11% of normal levels was observed in all participants. Four of the six discontinued FIX prophylaxis and remained free of spontaneous hemorrhage; in the other two, the interval between prophylactic injections was increased. Of the two participants who received the high dose of vector, one had a transient, asymptomatic elevation of serum aminotransferase levels, which was associated with the detection of AAV8-capsid–specific T cells in the peripheral blood; the other had a slight increase in liver-enzyme levels, the cause of which was less clear. Each of these two participants received a short course of glucocorticoid therapy, which rapidly normalized aminotransferase levels and maintained FIX levels in the range of 3 to 11% of normal values.
Peripheral-vein infusion of scAAV2/8-LP1-hFIXco resulted in FIX transgene expression at levels sufficient to improve the bleeding phenotype, with few side effects. Although immune-mediated clearance of AAV-transduced hepatocytes remains a concern, this process may be controlled with a short course of glucocorticoids without loss of transgene expression. (Funded by the Medical Research Council and others; ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00979238.)
Dogs with hemophilia A, hemophilia B, von Willebrand disease (VWD), and factor VII deficiency faithfully recapitulate the severe bleeding phenotype that occurs in humans with these disorders. The first rational approach to diagnosing these bleeding disorders became possible with the development of reliable assays in the 1940s through research that used these dogs. For the next 60 years, treatment consisted of replacement of the associated missing or dysfunctional protein, first with plasma-derived products and subsequently with recombinant products. Research has consistently shown that replacement products that are safe and efficacious in these dogs prove to be safe and efficacious in humans. But these highly effective products require repeated administration and are limited in supply and expensive; in addition, plasma-derived products have transmitted bloodborne pathogens. Recombinant proteins have all but eliminated inadvertent transmission of bloodborne pathogens, but the other limitations persist. Thus, gene therapy is an attractive alternative strategy in these monogenic disorders and has been actively pursued since the early 1990s. To date, several modalities of gene transfer in canine hemophilia have proven to be safe, produced easily detectable levels of transgene products in plasma that have persisted for years in association with reduced bleeding, and correctly predicted the vector dose required in a human hemophilia B liver-based trial. Very recently, however, researchers have identified an immune response to adeno-associated viral gene transfer vector capsid proteins in a human liver-based trial that was not present in preclinical testing in rodents, dogs, or nonhuman primates. This article provides a review of the strengths and limitations of canine hemophilia, VWD, and factor VII deficiency models and of their historical and current role in the development of improved therapy for humans with these inherited bleeding disorders.
coagulation assays; dog model; hemophilia; factor VII; factor VIII; factor IX; von Willebrand disease; von Willebrand factor
Muscle represents an attractive target tissue for adeno-associated virus (AAV) vector–mediated gene transfer for hemophilia B (HB). Experience with direct intramuscular (i.m.) administration of AAV vectors in humans showed that the approach is safe but fails to achieve therapeutic efficacy. Here, we present a careful evaluation of the safety profile (vector, transgene, and administration procedure) of peripheral transvenular administration of AAV-canine factor IX (cFIX) vectors to the muscle of HB dogs. Vector administration resulted in sustained therapeutic levels of cFIX expression. Although all animals developed a robust antibody response to the AAV capsid, no T-cell responses to the capsid antigen were detected by interferon (IFN)-γ enzyme-linked immunosorbent spot (ELISpot). Interleukin (IL)-10 ELISpot screening of lymphocytes showed reactivity to cFIX-derived peptides, and restimulation of T cells in vitro in the presence of the identified cFIX epitopes resulted in the expansion of CD4+FoxP3+IL-10+ T-cells. Vector administration was not associated with systemic inflammation, and vector spread to nontarget tissues was minimal. At the local level, limited levels of cell infiltrates were detected when the vector was administered intravascularly. In summary, this study in a large animal model of HB demonstrates that therapeutic levels of gene transfer can be safely achieved using a novel route of intravascular gene transfer to muscle.
We evaluated the safety and efficacy of an optimized adeno-associated virus (AAV; AAV2.RPE65) in animal models of the RPE65 form of Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA). Protein expression was optimized by addition of a modified Kozak sequence at the translational start site of hRPE65. Modifications in AAV production and delivery included use of a long stuffer sequence to prevent reverse packaging from the AAV inverted-terminal repeats, and co-injection with a surfactant. The latter allows consistent and predictable delivery of a given dose of vector. We observed improved electroretinograms (ERGs) and visual acuity in Rpe65 mutant mice. This has not been reported previously using AAV2 vectors. Subretinal delivery of 8.25 × 1010 vector genomes in affected dogs was well tolerated both locally and systemically, and treated animals showed improved visual behavior and pupillary responses, and reduced nystagmus within 2 weeks of injection. ERG responses confirmed the reversal of visual deficit. Immunohistochemistry confirmed transduction of retinal pigment epithelium cells and there was minimal toxicity to the retina as judged by histopathologic analysis. The data demonstrate that AAV2.RPE65 delivers the RPE65 transgene efficiently and quickly to the appropriate target cells in vivo in animal models. This vector holds great promise for treatment of LCA due to RPE65 mutations.
The safety and efficacy of gene therapy for inherited retinal diseases is being tested in humans affected with Leber's congenital amaurosis (LCA), an autosomal recessive blinding disease. Three independent studies have provided evidence that the subretinal administration of adeno-associated viral (AAV) vectors encoding RPE65 in patients affected with LCA2 due to mutations in the RPE65 gene, is safe and, in some cases, results in efficacy. We evaluated the long-term safety and efficacy (global effects on retinal/visual function) resulting from subretinal administration of AAV2-hRPE65v2. Both the safety and the efficacy noted at early timepoints persist through at least 1.5 years after injection in the three LCA2 patients enrolled in the low dose cohort of our trial. A transient rise in neutralizing antibodies to AAV capsid was observed but there was no humoral response to RPE65 protein. The persistence of functional amelioration suggests that AAV-mediated gene transfer to the human retina does not elicit immunological responses which cause significant loss of transduced cells. The persistence of physiologic effect supports the possibility that gene therapy may influence LCA2 disease progression. The safety of the intervention and the stability of the improvement in visual and retinal function in these subjects support the use of AAV-mediated gene augmentation therapy for treatment of inherited retinal diseases.
Leber’s congenital amaurosis (LCA) is a group of inherited blinding diseases with onset during childhood. One form of the disease, LCA2, is caused by mutations in the retinal pigment epithelium–specific 65-kDa protein gene (RPE65). We investigated the safety of subretinal delivery of a recombinant adeno-associated virus (AAV) carrying RPE65 complementary DNA (cDNA) (ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00516477). Three patients with LCA2 had an acceptable local and systemic adverse-event profile after delivery of AAV2.hRPE65v2. Each patient had a modest improvement in measures of retinal function on subjective tests of visual acuity. In one patient, an asymptomatic macular hole developed, and although the occurrence was considered to be an adverse event, the patient had some return of retinal function. Although the follow-up was very short and normal vision was not achieved, this study provides the basis for further gene therapy studies in patients with LCA.
Hemophilia A gene therapy using recombinant adenovirus-associated virus (AAV) vectors has been hampered by the size of the factor VIII (FVIII) cDNA. Previously, splitting the FVIII coding sequence into a heavy-chain (HC) fragment and a light-chain (LC) fragment for dual recombinant AAV vector delivery has been successfully explored. However, the main disadvantage of this approach is a “chain imbalance” problem in which LC secretion is ~1–2 logs higher than that of HC, and therefore, the majority of protein synthesized is nonfunctional. To improve HC secretion, we constructed alternate FVIII HCs based on our observation that LC facilitates HC secretion. To our surprise, most of the new HC molecules exhibited enhanced expression over the traditional HC molecule (HC745). The optimized HC mutein, HCHL, including additional acidic-region-3 (ar3) sequences, exhibited three- to fivefold higher activity in both enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and activated partial thromboplastin time (aPTT) assay in in vitro testing. Further characterization suggested ar3 sequences increased HC secretion, rather than promoting HC synthesis. Intravenous delivery of AAV8-HCHL+AAV8-LC or AAV8-HC745+AAV8-LC achieved phenotypic correction in hemophilia A mice. Mice receiving AAV8-HCHL+AAV8-LC achieved three- to four-fold higher HC expression than AAV8-HC745+AAV8-LC, consistent with the FVIII functional assays. HCHL should be substituted for HC745 in a dual AAV vector strategy due to its enhanced expression.
Humoral immune responses occur following exposure to Adeno-associated virus (AAV) or AAV vectors. Many studies characterized antibody responses to AAV, but human IgG subclass responses to AAV have not been previously described. In this study, IgG subclass responses were examined in serum samples of normal human subjects exposed to wild-type AAV, subjects injected intramuscularly with AAV vectors and subjects injected intravascularly with AAV vectors. A diversity of IgG subclass responses to AAV capsid were found in different subjects. IgG1 was found to be the dominant response. IgG2, IgG3 and IgG4 responses were also observed in most normal human subjects; IgG2 and IgG3 each represented the major fraction of total anti-AAV capsid IgG in a subset of normal donors. Subjects exposed to AAV vectors showed IgG responses to AAV capsid of all four IgG subclasses. IgG responses to AAV capsid in clinical trial subjects were inversely proportional to the level of pre-existing anti-AAV antibody and independent of the vector dose. The high levels of anti-AAV capsid IgG1 can mask differences in IgG2, IgG3 and IgG4 responses that were observed in this study. Analysis of IgG subclass distribution of anti-AAV capsid antibodies indicates a complex, non-uniform pattern of responses to this viral antigen.
Immunoglobulin; subclass distribution; AAV; humoral immunity; gene therapy
Adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors are effective gene delivery vehicles mediating long-lasting transgene expression. Data from a clinical trial of AAV2-mediated hepatic transfer of the Factor IX gene (F9) into hemophilia B subjects suggests that CTL responses against AAV capsid can eliminate transduced hepatocytes and prevent long-term F9 expression. However, the capacity of hepatocytes to present AAV capsid–derived antigens has not been formally demonstrated, nor whether transduction by AAV sensitizes hepatocytes for CTL-mediated destruction. To investigate the fate of capsids after transduction, we engineered a soluble TCR for the detection of capsid-derived peptide:MHC I (pMHC) complexes. TCR multimers exhibited antigen and HLA specificity and possessed high binding affinity for cognate pMHC complexes. With this reagent, capsid pMHC complexes were detectable by confocal microscopy following AAV-mediated transduction of human hepatocytes. Although antigen presentation was modest, it was sufficient to flag transduced cells for CTL-mediated lysis in an in vitro killing assay. Destruction of hepatocytes was inhibited by soluble TCR, demonstrating a possible application for this reagent in blocking undesirable CTL responses. Together, these studies provide a mechanism for the loss of transgene expression and transient elevations in aminotransferases following AAV-mediated hepatic gene transfer in humans and a potential therapeutic intervention to abrogate these limitations imposed by the host T cell response.
The ultimate goal of gene therapy is the replacement of a defective gene sequence with a corrected version to eliminate disease for the lifetime of the patient. This challenging task is not yet accomplished, however significant progress is evident. An initial spate of clinical trials attempting the treatment of haemophilia with gene transfer primarily resulted in the demonstration of good safety profiles, but without efficacy. Subsequent reengineering of vector plasmids and delivery systems resulted in markedly improved outcomes in animal models of the disease. The most recent clinical trial for the treatment of haemophilia B with gene transfer showed transient achievement of efficacy in the highest dose cohort tested, but also exposed a previously hidden barrier to the future success of these treatments. The progress and problems of gene therapies for haemorrhagic disorders will be discussed. This review will concentrate on approaches in or near clinical application.
haemophilia; gene therapy; vectors; adeno-associated virus
Intravenous infusion of recombinant human activated Factor VII (FVIIa) has been used for over a decade in the successful management of bleeding episodes in patients with inhibitory antibodies to Factor VIII or Factor IX. Previously, we showed that expression of murine FVIIa (mFVIIa) from an adeno-associated viral (AAV) vector corrected abnormal hemostatic parameters in hemophilia B mice. To pursue this as a therapeutic approach, we sought to define safe and effective levels of FVIIa for continuous expression. In mice transgenic for mFVIIa or injected with AAV-mFVIIa, we analyzed survival, expression levels, in vitro and in vivo coagulation tests, and histopathology for up to 16 months after birth/mFVIIa expression. We found that continuous expression of mFVIIa at levels at or below 1.5 μg/ml was safe, effective, and compatible with a normal lifespan. However, expression levels of 2 μg/ml or higher were associated with thrombosis and early mortality, with pathologic findings in the heart and lungs that were rescued in a low–factor X (low-FX) mouse background, suggesting a FX-mediated effect. The findings from these mouse models of continuous FVIIa expression have implications for the development of a safe gene transfer approach for hemophilia and are consistent with the possibility of thromboembolic risk of continuously elevated FVIIa levels.
Gene therapy is an attractive approach for the treatment of hemophilia, as continuous expression of donated clotting factor VIII (FVIII) DNA would ensure clotting factor replacement at constant circulating levels rather than at the peaks and troughs that characterize the current protein infusion therapeutic approach. In this issue of the JCI, Shi et al. describe an interesting variant of a gene transfer approach for hemophilia (see the related article beginning on page 1974). They show that targeted expression of FVIII in megakaryocytes, with storage in the α-granules of platelets, has the advantage of delivering clotting factors directly to the site of an injury, where platelets accumulate in large numbers and undergo activation accompanied by release of granule contents. Earlier clinical experience with gene transfer into hematopoietic cells highlighted the potential safety risks of this approach, but an F8 transgene may represent a lower risk than transgenes for growth factors or their receptors.
Adeno-associated virus (AAV) is a unique gene transfer vector which takes approximately 4 to 6 weeks to reach its expression plateau. The mechanism for this slow-rise expression profile was proposed to be inefficient second-strand DNA synthesis from the input single-stranded (ss) DNA viral genome. In order to clarify the status of ss AAV genomes, we generated AAV vectors labeled with bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU), a nucleotide analog that can be incorporated into the AAV genome and packaged into infectious virions. Since BrdU-DNA can be detected only by an anti-BrdU antibody when DNA is in an ss form, not in a double-stranded (ds) form, ss AAV genomes with BrdU can be readily tracked in situ. Although ss AAV DNA was abundant by Southern blot analysis, free ss AAV genomes were not detectable after AAV transduction by this new detection method. Further Southern blot analysis of viral DNA and virions revealed that ss AAV DNA was protected within virions. Extracted cellular fractions demonstrated that viral particles in host cells remained infectious. In addition, a significant amount of AAV genomes was degraded after AAV transduction. Therefore, we conclude that the amount of free ss DNA is not abundant during AAV transduction. AAV transduction is limited by the steps that affect AAV ss DNA release (i.e., uncoating) before second-strand DNA synthesis can occur. AAV ss DNA released from viral uncoating is either converted into ds DNA efficiently or degraded by cellular DNA repair mechanisms as damaged DNA. This study elucidates a mechanism that can be exploited to develop new strategies to improve AAV vector transduction efficiency.