Intravitreally injected AAV2 transduced inner retinal cells in a restricted region at the macaque fovea. Because macaque and human eyes are similar, the results suggest a need to improve transduction methods in gene therapy for the human inner retina.
Adeno-associated virus serotype 2 (AAV2) has been shown to be effective in transducing inner retinal neurons after intravitreal injection in several species. However, results in nonprimates may not be predictive of transduction in the human inner retina, because of differences in eye size and the specialized morphology of the high-acuity human fovea. This was a study of inner retina transduction in the macaque, a primate with ocular characteristics most similar to that of humans.
In vivo imaging and histology were used to examine GFP expression in the macaque inner retina after intravitreal injection of AAV vectors containing five distinct promoters.
AAV2 produced pronounced GFP expression in inner retinal cells of the fovea, no expression in the central retina beyond the fovea, and variable expression in the peripheral retina. AAV2 vector incorporating the neuronal promoter human connexin 36 (hCx36) transduced ganglion cells within a dense annulus around the fovea center, whereas AAV2 containing the ubiquitous promoter hybrid cytomegalovirus (CMV) enhancer/chicken-β-actin (CBA) transduced both Müller and ganglion cells in a dense circular disc centered on the fovea. With three shorter promoters—human synapsin (hSYN) and the shortened CBA and hCx36 promoters (smCBA and hCx36sh)—AAV2 produced visible transduction, as seen in fundus images, only when the retina was altered by ganglion cell loss or enzymatic vitreolysis.
The results in the macaque suggest that intravitreal injection of AAV2 would produce high levels of gene expression at the human fovea, important in retinal gene therapy, but not in the central retina beyond the fovea.