Cell-culture assays reveal the importance of retroviral vector design for insertional genotoxicity.
ABSTRACT: Retroviral vectors with long terminal repeats (LTRs), which contain strong enhancer/promoter sequences at both ends of their genome, are widely used for stable gene transfer into hematopoietic cells. However, recent clinical data and mouse models point to insertional activation of cellular proto-oncogenes as a dose-limiting side effect of retroviral gene delivery that potentially induces leukemia. Self-inactivating (SIN) retroviral vectors do not contain the terminal repetition of the enhancer/promoter, theoretically attenuating the interaction with neighboring cellular genes. With a new assay based on in vitro expansion of primary murine hematopoietic cells and selection in limiting dilution, we showed that SIN vectors using a strong internal retroviral enhancer/promoter may also transform cells by insertional mutagenesis. Most transformed clones, including those obtained after dose escalation of SIN vectors, showed insertions upstream of the third exon of Evi1 and in reverse orientation to its transcriptional orientation. Normalizing for the vector copy number, we found the transforming capacity of SIN vectors to be significantly reduced when compared with corresponding LTR vectors. Additional modifications of SIN vectors may further increase safety. Improved cell-culture assays will likely play an important role in the evaluation of insertional mutagenesis.
Project description:Insertional mutagenesis by retroviral vectors has emerged as a serious impediment to the widespread application of hematopoietic stem cell gene transfer for the treatment of hematologic diseases. Here we report the development of a 77-base pair element, FII/BEAD-A (FB), which contains the minimal enhancer-blocking components of the chicken beta-globin 5'HS4 insulator and a homologous region from the human T-cell receptor alpha/delta BEAD-1 insulator. With a new flow cytometry-based assay, we show that the FB element is as effective in enhancer-blocking activity as the prototypical 1.2-kilobase 5'HS4 insulator fragment. When incorporated into the residual U3 region of the 3' long terminal repeat (LTR) of a self-inactivating (SIN) gammaretroviral vector, the FB element was stably transferred to the 5' LTR during reverse transcription, flanking the integrated transgene expression cassette. Notably, using a recently established in vitro insertional mutagenesis assay involving primary murine hematopoietic cells, we found that SIN gammaretroviral vectors, as well as SIN lentiviral vectors, containing the FB element exhibited greatly reduced transforming potential-to background levels under the experimental conditions used-compared with their unshielded counterparts. These results suggest that the FB element-mediated enhancer-blocking modification is a promising approach to dramatically improve the safety of retroviral vectors for therapeutic gene transfer.
Project description:Moloney murine leukemia virus (MLV)-derived gamma-retroviral vectors integrate preferentially near transcriptional regulatory regions in the human genome, and are associated with a significant risk of insertional gene deregulation. Self-inactivating (SIN) vectors carry a deletion of the U3 enhancer and promoter in the long terminal repeat (LTR), and show reduced genotoxicity in pre-clinical assays. We report a high-definition analysis of the integration preferences of a SIN MLV vector compared to a wild-type-LTR MLV vector in the genome of CD34(+) human hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells (HSPCs). We sequenced 13,011 unique SIN-MLV integration sites and compared them to 32,574 previously generated MLV sites in human HSPCs. The SIN-MLV vector recapitulates the integration pattern observed for MLV, with the characteristic clustering of integrations around enhancer and promoter regions associated to H3K4me3 and H3K4me1 histone modifications, specialized chromatin configurations (presence of the H2A.Z histone variant) and binding of RNA Pol II. SIN-MLV and MLV integration clusters and hot spots overlap in most cases and are generated at a comparable frequency, indicating that the reduced genotoxicity of SIN-MLV vectors in hematopoietic cells is not due to a modified integration profile.
Project description:Stable genetic modification of stem cells holds great promise for gene therapy and marking, but commonly used gamma-retroviral vectors were found to influence growth/survival characteristics of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) by insertional mutagenesis. In this article, we show that promoter-deprived gamma-retroviral self-inactivating (pd-SIN) vectors allow stable genetic marking of serially reconstituting murine HSC. In contrast to findings with gamma-retroviral long terminal repeat (LTR) vectors, serial transplantation of pd-SIN-marked HSC in a sensitive mouse model was apparently not associated with induced clonal imbalance of gene-marked HSC. Furthermore, insertions of pd-SIN into protooncogenes, growth-promoting and signaling genes occurred significantly less frequent than in control experiments with LTR vectors. Also, transcriptional dysregulation of neighboring genes potentially caused by the pd-SIN insertion was rarely seen and comparatively weak. The integration pattern of promotor-deprived SIN vectors in reconstituting HSC seems to depend on the transcriptional activity of the respective gene loci reflecting the picture described for LTR vectors. In conclusion, our data strongly support the use of SIN vectors for gene-marking studies and suggest an increased therapeutic index for vectors lacking enhancers active in HSC.
Project description:Insertional mutagenesis leading to insurgence of leukemia has been shown as a consequence of retroviral (RV)-mediated gene transfer in animal models and in clinical trials of gene therapy for X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency. Aberrant expression of oncogenes neighboring the gamma-RV vector insertion site via induction by the enhancer element of the viral long terminal repeats (LTRs) is thought to have played a role in leukemogenesis. Consequently, RV vectors devoid of LTR enhancer elements could prove as safer tools for gene transfer. To test this hypothesis, we evaluated the immortalization ability of two RV vectors: one carrying the full-length Moloney leukemia virus (MLV) LTR and one with the same LTR in which the enhancer element was deleted [MLV self-inactivating (SIN)]. Unexpectedly, transduction with MLV SIN resulted in an only slightly and not significant decreased immortalization frequency of primary bone marrow (BM) cultures (about 37%) compared to transduction with MLV (about 48%). Similar to MLV, immortalization by MLV SIN is likely caused by insertional activation of oncogenes including Evi1, Mds1, Mef2c, and Hoxa7. Our results indicate that the MLV SIN, devoid of the LTR enhancer element, was still able to immortalize BM cells by activating nearby gene expression, indicating the need of an accurate selection of the internal promoter to obtain safer SIN RV vectors.
Project description:Targeting transgene expression to specific hematopoietic cell lineages could contribute to the safety of retroviral vectors in gene therapeutic applications. Chronic granulomatous disease (CGD), a defect of phagocytic cells, can be managed by gene therapy, using retroviral vectors with targeted expression to myeloid cells. In this context, we analyzed the myelospecificity of the human miR223 promoter, which is known to be strongly upregulated during myeloid differentiation, to drive myeloid-restricted expression of p47(phox) and gp91(phox) in mouse models of CGD and in primary patient-derived cells. The miR223 promoter restricted the expression of p47(phox), gp91(phox), and green fluorescent protein (GFP) within self-inactivating (SIN) gamma- and lentiviral vectors to granulocytes and macrophages, with only marginal expression in lymphocytes or hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells. Furthermore, gene transfer into primary CD34+ cells derived from a p47(phox) patient followed by ex vivo differentiation to neutrophils resulted in restoration of Escherichia coli killing activity by miR223 promoter-mediated p47(phox) expression. These results indicate that the miR223 promoter as an internal promoter within SIN gene therapy vectors is able to efficiently correct the CGD phenotype with negligible activity in hematopoietic progenitors, thereby limiting the risk of insertional oncogenesis and development of clonal dominance.
Project description:Gene transfer vectors may cause clonal imbalance and even malignant cell transformation by insertional upregulation of proto-oncogenes. Lentiviral vectors (LV) with their preferred integration in transcribed genes are considered less genotoxic than gammaretroviral vectors (GV) with their preference for integration next to transcriptional start sites and regulatory gene regions. Using a sensitive cell culture assay and a series of self-inactivating (SIN) vectors, we found that the lentiviral insertion pattern was approximately threefold less likely than the gammaretroviral to trigger transformation of primary hematopoietic cells. However, lentivirally induced mutants also showed robust replating, in line with the selection for common insertion sites (CIS) in the first intron of the Evi1 proto-oncogene. This potent proto-oncogene thus represents a CIS for both GV and LV, despite major differences in their integration mechanisms. Altering the vectors' enhancer-promoter elements had a greater effect on safety than the retroviral insertion pattern. Clinical grade LV expressing the Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome (WAS) protein under control of its own promoter had no transforming potential. Mechanistic studies support the conclusion that enhancer-mediated gene activation is the major cause for insertional transformation of hematopoietic cells, opening rational strategies for risk prevention.
Project description:Hematopoietic cell gene therapy using retroviral vectors has achieved success in clinical trials. However, safety issues regarding vector insertional mutagenesis have emerged. In two different trials, vector insertion resulted in the transcriptional activation of proto-oncogenes. One strategy for potentially diminishing vector insertional mutagenesis is through the use of self-inactivating lentiviral vectors containing the 1.2-kb insulator element derived from the chicken beta-globin locus. However, use of this element can dramatically decrease both vector titer and transgene expression, thereby compromising its practical use. Here, we studied lentiviral vectors containing either the full-length 1.2-kb insulator or the smaller 0.25-kb core element in both orientations in the partially deleted long-terminal repeat. We show that use of the 0.25-kb core insulator rescued vector titer by alleviating a postentry block to reverse transcription associated with the 1.2-kb element. In addition, in an orientation-dependent manner, the 0.25-kb core element significantly increased transgene expression from an internal promoter due to improved transcriptional termination. This element also demonstrated barrier activity, reducing variability of expression due to position effects. As it is known that the 0.25-kb core insulator has enhancer-blocking activity, this particular insulated lentiviral vector design may be useful for clinical application.
Project description:The integration characteristics of retroviral (RV) vectors increase the probability of interfering with the regulation of cellular genes, and account for a tangible risk of insertional mutagenesis in treated patients. To assess the potential genotoxic risk of conventional or self-inactivating (SIN) gamma-RV and lentiviral (LV) vectors independently from the biological consequences of the insertion event, we developed a quantitative assay based on real-time reverse transcriptase--PCR on low-density arrays to evaluate alterations of gene expression in individual primary T-cell clones. We show that the Moloney leukemia virus long terminal repeat (LTR) enhancer has the strongest activity in both a gamma-RV and a LV vector context, while an internal cellular promoter induces deregulation of gene expression less frequently, at a shorter range and to a lower extent in both vector types. Downregulation of gene expression was observed only in the context of LV vectors. This study indicates that insertional gene activation is determined by the characteristics of the transcriptional regulatory elements carried by the vector, and is largely independent from the vector type or design.
Project description:Gammaretroviral and lentiviral vectors are promising tools for gene therapy, but they can be oncogenic. The development of safer vectors depends on a quantitative assay for insertional mutagenesis. Here we report a rapid, inexpensive, and reproducible assay which uses a murine cell line to measure the frequency of interleukin-3 (IL-3)-independent mutants. Lentiviral and gammaretroviral vectors cause insertional mutagenesis at similar frequencies; however, they use different mechanisms. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-based vectors generate mutants by insertion only into the growth hormone receptor (Ghr) locus. The HIV enhancer/promoter is active in the absence of the HIV Tat protein in this locus, and an HIV/Ghr spliced transcript expresses GHR and cells respond to GH. Deletion of the enhancer/promoter in a self-inactivating HIV-based vector prevents this mechanism of insertional mutagenesis. In contrast, gammaretroviral vectors insert into other loci, including IL-3 and genes identified as common insertion sites in the Retroviral Tagged Cancer Gene Database (RTCGD).
Project description:In gene therapeutic approaches targeting hematopoietic cells, insertional mutagenesis may provoke clonal dominance with potential progress to overt leukemia. To investigate the contribution of cell-intrinsic features and determine the frequency of insertional proto-oncogene activation, we sorted hematopoietic subpopulations before transduction with replication-deficient gamma-retroviral vectors and studied the clonal repertoire in transplanted C57BL/6J mice. Progressive clonal dominance only developed in the progeny of populations with intrinsic stem cell potential, where expanding clones with insertional upregulation of proto-oncogenes such as Evi1 were retrieved with a frequency of approximately 10(-4). Longitudinal studies by high-throughput sequencing and locus-specific quantitative PCR showed clones with >50-fold expansion between weeks 5 and 31 after transplantation. In contrast, insertional events in proto-oncogenes did not endow the progeny of multipotent or myeloid-restricted progenitors with the potential for clonal dominance (risk <10(-6)). Transducing sorted hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) with self-inactivating (SIN) lentiviral vectors in short-term cultures improved chimerism, and although clonal dominance developed, there was no evidence for insertional events in the vicinity of proto-oncogenes as the underlying cause. We conclude that cell-intrinsic properties cooperate with vector-related features to determine the incidence and consequences of insertional mutagenesis. Furthermore, our study offers perspectives for refinement of animal experiments in the assessment of vector-related genotoxicity.