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Hum Gene Ther. 2003 Feb 10;14(3):277-97.

Improved herpes simplex virus type 1 amplicon vectors for proportional coexpression of positron emission tomography marker and therapeutic genes.

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  • 1Max Planck-Institute for Neurological Research, Department of Neurology at the University of Cologne, 50931 Cologne, Germany. Andreas.Jacobs@pet.mpin-koeln.mpg.de


For the development of efficient and safe gene therapy protocols for clinical application it is desirable to determine the tissue dose of vector-mediated therapeutic gene expression noninvasively in vivo. The herpes simplex virus type 1 thymidine kinase gene (HSV-1-tk) has been shown to function as a marker gene for the direct noninvasive in vivo localization of thymidine kinase (TK) expression by positron emission tomography (PET). Using bicistronic or multicistronic gene-expressing cassettes with tk as the PET marker gene, the quantitative analysis of tk gene expression may indirectly indicate the distribution and the level of expression of linked and proportionally coexpressed genes. Here, we describe the construction and functional evaluation of HSV-1 amplicon vectors mediating proportional coexpression of HSV-1-tk as PET marker gene and the enhanced green fluorescent protein gene (gfp) as proof of principle and cell culture marker gene and the Escherichia coli cytosine deaminase (cd) as therapeutic gene. Several double-/triple-gene constructs expressing HSV-1-tk, gfp, and E. coli cd were engineered based on gene fusion or the use of an internal ribosome entry site (IRES). Functional analysis in cell culture (green fluorescent protein [GFP] fluorescence and sensitivity to the prodrugs ganciclovir [GCV] and 5-fluorocytosine [5-FC]) and Western blots were carried out after infection of proliferating rat 9L gliosarcoma and human Gli36 glioma cells with helper virus-free packaged HSV-1 amplicon vectors. To study the ability of PET to differentiate various levels of tk expression noninvasively in vivo, retrovirally transduced and selected populations of rat F98 and human Gli36dEGFR glioma cells with defined levels of proportionally coexpressed tk and gfp genes were grown as subcutaneous tumors in nude rats and nude mice, and tk imaging by PET was performed. To study HSV-1 amplicon vector-mediated gene coexpression in vivo, HSV-1 amplicon vectors bearing coexpression constructs were injected (4 x 10(7) to 1 x 10(8) transducing units) into subcutaneously growing Gli36dEGFR gliomas in nude animals, and tk imaging was performed 24 hr later. All vector constructs mediated GFP expression and sensitized 9L and Gli36 cells toward GCV- and 5-FC-mediated cell killing in a drug dose-dependent manner, respectively. The levels of gene expression varied depending on the location of the genes within the constructs indicating the influence of the IRES on the level of expression of the second gene. Moreover, functional proportional coexpression of the PET marker gene HSV-1-tk and the linked therapeutic E. coli cd gene was observed. In selected tumor cell populations, subtle IRES-dependent differences of tk gene expression could be noninvasively distinguished by PET with good correlation between quantitative assays for IRES-dependent attenuated GFP and TK expression in culture and in vivo. After infection of subcutaneously growing gliomas with HSV-1 amplicon vectors, various levels of TK expression were found ranging from 0.011-0.062 percentage injected dose per gram (%ID/g). These values were 4.0- to 5.7-fold lower than positive control tumor cells. TK expression could be imaged by PET in vivo even with the tk gene located at the weak position downstream from the IRES. In conclusion, these HSV-1 amplicon vectors carrying HSV-1-tk as PET marker gene and any linked therapeutic gene will serve an indirect noninvasive assessment of the distribution of therapeutic gene expression by PET. Monitoring the correlation between primary transduction and therapeutic efficiency of a given vector is highly desirable for the development of safe and efficient gene therapy and vector application protocols in clinical applications.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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