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Gene Ther. 1999 Sep;6(9):1600-10.

Use of protamine to augment adenovirus-mediated cancer gene therapy.

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Department of Surgery, Thoracic Oncology Research Laboratory, Philadelphia, PA, USA.


Improving the therapeutic potential of adenoviral (Ad) suicide gene therapy has become an area of intense investigation since the inception of gene therapy strategies for cancer treatment. Poor efficiency of gene transfer to target tissues has become one of the most important limitations to Ad-based gene therapy. Since polycations have been shown to enhance adenovirus-mediated gene transfer in epithelial cells both in vitro and in vivo, we hypothesized that polycations could augment treatment efficacy in animals with established tumor. To address this hypothesis, protamine sulfate, a polycation already safely administered in humans, was complexed with a recombinant Ad (E1E3-deleted) vector containing the herpes simplex 1 thymidine kinase (HSVtk) suicide gene to treat cancer cell lines in vitro and in animals bearing intraperitoneal tumor. In the presence of 5 microg/ml protamine, the efficiency of gene transfer to a number of cancer cell lines normally resistant to adenovirus was significantly enhanced. Protamine's effect in vitro was found to be inversely proportional to the level of expression of the high affinity Ad binding site, coxsackievirus and adenovirus receptor (CAR), on the sur- face of the various cell lines tested. infected tumor cells were rendered 2.5- to three-fold more sensitive to 20 microM ganciclovir (GCV) in the presence of protamine. Protamine also augmented the in vivo transfer efficiency of the marker gene, LacZ (contained in an Ad vector), on the surface of tumors derived from an intraperitoneal mouse model. Quantitative imaging revealed 50% tumor surface transduced with LacZ when treatment was performed in the presence of 50 microg/ml protamine compared with 12% tumor surface in controls. However, experiments performed utilizing intraperitoneal administration of in the presence or absence of 50 microg/ml protamine demonstrated no significantly improved median survival in mice bearing established intraperitoneal tumors. Similarly, in Fischer rats bearing intrapleural tumor, no improvement in anti-tumor response was observed when Ad treatment was performed intrapleurally in the presence of protamine. Thus, although protamine induced an enhancement of Ad-mediated gene transfer in vitro and in vivo, its use as an adjunct to intracavitary Ad-based cancer gene therapy in vivo appears to be limited.

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