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J Gene Med. 2008 Sep;10(9):951-64. doi: 10.1002/jgm.1227.

Restricted transgene persistence after lentiviral vector-mediated fetal gene transfer in the pregnant rabbit model.

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Medical and Molecular Genetics Centre, Institut d'Investigació Biomèdica de Bellvitge, Hospital Duran i Reynals, Barcelona, Spain.



Prenatal gene transfer may enable early causal intervention for the treatment or prevention of many devastating diseases. Nevertheless, permanent correction of most inherited disorders requires a sustained level of expression from the therapeutic transgene, which could theoretically be achieved with integrating vectors.


Rabbit fetuses received 8.5 x 10(6) HIV-based recombinant lentivirus particles containing the enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) transgene by intrahepatic, intra-amniotic or intraperitoneal injection at 22 days of gestation. Provirus presence and transgene expression in rabbit tissues were evaluated at both 1.5 and 16 weeks post-in utero intervention by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and reverse transcriptase-PCR, respectively. Moreover, we assessed persistence of EGFP by immunohistochemistry. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays confirmed the development of antibodies specific against both the viral vector and the reporter protein.


Regardless of the route of administration employed, lentiviral vector-based in utero gene transfer was safe and reached 85% of the intervened fetuses at birth. However, the integrated provirus frequency was significantly reduced to 50% of that in young rabbits at 16 weeks post-treatment. In these animals, EGFP expression was evident in many tissues, including cytokeratin 5-rich basal cells from stratified and pseudostratified epithelia, suggesting that the lentiviral vector might have reached progenitor cells. Conversely, we identified the presence of immune-inflammatory infiltrates in several EGFP-expressing tissues. Moreover, almost 70% of the lentiviral vector-treated rabbits elicited a humoral immune response against the viral envelope and/or the EGFP.


At two-thirds gestational age, the adaptive immune system of the rabbit appears a relevant factor limiting transgene persistence and expression following lentiviral vector-mediated in utero gene transfer.

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