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Mol Ther. 2010 May;18(5):947-54. doi: 10.1038/mt.2010.20. Epub 2010 Feb 16.

Zinc-finger nucleases as a novel therapeutic strategy for targeting hepatitis B virus DNAs.

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Department of Internal Medicine, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa 52242, USA.


Hepatitis B virus (HBV) chronically infects 350-400 million people worldwide and causes >1 million deaths yearly. Current therapies prevent new viral genome formation, but do not target pre-existing viral genomic DNA, thus curing only approximately 1/2 of patients. We targeted HBV DNA for cleavage using zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs), which cleave as dimers. Co-transfection of our ZFN pair with a target plasmid containing the HBV genome resulted in specific cleavage. After 3 days in culture, 26% of the target remained linear, whereas approximately10% was cleaved and misjoined tail-to-tail. Notably, ZFN treatment decreased levels of the hepatitis C virus pregenomic RNA by 29%. A portion of cleaved plasmids are repaired in cells, often with deletions and insertions. To track misrepair, we introduced an XbaI restriction site in the spacer between the ZFN sites. Targeted cleavage and misrepair destroys the XbaI site. After 3 days in culture, approximately 6% of plasmids were XbaI-resistant. Thirteen of 16 clones sequenced contained frameshift mutations that would lead to truncations of the viral core protein. These results demonstrate, for the first time, the possibility of targeting episomal viral DNA genomes using ZFNs.

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