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PLoS One. 2013 Oct 3;8(10):e76528. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0076528. eCollection 2013.

Identification and characterization of enhancer-blocking insulators to reduce retroviral vector genotoxicity.

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Department of Medicine, Division of Medical Genetics, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, United States of America.


The chromatin insulator cHS4 can reduce silencing chromosomal position effects and genotoxicity associated with integrating viral vectors. However, the fully active version of this element can also reduce vector titers and is only partially effective. In order to identify alternatives to cHS4, we developed a functional lentiviral vector-based reporter screen for enhancer-blocking insulators. Using this system, we screened candidate sequences that were initially identified by chromatin profiling for binding by CTCF and for DNase hypersensitivity. All 12 analyzed candidates blocked enhancer-promoter activity. The enhancer-blocking activity of the top two candidates was confirmed in two complementary plasmid-based assays. Studies in a gammaretroviral reporter vector indicated these two candidates have little to no effect on vector titers, and do not diminish vector expression in primary mouse bone marrow cultures. Subsequent assessment in a mouse in vivo tumor formation model demonstrated that both candidates reduced the rate of gammaretroviral vector-mediated genotoxicity as effectively as the cHS4 insulator. In summary, we have developed a novel lentiviral vector-based method of screening candidate elements for insulator activity, and have used this method to identify two new insulator elements capable of improving the safety of retroviral vectors without diminishing vector titers or expression. These findings expand the limited arsenal of insulators functionally validated to reduce the rate of retroviral vector-mediated genotoxicity.

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