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J Virol. 2014 Apr;88(8):4132-44. doi: 10.1128/JVI.02660-13. Epub 2014 Jan 29.

Recombinant adeno-associated virus utilizes host cell nuclear import machinery to enter the nucleus.

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Gene Therapy Center and Department of Pharmacology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA.


Recombinant adeno-associated viral (rAAV) vectors have garnered much promise in gene therapy applications. However, widespread clinical use has been limited by transduction efficiency. Previous studies suggested that the majority of rAAV accumulates in the perinuclear region of cells, presumably unable to traffic into the nucleus. rAAV nuclear translocation remains ill-defined; therefore, we performed microscopy, genetic, and biochemical analyses in vitro in order to understand this mechanism. Lectin blockade of the nuclear pore complex (NPC) resulted in inhibition of nuclear rAAV2. Visualization of fluorescently labeled particles revealed that rAAV2 localized to importin-β-dense regions of cells in late trafficking steps. Additionally, small interfering RNA (siRNA) knockdown of importin-β partially inhibited rAAV2 nuclear translocation and inhibited transduction by 50 to 70%. Furthermore, coimmunopreciptation (co-IP) analysis revealed that capsid proteins from rAAV2 could interact with importin-β and that this interaction was sensitive to the small GTPase Ran. More importantly, mutations to key basic regions in the rAAV2 capsid severely inhibited interactions with importin-β. We tested several other serotypes and found that the extent of importin-β interaction varied, suggesting that different serotypes may utilize alternative import proteins for nuclear translocation. Co-IP and siRNA analyses were used to investigate the role of other karyopherins, and the results suggested that rAAV2 may utilize multiple import proteins for nuclear entry. Taken together, our results suggest that rAAV2 interacts with importin-β alone or in complex with other karyopherins and enters the nucleus via the NPC. These results may lend insight into the design of novel AAV vectors that have an enhanced nuclear entry capability and transduction potential.


Use of recombinant adeno-associated viral (rAAV) vectors for gene therapy applications is limited by relatively low transduction efficiency, in part due to cellular barriers that hinder successful subcellular trafficking to the nucleus, where uncoating and subsequent gene expression occur. Nuclear translocation of rAAV has been regarded as a limiting step for successful transduction but it remains ill-defined. We explored potential nuclear entry mechanisms for rAAV2 and found that rAAV2 can utilize the classical nuclear import pathway, involving the nuclear pore complex, the small GTPase Ran, and cellular karyopherins. These results could lend insight into the rational design of novel rAAV vectors that can more efficiently translocate to the nucleus, which may lead to more efficient transduction.

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