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Mutat Res. 1995 Jun;334(3):375-83.

A new retroviral vector for detecting mutations and chromosomal instability in mammalian cells.

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Department of Dermatology, Jichi Medical School, Tochigi, Japan.


A retroviral vector carrying both forward (neo) and backward (herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase or HSV-TK gene) selection markers was constructed as a substrate for mutational assay in mammalian cells. The cells infected with this virus are first selected with G418, mutagenized and then selected with the anti-herpes drug acyclovir (ACV). Since HSV-TK, but not the host TK, is capable of converting ACV to a toxic metabolite, cells retaining the intact HSV-TK gene fail to survive, while the cells carrying a mutated HSV-TK gene or which have lost the gene can form colonies in the presence of ACV, making it possible to detect the genetic defects in a positive manner. It is also possible to discriminate between small mutations and large deletions by checking the presence of the linked marker, neo. As a model experiment, we prepared an uncloned pool of rat fibroblast cells (CREF) infected with this virus and irradiated them with increasing doses of ultraviolet light. Dose-dependent increases in the number of ACV-resistant colonies were observed. Structural analysis of the HSV-TK gene in these clones revealed point mutations or small deletions in the majority of the cases. Since it requires no pre-existing genetic markers in the host cells, this system may be used for a wide variety of mammalian cells and provides a useful tool to assess both their susceptibility to various mutagens and their genomic instability.

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