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Mol Ther Methods Clin Dev. 2019 Jul 3;14:180-188. doi: 10.1016/j.omtm.2019.06.006. eCollection 2019 Sep 13.

Neuronal Activation Stimulates Cytomegalovirus Promoter-Driven Transgene Expression.

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Molecular Mechanisms of Cellular Stress and Inflammation Section, National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIH, Baltimore, MD 21224, USA.
Institute of Biotechnology, HILife Unit, University of Helsinki, 00014 Helsinki, Finland.
Genetic Engineering and Viral Vector Core, National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIH, Baltimore, MD 21224, USA.
Center for Neuropsychiatric Research, National Health Research Institutes, Zhunan, Taiwan.


The cytomegalovirus (CMV) immediate early promoter has been extensively developed and exploited for transgene expression in vitro and in vivo, including human clinical trials. The CMV promoter has long been considered a stable, constitutive, and ubiquitous promoter for transgene expression. Using two different CMV-based promoters, we found an increase in CMV-driven transgene expression in the rodent brain and in primary neuronal cultures in response to methamphetamine, glutamate, kainic acid, and activation of G protein-coupled receptor signaling using designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs (DREADDs). In contrast, promoters derived from human synapsin 1 (hSYN1) gene or elongation factor 1α (EF1α) did not exhibit altered transgene expression in response to the same neuronal stimulations. Overall, our results suggest that the long-standing assertion that the CMV promoter confers constitutive expression in neurons should be reevaluated, and future studies should empirically determine the activity of the CMV promoter in a given application.

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