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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1997 Jun 10;94(12):6450-5.

Safety-modified episomal vectors for human gene therapy.

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Department of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, 10900 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA.


The effectiveness of ongoing gene therapy trials may be limited by the expression characteristics of viral and plasmid-based vectors. To enhance levels of heterologous gene expression, we have developed a safety-modified episomal expression vector that replicates extrachromosomally in human cells. This vector system employs a simian virus 40 (SV40) large T antigen mutant (107/402-T) that is deficient in binding to human tumor suppressor gene products, including p53, retinoblastoma, and p107, yet retains replication competence. These SV40-based episomes replicate to thousands of copies by 2-4 days after gene transfer in multiple types of human cell lines, with lower activity in hamster cells, and no detectable activity in dog, rat, and murine cell lines. Importantly, 107/402-T has enhanced replication activity compared with wild-type T antigen; this finding may be due, in part, to the inability of p53 and retinoblastoma to inactivate 107/402-T function. We demonstrate that the level and duration of 107/402-T expression regulates the observed episomal copy number per cell. Compared with standard plasmid constructs, episomes encoding 107/402-T yield approximately 10- to 100-fold enhanced levels of gene expression in unselected populations of transient transfectants. To determine if 107/402-T-based episomes replicate extrachromosomally in vivo, tumor explants in nude mice were directly injected with liposome/DNA complexes. Using a PCR-based assay, we demonstrate that SV40-based episomes replicate in human cells after direct in vivo gene transfer. These data suggest that safety-modified SV40-based episomes will be effective for cancer gene therapy because high level expression of therapeutic genes in transient transfectants should yield enhanced tumor elimination.

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