Original Article

Gene Therapy (2006) 13, 1447–1456. doi:10.1038/sj.gt.3302771; published online 25 May 2006

Astrocytic expression of transgene in the rat brain mediated by baculovirus vectors containing an astrocyte-specific promoter

C Y Wang1 and S Wang1,2

  1. 1Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore
  2. 2Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore

Correspondence: Professor S Wang, Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, 31 Biopolis Way 138669, Singapore, Singapore. E-mails: swang@ibn.a-star.edu.sg, dbsws@nus.edu.sg

Received 29 April 2005; Revised 29 August 2005; Accepted 2 October 2005; Published online 25 May 2006.

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Abstract

Therapeutic gene expression in glial cells has been tested for the treatment of neurological diseases in animal models. Many of such studies used the promoter of the glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) to restrict gene expression to astrocytes. We have investigated in the current study whether it is possible to improve the transcriptional activity of the cellular promoter, while maintaining its cell-type specificity. We constructed an expression cassette containing a hybrid cytomegalovirus (CMV) enhancer/GFAP promoter and placed it into baculovirus vectors, a type of viral vectors capable of transducing astrocytes. In another vector design, we used inverted terminal repeats (ITRs) from adeno-associated virus (AAV) to flank the expression cassette. The recombinant baculoviruses with the hybrid promoter improved gene expression levels over two orders of magnitude in glial cell lines and by 10-fold in the rat brain when compared to the baculoviruses with the GFAP promoter alone. The expression was further improved by ITR flanking, reaching levels higher than that mediated by the baculovirus vectors with the CMV immediate-early enhancer/promoter (CMV promoter). Using these recombinant baculoviruses, we observed extended in vivo transgene expression in the rat brain at 90 days postinjection, by which time the gene expression from baculovirus vectors with the GFAP or CMV promoter had already become undetectable. The astrocyte specificity of the GFAP promoter was preserved in the engineered expression cassette with the CMV enhancer and the AAV ITRs, as demonstrated by immunohistological analysis of brain samples and an axonal retrograde transport assay. Taken together, our findings suggest that these baculovirus vectors may serve as useful tools for astrocyte-specific gene expression in the brain.

Keywords:

baculovirus, GFAP promoter, CMV enhancer, AAV inverted terminal repeats, brain, gene expression