Safe and efficient genetic modification of liver cells could enable new therapies for a variety of hepatic and systemic diseases. Lentiviral vectors are promising tools for in vivo gene delivery. Previous data suggested that recruitment into the cell cycle was required for transduction of hepatocytes in vivo. We developed an improved vector design that enhanced nuclear translocation in target cells and significantly improved gene transfer performance. Using the new vector and a panel of internal promoters, we showed that rat hepatocytes were transduced ex vivo to high frequency without requirement for proliferation. On intravenous administration of vector into adult severe combined immunodeficient (SCID) mice, we found high levels (up to 30%) of transduction of parenchymal and nonparenchymal cells of the liver, integration of the vector genome in liver DNA and stable expression of the marker green fluorescent protein (GFP)-encoding gene without signs of toxicity. Coadministration of vectors and 5'-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine in vivo proved that cell cycling was not required for efficient transduction of hepatocytes. In addition to the liver, the spleen and the bone marrow were transduced effectively by systemic delivery of vector. GFP expression was observed in all these organs when driven by the cytomegalovirus promoter and by the phosphoglycerate kinase gene promoter. Using the promoter of the albumin gene, we could restrict expression to hepatocytes. By a single vector injection into the bloodstream of SCID mice, we achieved therapeutic-range levels of the human clotting factor IX, stable in the plasma for up to 1 year (the longest time tested), indicating the potential efficacy of improved lentiviral vectors for the gene therapy of hemophilias and other diseases.
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