Hypoxia-mediated tumour targeting

Gene Ther. 2003 Apr;10(7):540-9. doi: 10.1038/sj.gt.3301944.


Hypoxia is a common physiological feature of tumours. It activates a signalling cascade that culminates in the stabilization of the HIF-1 transcription factor and activation of genes that possess a hypoxia response element (HRE). We have used an optimized hypoxia responsive promoter (OBHRE) to investigate hypoxia-targeted gene expression in vivo in the context of an adenovirus vector. The OBHRE promoter showed limited activity in the liver or spleen such that expression was 1000-fold lower than that driven by the strong CMV/IE promoter. However, in the context of the tumour microenvironment, the OBHRE promoter achieved expression levels comparable to that of the CMV/IE promoter. Next, we showed that an adenovirus expressing the human cytochrome P450 (CYP2B6) regulated by the OBHRE promoter delays tumour growth in response to the prodrug cyclophosphamide (CPA). Finally, we exploited the hepatotropism of adenovirus to investigate whether the OBHRE promoter could mitigate the hepatotoxicity of a recombinant adenovirus expressing thymidine kinase (TK) in the context of the prodrug ganciclovir (GCV). High-dose Ad.CMVTK/GCV treatment caused significant liver necrosis whereas the same dose of Ad.HRETK was well tolerated. These in vivo data demonstrate that hypoxia-targeted gene expression via the OBHRE promoter can be used to increase the therapeutic window of cytotoxic cancer gene therapy.

MeSH terms

  • Adenoviridae / genetics
  • Animals
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use
  • Breast Neoplasms
  • Cyclophosphamide / therapeutic use
  • Cytomegalovirus / genetics
  • Female
  • Ganciclovir / therapeutic use
  • Gene Expression
  • Gene Targeting
  • Genetic Engineering
  • Genetic Therapy / methods*
  • Genetic Vectors / administration & dosage
  • Hypoxia / genetics*
  • Hypoxia, Brain
  • Melanoma, Experimental / therapy*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Prodrugs / therapeutic use
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic*
  • Thymidine Kinase / genetics
  • Transduction, Genetic / methods*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Prodrugs
  • Cyclophosphamide
  • Thymidine Kinase
  • Ganciclovir