Background and aims: Gene therapy of liver diseases would benefit from systems allowing prolonged, regulable, and tissue-specific transgene expression. We attempted to produce a vector fulfilling these requirements.
Methods: We generated gutless adenoviral vectors containing a mifepristone (RU486)-inducible system for controlled and liver-specific expression of human interleukin-12 (hIL-12) (GL-Ad/RUhIL-12) and mouse IL-12 (mIL-12) (GL-Ad/RUmIL-12). The properties of these vectors were tested both in vitro and in vivo.
Results: Infection of cells with GL-Ad/RUhIL-12 resulted in high level of hIL-12 expression in the presence of RU486 only in hepatocytic cells. In animals injected with GL-Ad/RUhIL-12, the administration of RU486 induced a transient rise of serum hIL-12 that peaked at 10 hours and completely disappeared by 72 hours. The peak value of hIL-12 was dependent on the doses of the vector and the inducer. High and sustained serum levels of hIL-12 could be attained by continuing administration of RU486 every 12 or 24 hours. Repetitive induction of hIL-12 could be obtained over, at least, a period of 48 weeks after a single injection of GL-Ad/RUhIL-12. Although the vector was detected in many tissues after systemic injection, transcription of the transgene was only found in the liver. Treatment of liver metastases with 5 x 10(8) infectious units of GL-Ad/RUmIL-12 plus RU846 resulted in complete tumor regression in all animals.
Conclusion: Gutless adenoviral vectors allow liver-specific and regulable transgene expression for prolonged periods of time. These vectors are promising tools for gene therapy of liver cancer and could also be useful for other forms of hepatic disease.