Immune responses to gene therapy vectors: influence on vector function and effector mechanisms

Gene Ther. 2004 Oct;11 Suppl 1:S10-7. doi: 10.1038/


Circumventing the immune response to the vector is a major challenge with all vector types. Viral vectors are the most likely to induce an immune response, especially those, like adenovirus and AAV, which express immunogenic epitopes within the organism. The first immune response occurring after vector transfer emerges from the innate immune system, mainly consisting in a rapid (few hours) inflammatory cytokines and chemokines secretion around the administration site. This reaction is high with adenoviral vectors and almost null with AAV. It is noteworthy that plasmid DNA vectors, because of CpG stimulatory islets, also stimulate the innate immunity via the stimulation of TLR receptors on leukocytes. Specific immune response leading to antibodies production and T lymphocytes activation also occurs within a few days after vector introduction. Capsid antigens are mostly responsible for specific immunity toward adenoviruses, and are also involved in the response against AAV. In the former case only, however, viral gene-encoded proteins can also be immunogenic. The pre-existing humoral immunity coming from early infections with wild-type AAV or adenovirus can prevent efficient gene transfer with the corresponding vectors. In all cases, some parameters like route of administration, dose, or promoter type have been extensively described as critical factors influencing vector immunity. Strategies to fight against vector-induced immunity can come from the immunology field, since tolerance induction or immunosuppression are a possibility. Alterations to vector structure have also been extensively performed to circumvent the immune system and thus enhance gene transfer efficiency and safety.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenoviridae / genetics
  • Adenoviridae / immunology
  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Bacterial / immunology
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • DNA, Bacterial / immunology
  • Genetic Therapy / adverse effects*
  • Genetic Therapy / methods
  • Genetic Vectors / administration & dosage
  • Genetic Vectors / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immune System / physiology*
  • Immunosuppression
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / immunology
  • Transduction, Genetic / methods*


  • Antibodies, Bacterial
  • Cytokines
  • DNA, Bacterial