Increased maintenance and persistence of transgenes by excision of expression cassettes from plasmid sequences in vivo

Hum Gene Ther. 2005 May;16(5):558-70. doi: 10.1089/hum.2005.16.558.


Persistence of transgene expression is a major limitation for nonvirus-mediated gene therapy approaches. We have suggested that covalent linkage of bacterial DNA to the expression cassette plays a critical role in transcriptional silencing of transgenes in vivo. To gain insight into the role of the covalent linkage of plasmid DNA to the expression cassette and transcriptional repression, and whether this silencing effect could be alleviated by altering the molecular structure of vector DNAs in vivo, we generated a scheme for converting routine plasmids into a purified expression cassette, free of bacterial DNA after gene transfer in vivo. To do this, the human alpha-1-antitrypsin (hAAT) and human clotting factor IX (hfIX) reporter genes were flanked by two ISceI endonuclease recognition sites, and coinjected together with a plasmid encoding the I-SceI cDNA or a control plasmid into mouse liver. Two weeks after DNA administration, mice injected with the reporter gene alone or with the irrelevant control plasmid showed low serum levels of hAAT or hFIX, which remained low throughout the length of the experiment. However, animals that expressed I-SceI had a 5- to 10-fold increase in serum hAAT or hFIX that persisted for at least 8 months (length of study). Expression of I-SceI resulted in cleavage and excision of the expression cassettes from the plasmid backbone, forming mostly circles devoid of bacterial DNA sequences, as established by a battery of different Southern blot and polymerase chain reaction analyses in both C57BL/6 and scid treated mice. In contrast, only the input parental circular plasmid DNA band was detected in mice injected with the reporter gene alone, or an I-SceI plasmid together with the hAAT reporter plasmid lacking the I-SceI sites. Similar results were obtained when the Flp recombinase system was used to make mini-plasmids in mouse liver in vivo. This study presents further independent evidence that removing the covalent linkage between plasmid and transgene sequences leads to a marked increase in and persistence of transgene expression. Unraveling the mechanisms by which the covalent linkage of bacterial DNA to the expression cassette is connected to gene silencing is fundamental to establishing the mechanism of transcriptional regulation in mammalian systems and will be important for the development of versatile nonviral vectors that can be used to achieve persistent gene expression in different cell types.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Factor IX / genetics
  • Factor IX / metabolism
  • Gene Transfer Techniques
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Genetic Vectors
  • Humans
  • Injections, Intravenous
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, SCID
  • Plasmids / administration & dosage
  • Plasmids / genetics*
  • Time Factors
  • Transgenes*
  • alpha 1-Antitrypsin / genetics
  • alpha 1-Antitrypsin / metabolism


  • alpha 1-Antitrypsin
  • Factor IX