Packaging capacity of adeno-associated virus serotypes: impact of larger genomes on infectivity and postentry steps

J Virol. 2005 Aug;79(15):9933-44. doi: 10.1128/JVI.79.15.9933-9944.2005.


The limited packaging capacity of adeno-associated virus (AAV) precludes the design of vectors for the treatment of diseases associated with larger genes. Autonomous parvoviruses, such as minute virus of mice and B19, while identical in size (25 nm), are known to package larger genomes of 5.1 and 5.6 kb, respectively, compared to AAV genomes of 4.7 kb. One primary difference is the fact that wild-type (wt) AAV utilizes three capsid subunits instead of two to form the virion shell. In this study, we have characterized the packaging capacity of AAV serotypes 1 through 5 with and without the Vp2 subunit. Using reporter transgene cassettes that range in size from 4.4 to 6.0 kb, we determined that serotypes 1 through 5 with and without Vp2 could successfully package, replicate in, and transduce cells. Dot blot analysis established that packaging efficiency was similar for all vector cassettes and that the integrity of encapsidated genomes was intact regardless of size. Although physical characterization determined that virion structures were indistinguishable from wt, transduction experiments determined that all serotype vectors carrying larger genomes (5.3 kb and higher) transduced cells less efficiently (within a log) than AAV encapsidating wt size genomes. This result was not unique to reporter genes and was observed for CFTR vector cassettes ranging in size from 5.1 to 5.9 kb. No apparent advantage in packaging efficiency was observed when Vp2 was present or absent from the virion. Further analysis determined that a postentry step was responsible for the block in infection and specific treatment of cells upon infection with proteasome inhibitors increased transduction of AAV encapsidating larger DNA templates to wt levels, suggesting a preferential degradation of virions encapsidating larger-than-wt genomes. This study illustrates that AAV is capable of packaging and protecting recombinant genomes as large as 6.0 kb but the larger genome-containing virions are preferentially degraded by the proteasome and that this block can be overcome by the addition of proteasome inhibitors.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • COS Cells
  • Capsid Proteins / genetics
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator / genetics
  • Dependovirus / genetics
  • Dependovirus / physiology*
  • Gene Deletion
  • Gene Expression
  • Genetic Vectors / genetics
  • Genetic Vectors / physiology
  • Genome, Viral*
  • Humans
  • Virus Assembly*


  • CFTR protein, human
  • Capsid Proteins
  • VP2 protein, Dependovirus
  • Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator