Longevity of rAAV vector and plasmid DNA in blood after intramuscular injection in nonhuman primates: implications for gene doping

Gene Ther. 2011 Jul;18(7):709-18. doi: 10.1038/gt.2011.19. Epub 2011 Mar 10.


Legitimate uses of gene transfer technology can benefit from sensitive detection methods to determine vector biodistribution in pre-clinical studies and in human clinical trials, and similar methods can detect illegitimate gene transfer to provide sports-governing bodies with the ability to maintain fairness. Real-time PCR assays were developed to detect a performance-enhancing transgene (erythropoietin, EPO) and backbone sequences in the presence of endogenous cellular sequences. In addition to developing real-time PCR assays, the steps involved in DNA extraction, storage and transport were investigated. By real-time PCR, the vector transgene is distinguishable from the genomic DNA sequence because of the absence of introns, and the vector backbone can be identified by heterologous gene expression control elements. After performance of the assays was optimized, cynomolgus macaques received a single dose by intramuscular (IM) injection of plasmid DNA, a recombinant adeno-associated viral vector serotype 1 (rAAV1) or a rAAV8 vector expressing cynomolgus macaque EPO. Macaques received a high plasmid dose intended to achieve a significant, but not life-threatening, increase in hematocrit. rAAV vectors were used at low doses to achieve a small increase in hematocrit and to determine the limit of sensitivity for detecting rAAV sequences by single-step PCR. DNA extracted from white blood cells (WBCs) was tested to determine whether WBCs can be collaterally transfected by plasmid or transduced by rAAV vectors in this context, and can be used as a surrogate marker for gene doping. We demonstrate that IM injection of a conventional plasmid and rAAV vectors results in the presence of DNA that can be detected at high levels in blood before rapid elimination, and that rAAV genomes can persist for several months in WBCs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Computer Systems
  • DNA / blood
  • DNA, Viral / blood*
  • Dependovirus / genetics*
  • Doping in Sports*
  • Erythropoietin / blood*
  • Erythropoietin / genetics*
  • Gene Transfer Techniques
  • Genetic Vectors*
  • Injections, Intramuscular
  • Leukocytes / chemistry
  • Macaca fascicularis
  • Pharmacokinetics*
  • Plasmids / blood*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Time Factors
  • Transgenes*


  • DNA, Viral
  • Erythropoietin
  • DNA