Mechanisms of retroviral integration and mutagenesis

Hum Gene Ther. 2013 Feb;24(2):119-31. doi: 10.1089/hum.2012.203.


Gene transfer vectors derived from oncoretroviruses or lentiviruses are the most robust and reliable tools to stably integrate therapeutic transgenes in human cells for clinical applications. Integration of these vectors in the genome may, however, have undesired effects caused by insertional deregulation of gene expression at the transcriptional or post-transcriptional level. The occurrence of severe adverse events in several clinical trials involving the transplantation of stem cells genetically corrected with retroviral vectors showed that insertional mutagenesis is not just a theoretical event, and that retroviral transgenesis is associated with a finite risk of genotoxicity. In addressing these issues, the gene therapy community offered a spectacular example of how scientific knowledge and technology can be put to work to understand the causes of unpredicted side effects, design new vectors, and develop tools and models to predict their safety and efficacy. As an added benefit, these efforts brought new basic knowledge on virus-host interactions and on the biology and dynamics of human somatic stem cells. This review summarizes the current knowledge on the interactions between retroviruses and the human genome and addresses the impact of target site selection on the safety of retroviral vector-mediated gene therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / metabolism
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / pathology
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Transfer Techniques
  • Genetic Vectors / genetics
  • Genetic Vectors / metabolism
  • Genome, Human
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Humans
  • Mutagenesis, Insertional*
  • Regulatory Elements, Transcriptional
  • Retroviridae / genetics
  • Retroviridae / metabolism*
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Transcriptional Activation
  • Virus Integration*