Viral vectors have been frequently used in a variety of preclinical animal models to deliver genetic constructs into tissues. Among the vectors used, adeno-associated viral vectors (AAVs) may be targeted to specific tissues, depending on the serotype used. Moreover, they show robust expression for prolonged periods of time and have a low immunogenic potential. Furthermore, AAVs, unlike other vector systems, only display a low rate of genomic integration. However, to ensure efficient transgene production, expression is typically driven by constitutively active promoters, such as the cytomegalovirus (CMV) promoter. Tetracyclin responsive promoters represent a promising alternative to unregulated promoters. The present study compares AAVs encoding either constitutively active CMV or tet-off promoter regions in the preclinical models of hindlimb and chronic myocardial ischemia. Therapeutically, mediators regulating vessel maturation, specifically thymosin beta 4 (Tβ4) and the downstream signaling molecule myocardin-related transcription factor A (MRTF-A) as well as the endothelial activator angiopoietin-2 (Ang2) were overexpressed via AAVs using both promotors. In the model of rabbit hindlimb ischemia, temporary (tet-off) expression of Tβ4 improved capillary density, collateralization, and perfusion in the ischemic hindlimb, with no detectable difference to constitutive Tβ4 overexpression. Similarly, constitutive overexpression of MRTF-A alone was able to improve capillarization, collateralization and perfusion. Temporary expression of Ang2 for 7 days further increased capillary density and pericyte coverage compared with MRTF-A alone, without further improving collateralization or perfusion. In the pig model of chronic myocardial ischemia constitutive expression of Tβ4 for 4 weeks induced capillary and collateral growth similarly to a pulsed expression (2 day expression per week for 3 weeks). Taken together these findings demonstrate for two models of preclinical interventions that temporary gene expression may lead to similar results as constitutive expression, highlighting the potential of controlled temporary gene expression for induction of vascular growth as a therapeutic approach.
Keywords: AAV; MRTF-A; neovascularization; thymosin β4; vessel maturation.