Over the last decade, the role of the assembly-activating protein (AAP) has begun to be dissected for the formation of adeno-associated virus (AAV) capsids based on different viral serotypes. Recently, the authors' group has specifically studied AAP's relevance during production of AAV gene therapy vectors in mammalian or insect cells, and AAP was found to be essential for capsid protein stabilization and generation of functional vector particles. Here, the lingering question is additionally addressed of whether molecular AAV evolution via DNA family shuffling of viral capsid genes would perturb AAP functionality due to concurrent and inadvertent recombination of the AAP open reading frame. To this end, a battery of complementary experiments was conducted in which: (1) the ability of chimeric AAP from AAVDJ, a hybrid of serotypes 2, 8, and 9, was tested to rescue AAP knockouts in the three parental serotypes; (2) the functionality of 60 chimeric AAPs extracted from five shuffled, unselected capsid libraries was measured; (3) whether production of different shuffled libraries, 10 wild-type serotypes or 25 individual chimeric capsids, can be enhanced by overexpression of AAP cocktails was assessed; and (4) the activity of 12 chimeric AAPs isolated from a shuffled library that was iteratively selected in vivo in mouse livers was studied. Collectively, the data demonstrate a remarkable tolerance of AAP for recombination via DNA family shuffling, evidenced by the findings that (1) all chimeric AAPs studied here retained at least partial activity, even in cases where the cognate hybrid capsid may be non-functional, and that (2) ectopic AAP overexpression did not enhance production of shuffled AAV chimeras or libraries, implying that the inherently encoded hybrid AAP variants are sufficiently active. Together, this work provides compelling evidence that AAP is not rate limiting during AAV capsid shuffling and thereby relieves a major concern in the field of AAV vector evolution.
Keywords: AAP; AAV; DNA family shuffling; adeno-associated virus; assembly-activating protein; molecular evolution.