Dosage Thresholds and Influence of Transgene Cassette in Adeno-Associated Virus-Related Toxicity

Hum Gene Ther. 2018 Nov;29(11):1235-1241. doi: 10.1089/hum.2018.144. Epub 2018 Oct 31.


Today, there are >500 published studies and 40 clinical trials to treat retinal disorders using gene therapy. The great majority of them rely on the use of adeno-associated virus vectors (AAV) for therapeutic gene delivery. Thus far, AAVs have an excellent safety profile in the clinic. Nevertheless, it is known that AAV-mediated gene delivery leads to toxicity at higher input doses in experimental gene therapy. This study reveals the factors that contribute to retinal toxicity after subretinal administration of AAV vectors in wild-type mice. The study shows that alongside the input dose, the nature of the transgene and the cells mediating the expression determine the extent of toxicity. Importantly, the study shows that AAV vectors encoding green fluorescent protein (GFP) used as controls in experimental gene therapy are toxic at doses as low as 5 × 109 vg, confounding the observed therapeutic effect in gene therapy paradigms. Altogether, the data show the importance of reducing input doses while increasing transgene expression levels via the use of more efficient capsids and promoters in order to avoid side effects in AAV-mediated gene therapy. Furthermore, the toxicity observed with AAV-GFP vectors imply a reinterpretation of previous gene therapy studies where the therapeutic effect was measured in relation to this control.

Keywords: AAV; GFP; gene therapy; promoter; retina; toxicity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Capsid / metabolism
  • Dependovirus / genetics*
  • Gene Dosage*
  • Genetic Therapy
  • Genetic Vectors / toxicity
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Immunity / drug effects
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Transgenes*


  • Green Fluorescent Proteins