Improving the Safety of Mesenchymal Stem Cell-Based Ex Vivo Therapy Using Herpes Simplex Virus Thymidine Kinase

Mol Cells. 2022 Jul 31;45(7):479-494. doi: 10.14348/molcells.2022.5015. Epub 2022 Mar 21.


Human mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are multipotent stem cells that have been intensively studied as therapeutic tools for a variety of disorders. To enhance the efficacy of MSCs, therapeutic genes are introduced using retroviral and lentiviral vectors. However, serious adverse events (SAEs) such as tumorigenesis can be induced by insertional mutagenesis. We generated lentiviral vectors encoding the wild-type herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase (HSV-TK) gene and a gene containing a point mutation that results in an alanine to histidine substitution at residue 168 (TK(A168H)) and transduced expression in MSCs (MSC-TK and MSC-TK(A168H)). Transduction of lentiviral vectors encoding the TK(A168H) mutant did not alter the proliferation capacity, mesodermal differentiation potential, or surface antigenicity of MSCs. The MSC-TK(A168H) cells were genetically stable, as shown by karyotyping. MSC-TK(A168H) responded to ganciclovir (GCV) with an half maximal inhibitory concentration (IC50) value 10-fold less than that of MSC-TK. Because MSC-TK(A168H) cells were found to be non-tumorigenic, a U87-TK(A168H) subcutaneous tumor was used as a SAE-like condition and we evaluated the effect of valganciclovir (vGCV), an oral prodrug for GCV. U87-TK(A168H) tumors were more efficiently ablated by 200 mg/kg vGCV than U87-TK tumors. These results indicate that MSC-TK(A168H) cells appear to be pre-clinically safe for therapeutic use. We propose that genetic modification with HSV-TK(A168H) makes allogeneic MSC-based ex vivo therapy safer by eliminating transplanted cells during SAEs such as uncontrolled cell proliferation.

Keywords: herpes simplex virus-thymidine kinase; lentiviral vector; mesenchymal stem cells; safety switch; stemness.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology
  • Ganciclovir / therapeutic use
  • Genetic Therapy / methods
  • Genetic Vectors / genetics
  • Humans
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells* / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Simplexvirus / enzymology
  • Thymidine Kinase* / therapeutic use


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Thymidine Kinase
  • Ganciclovir