Targeting AAV vectors to the central nervous system by engineering capsid-receptor interactions that enable crossing of the blood-brain barrier

PLoS Biol. 2023 Jul 19;21(7):e3002112. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3002112. eCollection 2023 Jul.


Viruses have evolved the ability to bind and enter cells through interactions with a wide variety of cell macromolecules. We engineered peptide-modified adeno-associated virus (AAV) capsids that transduce the brain through the introduction of de novo interactions with 2 proteins expressed on the mouse blood-brain barrier (BBB), LY6A or LY6C1. The in vivo tropisms of these capsids are predictable as they are dependent on the cell- and strain-specific expression of their target protein. This approach generated hundreds of capsids with dramatically enhanced central nervous system (CNS) tropisms within a single round of screening in vitro and secondary validation in vivo thereby reducing the use of animals in comparison to conventional multi-round in vivo selections. The reproducible and quantitative data derived via this method enabled both saturation mutagenesis and machine learning (ML)-guided exploration of the capsid sequence space. Notably, during our validation process, we determined that nearly all published AAV capsids that were selected for their ability to cross the BBB in mice leverage either the LY6A or LY6C1 protein, which are not present in primates. This work demonstrates that AAV capsids can be directly targeted to specific proteins to generate potent gene delivery vectors with known mechanisms of action and predictable tropisms.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood-Brain Barrier* / metabolism
  • Capsid Proteins / genetics
  • Capsid Proteins / metabolism
  • Capsid* / metabolism
  • Central Nervous System / metabolism
  • Dependovirus / genetics
  • Dependovirus / metabolism
  • Genetic Vectors
  • Mice


  • Capsid Proteins