Objective: To evaluate the feasibility of direct in vivo gene transfer in an animal model of arthritis using a retroviral vector.
Methods: The timing and dose of retroviral vector was examined using very high titer retroviral vector (> or = 10(9) CFU) in rat adjuvant arthritis. Retroviral vector expressing beta-galactosidase (beta-gal) or vehicle alone was injected into the right ankle of rats with adjuvant arthritis. Ankles were injected either on Day 7 (pre-arthritis), Day 10 (early arthritis), Day 15 (accelerating arthritis), or Day 28 (chronic arthritis) after adjuvant immunization. Joints were harvested 3 days later and extracts were assayed for beta-gal activity.
Results: Synovial beta-gal expression was minimal in the Day 7 group and elevated in the Day 10, Day 15, and Day 28 groups. Gene transfer with retroviral vector did not exacerbate the local inflammatory response. Minimal or no beta-gal expression was observed in the contralateral uninjected paw or in the spleen, lung, liver, and kidneys. Frozen sections of retroviral vector injected joints were stained with X-gal and revealed transduced cells in the lining and superficial sublining layers. To determine the longevity of gene expression, ankle joints were injected with vector on Day 15 post-adjuvant, harvested, and assayed for beta-gal activity for up to 49 days after injection. Expression of the enzyme peaked from Day 3 to 7 and was still readily detected up to 49 days after retrovirus infection.
Conclusion: This is the first report of successful direct in vivo gene transfer in the rat adjuvant arthritis model using a retroviral vector. Appropriate timing of administration and very high titer retroviral vector preparations are key determinants of adequate gene transduction.