Cancer gene therapy using a replication-competent herpes simplex virus type 1 vector

Ann Surg. 1998 Sep;228(3):366-74. doi: 10.1097/00000658-199809000-00009.


Objective: The authors investigate the efficacy of hrR3, a viral vector derived from herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV 1), in destroying colon carcinoma cells in vitro and in vivo. The effect of adding the prodrug ganciclovir in combination with hrR3 infection also is assessed.

Summary background data: Most cancer gene therapy strategies use viral vectors that are incapable of replication. The HSV 1 vector hrR3 is capable of replication, and its replication is cytotoxic to cells. hrR3 also possesses the HSV-thymidine kinase gene, which converts ganciclovir into a toxic metabolite. Thus, the addition of ganciclovir to hrR3-infected cells may enhance the ability of hrR3 to destroy tumor cells. To increase specificity for tumor cells, hrR3 has a mutated ribonucleotide reductase gene and replicates selectively in cells with high levels of endogenous rbonucleotide reductase. Actively dividing cells such as tumor cells have high levels of endogenous ribonucleotide reductase for synthesis of DNA precursors. The authors are interested in the use of HSV 1 vectors to treat liver metastases from colorectal cancer.

Methods: Ribonucleotide reductase expression in several colon carcinoma cell lines and in primary cultures of human hepatocytes was determined by Western blot analysis. hrR3-mediated cytotoxicity in the colon carcinoma cell lines was determined using an in vitro assay. The human colon carcinoma cell line HT29 was injected into the flanks of nude mice followed by intratumoral injection of hrR3. Tumor growth rate was assessed with and without the addition of intraperitoneal ganciclovir.

Results: Ribonucleotide reductase levels in colon carcinoma cell lines are much higher than in primary cultures of human hepatocytes. hrR3 efficiently destroys colon carcinoma cell lines in vitro. A single intratumoral injection of hrR3 into HT29 flank tumors significantly reduces tumor growth rate, and the administration of ganciclovir has no additive effect.

Conclusions: The inherent cytotoxicity of hrR3 replication effectively destroys colon carcinoma cells in vitro and in vivo. This cytotoxicity is not enhanced in vivo by the addition of ganciclovir. In the future, more efficacious and selective HSV 1 vectors may be useful in the treatment of cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antimetabolites / therapeutic use*
  • Carcinoma / pathology
  • Carcinoma / therapy*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Colonic Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Ganciclovir / therapeutic use*
  • Genetic Therapy*
  • Herpesvirus 1, Human / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Antimetabolites
  • Ganciclovir