Researchers led by a team at Massachusetts Eye and Ear have identified a novel cellular entry factor for adeno-associated virus vector (AAV) types—the most commonly used viral vectors for in vivo gene therapy. AAVs are vectors–or vehicles—that are created from a virus that is made harmless by molecular engineering, and have shown promise transporting genetic therapy treatments to affected tissues.
The researchers identified that GPR108, a G protein-coupled receptor, served as a molecular 'lock' to the cell. GPR108 is required for most AAVs, including those used in approved gene therapies, to gain access to the cell. As gaining cellular access is a critical step in delivering gene therapy, this discovery may provide a crucial piece of information that could one day enable scientists to better explain, predict, and ultimately, direct AAV gene transfers to specific tissues.
The study was published last month in Molecular Therapy.
“For years we have known that AAV gene transfer is highly effective, but we have yet to learn how that is achieved and why some AAV types function differently than others,” said senior study author Luk Vandenberghe, PhD, Director of the Grousbeck Gene Therapy Center at Mass. Eye and Ear and Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. “We identified a molecular 'lock' to the cell that allows AAV vectors carrying the appropriate 'key' to gain access to the cell. This finding may enable scientists to better direct AAV gene transfers to targeted cell tissues, in order to treat specific genetic diseases.”