Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a disease that initially presents as night blindness due to genetic deficits in the rod photoreceptors of the retina. Rods then die, causing dysfunction and death of cone photoreceptors, the cell type that mediates high acuity and color vision, ultimately leading to blindness. We investigated immune responses in mouse models of RP and found evidence of microglia activation throughout the period of cone degeneration. Using adeno-associated vectors (AAVs), delivery of genes encoding microglial regulatory signals led to the identification of AAV serotype 8 (AAV8) soluble CX3CL1 (sCX3CL1) as a promising therapy for degenerating cones. Subretinal injection of AAV8-sCX3CL1 significantly prolonged cone survival in three strains of RP mice. Rescue of cones was accompanied by improvements in visual function. AAV8-sCX3CL1 did not affect rod survival, microglia localization, or inflammatory cytokine levels in the retina. Furthermore, although RNA sequencing of microglia demonstrated marked transcriptional changes with AAV8-sCX3CL1, pharmacological depletion of up to ∼99% of microglia failed to abrogate the effect of AAV8-sCX3CL1 on cone survival. These findings indicate that AAV8-sCX3CL1 can rescue cones in multiple mouse models of RP via a pathway that does not require normal numbers of microglia. Gene therapy with sCX3CL1 is a promising mutation-independent approach to preserve vision in RP and potentially other forms of retinal degeneration.
Adeno-associated virus (AAV) are potent vectors to achieve treatment against hearing loss resulting from genetic defects. However, the effects of delivery routes and the corresponding transduction efficiencies for clinical applications remain elusive. In this study, we screened AAV vectors of three serotypes (AAV 8 and 9 and Anc80L65) into the inner ears of adult normal guinea pigs through trans-stapes (oval window) and trans-round window delivery routes in vivo. Trans-stapes route is akin to stape surgeries in humans. Then, auditory brainstem response (ABR) measurements were conducted to evaluate postoperative hearing, and inner ear tissues were harvested for transduction efficiency analysis. Results showed that AAV8 targeted partial inner hair cells (IHCs) in cochlear basal turn; AAV9 targeted IHCs in cochlear basal and second turn, also a part of vestibular hair cells (VHCs). In contrast, Anc80L65 contributed to green fluorescent proteins (GFP) signals of 80 - 95% IHCs and 67 - 91% outer hair cells (OHCs), as well as 69% VHCs through the trans-round window route, with 15-20 decibel (dB) ABR threshold shifts. And, through the trans-stapes (oval window) route, there were 71 - 90% IHCs and 42 - 81% OHCs, along with 64% VHCs demonstrating GFP positive, and the ABR threshold shifts were within 10 dB. This study revealed AAV could be efficiently delivered into mammalian inner ear cells in vivo through the trans-stapes (oval window) route with postoperative hearing preservation, and both delivery routes showed promise of virus-based clinical translation of hearing impairment treatment.
The system of clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) and CRISPR-associated endonucleases (Cas) has been utilized for genome editing with great accuracy and high efficiency in generating gene knockout, knockin, and point mutations in eukaryotic genomes. However, traditional CRISPR/Cas9 technology introduces double-stranded DNA breaks (DSBs) at a target locus as the first step to make gene corrections, which easily results in undesired mutations. Thus, it is necessary to develop new methods for correcting the unwanted mutations. In this review, we summarize the recent developments and a new approach to genome and base editing by using CRISPR/Cas9. This methodology renders a conversion of one target base into another, for example, C to T (or G to A), and A to G (or T to C) without producing DSBs, requiring a donor DNA template, or generating excessive insertions and deletions. Furthermore, CRISPR/Cas9-derived base editing also improves efficiency in repairing point mutations in the genome.
We recently discovered that by changing environmental signals, differentiated immortalized human meibomian gland epithelial cells (IHMGECs) de-differentiate into proliferating cells. We also discovered that following exposure to appropriate stimuli, these proliferative cells re-differentiate into differentiated IHMGECs. We hypothesize that this plasticity of differentiated and proliferative IHMGECs is paralleled by very significant alterations in cellular gene expression. To begin to test this hypothesis, we compared the gene expression patterns of IHMGECs during differentiation and proliferation. IHMGECs were cultured for four days in either differentiating or proliferating media. After four days of culture, cells were processed for the analysis of gene expression by using Illumina BeadChips and bioinformatic software. Our study identified significant differences in the expression of more than 9200 genes in differentiated and proliferative IHMGECs. Differentiation was associated with significant increases in the expression of specific genes (e.g. S100 calcium binding protein P; 7,194,386-fold upregulation) and numerous ontologies (e.g. 83 biological process [bp] ontologies with ≥100 genes were upregulated), such as those related to development, transport and lysosomes. Proliferation also led to a significant rise in specific gene expressions (e.g. cathelicidin antimicrobial peptide; 859,100-fold upregulation) and many ontologies (115 biological process [bp] ontologies with ≥100 genes were upregulated), with most of the highly significant ontologies related to cell cycle (z scores > 13.9). Our findings demonstrate that gene expression in differentiated and proliferative IHMGECs is extremely different. These results may have significant implications for the regeneration of HMGECs and the reversal of MG dropout in MG dysfunction.
How somatic mutations accumulate in normal cells is poorly understood. A comprehensive analysis of RNA sequencing data from ~6700 samples across 29 normal tissues revealed multiple somatic variants, demonstrating that macroscopic clones can be found in many normal tissues. We found that sun-exposed skin, esophagus, and lung have a higher mutation burden than other tested tissues, which suggests that environmental factors can promote somatic mosaicism. Mutation burden was associated with both age and tissue-specific cell proliferation rate, highlighting that mutations accumulate over both time and number of cell divisions. Finally, normal tissues were found to harbor mutations in known cancer genes and hotspots. This study provides a broad view of macroscopic clonal expansion in human tissues, thus serving as a foundation for associating clonal expansion with environmental factors, aging, and risk of disease.
Adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors have emerged as a gene-delivery platform with demonstrated safety and efficacy in a handful of clinical trials for monogenic disorders. However, limitations of the current generation vectors often prevent broader application of AAV gene therapy. Efforts to engineer AAV vectors have been hampered by a limited understanding of the structure-function relationship of the complex multimeric icosahedral architecture of the particle. To develop additional reagents pertinent to further our insight into AAVs, we inferred evolutionary intermediates of the viral capsid using ancestral sequence reconstruction. In-silico-derived sequences were synthesized de novo and characterized for biological properties relevant to clinical applications. This effort led to the generation of nine functional putative ancestral AAVs and the identification of Anc80, the predicted ancestor of the widely studied AAV serotypes 1, 2, 8, and 9, as a highly potent in vivo gene therapy vector for targeting liver, muscle, and retina.
In vivo therapeutic gene transfer has emerged as a novel class of medicines. Its feasibility relies on the safe and efficacious delivery of genetic cargo to the appropriate targets. The adeno-associated virus (AAV) vector manifested itself as a preferred gene delivery vehicle enabling therapeutic gene expression for several clinical indications. Here, we cover the recent trends in AAV capsid engineering to enhance its targeting specificity, safety, and endurance. While each and every desirable trait can be individually remodeled, combining several attributes in one capsid amounts to a significant engineering challenge. Taking advantage of virion structure and phylogenetics, harnessing directed evolution, sequence analyses, and machine learning, researchers develop novel capsid variants to realize the goals of safe and enduring gene therapy.