, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 65-74

Gene delivery to rat enteric neurons using herpes simplex virus-based vectors

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Neurons of the enteric (gut) nervous system can be cultured in vitro and readily survive transplantation into the brain making close connections with host neurons. As such, they could potentially be used to deliver therapeutic gene products to the brain after transduction with appropriate genes in culture. Here the authors report the first example of gene delivery to such cultured neurons using herpes simplex virus based vectors. They show that viruses lacking the immediate early gene encoding ICP27 (which are unable to replicate lytically) can efficiently deliver a marker gene to enteric neurons without producing extensive cellular damage. In contrast, viruses lacking only the viral neurovirulence factor encoded by ICP34.5 are inefficient in gene delivery, and produce extensive cellular damage, although they cannot replicate lytically in enteric neurons. A virus lacking both ICP27 and ICP34.5, however, produces less cellular damage than one lacking only ICP27, and is as efficient in gene transfer, whereas inactivation of VMW65 reduces toxicity further. The identification of this virus as a safe and efficient gene delivery vector for enteric neurons paves the way for the eventual delivery of therapeutic genes and subsequent transplantation of engineered neurons into the CNS.