Toward the treatment of osteoarthritis (OA), the authors have been investigating self-complementary adeno-associated virus (scAAV) for intra-articular delivery of therapeutic gene products. As OA frequently affects weight-bearing joints, pharmacokinetic studies of scAAV gene delivery were performed in the joints of the equine forelimb to identify parameters relevant to clinical translation in humans. Using interleukin-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1Ra) as a secreted therapeutic reporter, scAAV vector plasmids containing codon-optimized cDNA for equine IL-1Ra (eqIL-1Ra) were generated, which produced eqIL-1Ra at levels 30-to 50-fold higher than the native sequence. The most efficient cDNA was packaged in AAV2.5 capsid, and following characterization in vitro, the virus was injected into the carpal and metacarpophalangeal joints of horses over a 100-fold dose range. A putative ceiling dose of 5 × 1012 viral genomes was identified that elevated the steady-state eqIL-1Ra in the synovial fluids of injected joints by >40-fold over endogenous levels and was sustained for at least 6 months. No adverse effects were seen, and eqIL-1Ra in serum and urine remained at background levels throughout. Using the 5 × 1012 viral genome dose of scAAV, and green fluorescent protein as a cytologic marker, the local and systemic distribution of vector and transduced cells following intra-articular injection scAAV.GFP were compared in healthy equine joints and in those with late-stage, naturally occurring OA. In both cases, 99.7% of the vector remained within the injected joint. Strikingly, the pathologies characteristic of OA (synovitis, osteophyte formation, and cartilage erosion) were associated with a substantial increase in transgenic expression relative to tissues in healthy joints. This was most notable in regions of articular cartilage with visible damage, where foci of brilliantly fluorescent chondrocytes were observed. Overall, these data suggest that AAV-mediated gene transfer can provide relatively safe, sustained protein drug delivery to joints of human proportions.
- gene therapy
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