- MOLECULAR THERAPY Journal
- September 2013
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- Preclinical and clinical studies showed that autologous transplantation of epidermis derived from genetically modified epithelial stem cells (EpSCs) leads to long-term correction of inherited skin adhesion defects. These studies were based on potentially genotoxic retroviral vectors. We developed an alternative gene transfer strategy aimed at targeting a "safe harbor" locus, the adeno-associated virus integration site 1 (AAVS1), by zinc-finger nuclease (ZFN)-induced homologous recombination (HR). Delivery of AAVS1-specific ZFNs and a GFP-expressing HR cassette by integration-defective lentiviral (LV) vectors (IDLVs) or adenoviral (Ad) vectors resulted in targeted gene addition with an efficiency of >20% in a human keratinocyte cell line, >10% in immortalized keratinocytes, and <1% in primary keratinocytes. Deep sequencing of the AAVS1 locus showed that ZFN-induced double-strand breaks are mostly repaired by nonhomologous end joining (NHEJ) in primary cells, indicating that poor induction of the HR-dependent DNA repair pathway may be a significant limitation for targeted gene integration. Skin equivalents derived from unselected keratinocyte cultures coinfected with a GFP-IDLV and a ZFN-Ad vector were grafted onto immunodeficient mice. GFP-positive clones were observed in all grafts up to 18 weeks post-transplantation. By histological and molecular analysis, we were able to demonstrate highly efficient targeting of the AAVS1 locus in human repopulating EpSCs.