Gene transfer into hematopoietic stem cells by cell-free virions is a goal for gene therapy of hematolymphoid disorders. Because the hematopoietic microenvironment provided by the stroma is required for stem cell maintenance both in vivo and in vitro, we reasoned that cell- free transduction of bone marrow cells (BMC) may be aided by stromal support. We used two high-titer replication-defective retroviral vectors to differentially mark progenitor cells. The transducing vector was shown to be a specific DNA fragment by polymerase chain reaction of colony-forming cells derived from progenitors maintained in long-term culture (LTC). BMC were infected separately by cell-free virions with or without pre-established, irradiated, allogeneic stromal layers, and in the presence or absence of exogenous growth factors (GF). The GF assessed were interleukin-3 (IL-3) and IL-6 in combination, leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF), mast cell growth factor (MGF), and LIF and MGF in combination. In addition, we developed a competitive LTC system to directly assess the effect of infection conditions on the transduction of clonogenic progenitors as reflected by the presence of a predominate provirus after maintenance in the same microenvironment. The results show gene transfer into human LTC-initiating cells by cell-free retroviral vector and a beneficial effect of stromal support allowing a transduction efficiency of 64.6% in contrast to 15.8% without a supporting stromal layer. A high transduction rate was achieved independent of stimulation with exogenous GF. We propose that autologous marrow stromal support during the transduction period may have application in clinical gene therapy protocols.

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