Genetically modified T-Lymphocytes (TLCs) have been used for adoptive immunotherapy in the context of allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (SCT). Infused TLCs have been shown to be susceptible to elimination through exposure to ganciclovir in the event of graft-versus-host disease (GvHD).

Yet, reports on insertional mutagenesis in a mouse gene marking study and a clinical gene therapy trial for X-chromosomal severe combined immunodeficiency (X-SCID) reminded us the actual risk of insertional oncogene activation and subsequent leukemia development.

We investigated retroviral integration sites in vitro and in vivo. Therefore, donor TLCs transduced with the MoLV-based TK/neoR vector Mo3TIN for a clinical HSV-Tk study were examined. TLCs of four different donors as well as whole blood samples of two patients transplanted with donor TLCs were analyzed either using highly sensitive and specific ligation-mediated PCR (LM-PCR).

A total of 114 retroviral integration sites were detected in vitro. 41.2% of all integrations appeared near the transcription start regions (+/−10kb) of genes. Further analysis showed that 57 (50%) of all integrations targeted RefSeq genes. 24 of those appeared in intron 1 (42% of all integrations into genes) while 18% (10/57) of all integrations into genes landed in exon sequences whereas 6 hit the first exon. 18 of the targeted genes (15.8% of all integrations) could be at last assigned to signal transduction pathways, whereas the transcription factor family was afflicted 13 times (11.4% of all integrations). Among the targeted genes we found integrations into the CD8, CD100, CD44, CX3CR1, HLA-DMP and IL10-receptor genes. Within at a range of 5kb up- and 5kb downstream of vector integrations 15 genes were located that were not hit. 5 are known as transcription factors, whereas two of those are involved in leukemia, namely the homo sapiens myeloid/lymphoid or mixed-lineage leukemia 5 gene (MLL5) and the homo sapiens ALL1 fused gene from 5q31 (AF5Q31).

Current analyses are focusing at the in vivo pattern of retroviral integration in DNA of TLCs obtained from transplanted patient’s TLCs. Therefore we developed a new high sensitive PCR method (HS-PCR), an improved LM-PCR to even detect minimal quantities of transduced DNA.

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