The WAS gene is mutated in Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome (WAS) and in X-linked thrombopenia (XLT). These diseases associate platelet defects with variable immune dysfunction, as a result of abnormal signalling and impaired cytoskeletal regulation in hematopoeitic cells. Conceivably, severe forms of WAS could be treated by gene therapy because retroviral or lentiviral-mediated WAS gene transfer restores protein expression and function in several WAS protein-deficient models. The purpose of the present study was to improve the safety and efficacy of such lentiviral vectors. Endogenous WAS promoter elements were used to restrict transgene expression to the target cell population and to provide the possibility of regulated expression in these cells. Sequences 0.5 or 1.6 kb upstream of transcription start, were operational in the transfer vector and restricted transgene expression to hematopoietic cells. Vectors utilizing either one of the WAS promoter sequences or the ubiquitously-active PGK-1, SFFV or EF1-a promoters, were compared. Equivalent levels of WAS protein were induced in lymphocytes and dendritic cells (DC), although slightly inferior mRNA levels were obtained in B cells using WAS promoters. At the functional level, all vectors restored a similar degree of proliferation and IL-2 production in T cells and equivalent numbers of podosome cytoskeletal structures in DC. The 0.5 kb or 1.6 kb-long WAS promoter sequences functioned similarly in WAS B lymphocytes or in a model of WASP-deficient T cells generated by RNA interference. No toxicity was induced by over-expression of these vectors in CD34+ cells. Altogether, the data show that lentiviral vectors with WAS promoters function efficiently in several lineages of patient cells and support further development of a hematopoietic-restricted approach for the gene therapy of WAS.

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