Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are known to have a tendency to accumulate at the site of tumors, and therefore can be utilized as a platform for targeted delivery of anti-cancer agents. The MSC-based targeted cancer gene therapy can enhance the therapeutic efficacy, because MSCs are considered to reach tumors including metastatic lesions and to deliver therapeutic molecules in a concentrated fashion. This targeted therapy can also reduce systemic adverse side effects, because the anti-cancer agents act locally at the site of tumors without elevating their systemic concentrations. In the present study, we developed genetically-modified MSCs that produce retroviral vectors encoding HSVtk, aiming at augmenting therapeutic efficacy of systemic suicide cancer gene therapy. The tumor tropism and anti-tumor effects of vector-producing MSCs (VP-MSCs) were examined by intravascular injection in tumor-bearing nude mice. MSCs isolated from the bone marrow of SD rats were transfected with plasmid DNA expressing luciferase alone (=non-VP-MSCs) or whole retroviral vector components (LTR-Luc or LTR-HSVtk with Gag-pol and VSV-G) (=VP-MSCs) by nucleofection. To assess tumor tropism of MSCs, nude mice were subcutaneously inoculated with 9L rat glioma cells or Rat-1 fibroblasts, and were subsequently injected with luciferase-expressing MSCs through the left ventricular cavity. The transgene expression was periodically traced by using an in vivo imaging system. As a result, the transgene expression accumulated at the site of subcutaneous 9L tumors, but undetectable at the site of Rat-1 fibroblasts. In addition, the injection of luciferase-expressing VP-MSCs caused much stronger signal of bioluminescence at the site of 9L tumors compared with luciferease-expressing non-VP-MSCs. Immunostaining study showed that luciferase-positive cells (injected MSCs and transduced glioma cells) were detected at the periphery of tumors. To evaluate the therapeutic efficacy, tumor-bearing nude mice were treated with non-VP-MSCs or VP-MSCs combined with HSVtk/GCV system and then the size of subcutaneous tumors was periodically measured. In this model experiments, tumor growth was more efficiently suppressed by injecting VP-MSCs compared with non-VP-MSCs. The present study suggests the effectiveness of VP-MSCs in suicide cancer gene therapy. The therapeutic benefit of this strategy should be further examined in orthotopic and metastatic tumor models.

Author notes

Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.