Adenovirus vectors have several features that make them attractive for potential use in gene therapy, including a broad tissue tropism and an ability to infect quiescent or postmitotic cells. In light of this, we examined whether recombinant adenovirus vectors could transfer genes into neoplastic cells of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), a leukemia of “resting” B cells. Using high-titer recombinant adenovirus vectors, we found we could transfer genes encoding beta-galactosidase or murine CD80 (B7–1) into the CLL B cells of all patients tested (n = 10). The efficiency of gene transduction into CLL B cells was approximately 100 to 1,000-fold lower than into HeLa cells at any given multiplicity of infection (MOI). At a MOI of 500, 10% to 70% of the CLL B cells from different patients were made to express the transgene, as assessed by multiparameter flow cytometric analysis. Sustained levels of expression with little loss in the percentage of infected cells were maintained for up to 9 days, at which point the analysis was stopped. We found that CLL B cells have markedly lower expression levels of integrins that facilitate internalization of adenovirus particles into target cells, perhaps accounting, in part, for the reduced efficiency of adenovirus-mediated gene transfer compared with that in HeLa cells. Although HeLa cells express high levels of alpha(v)beta5, and detectable amounts of alpha(v)beta3, we find CLL cells from all patients tested express only low amounts of alpha(v)beta3, and no detectable alpha(v)beta5. Activation of CLL cells via CD40 cross-linking enhances expression of alpha(v)beta3, and induces expression of alpha(v)beta5. This phenotypic change is associated with a fivefold increase in the efficiency of adenovirus-mediated gene transfer into such activated CLL B cells. This study demonstrates that adenovirus vectors can transduce genes into CLL B cells and that the efficiency of gene transduction is enhanced by activation via CD40 cross-linking. This is the first demonstration that high proportions of CLL B cells can be made to express a selected transgene, suggesting that such gene transfer methods may become useful for the study of the pathogenesis and/or treatment of this disease.

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