Nuclease-Mediated Targeted Gene Insertion at the Adenosine Deaminase Locus in Primary Cells




Checketts, Joshua Allen

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Gene therapy is the ability to correct diseases at the DNA level and has long been a goal of science and medicine. The earliest gene therapy clinical trial was for a patient with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) due to adenosine deaminase (ADA) deficiency. Initial trials looked promising and the technique was extended to other forms of primary immunodeficiency. Unfortunately, some of the patients enrolled in these trials using retroviral vectors to carry replacement genes resulted in insertional oncogenesis. To avoid the insertional oncogenesis caused by random integration into the genome, we postulated that targeted insertion of the gene of interest through homologous recombination would prove to be a safer alternative to random viral insertion of a gene. To this end, we developed several pairs of TAL effector nucleases (TALENs) designed to target exon 1 of ADA. These TALENs function as dimers, and each pair creates a different targeted double strand break near the start site of the ADA gene. The most effective pair induces a DNA double strand break immediately preceding the ADA start codon. Targeted activity of these TALENs was measured through determining the percent of alleles that undergo mutagenic non-homologous end joining upon exposure to the TALENs, with up to 14% of alleles undergoing such mutations. In order to stimulate gene targeting at the ADA locus in human cells, these TALENs were nucleofected into the cells as plasmid DNA, along with a donor plasmid that contains the DNA to be inserted flanked by 800bp arms of homology to the cut site. These TALENs were able to stimulate site-specific integration of the desired fragment at rates of up to 10% in human cell lines. Successful targeted gene insertion was verified through maintained fluorescence, western blots, and sequencing of the targeted alleles through PCR amplification. We demonstrated the ability to enrich for targeted cells through the expression of a selectable marker within the DNA cassette integrated at the ADA locus. In addition to the editing of cell lines, we showed successful stimulation of gene targeting in patient-derived fibroblasts in 1.5% of cells. We demonstrated the feasibility of using the ADA locus as a safe harbor through the targeted insertion of three therapeutically interesting genes. Finally, we demonstrated the successful targeted gene insertion in human CD34+ in up to 0.5% of cells treated. The successful targeting of human CD34+ is especially relevant, as these cells will need to undergo gene targeting in order to be therapeutically relevant as a curative therapy for SCID due to ADA deficiency.

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