Gene therapy targeting for hepatocellular carcinoma: selective and enhanced suicide gene expression regulated by a hypoxia-inducible enhancer linked to a human alpha-fetoprotein promoter

A Ido, H Uto, A Moriuchi, K Nagata, Y Onaga, M Onaga, T Hori, S Hirono, K Hayashi, T Tamaoki, H Tsubouchi
Cancer Research 2001 April 1, 61 (7): 3016-21
We previously reported that the retroviral vector expressing the herpes simplex virus-thymidine kinase gene under the control of 0.3-kb human alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) gene promoter (AF0.3) provided the cytotoxicity to ganciclovir (GCV) in high-AFP-producing human hepatoma cells but not in low-AFP-producing cells. Therefore, specific enhancement of AFP promoter activity is likely to be required to induce enough cytotoxicity in low-AFP-producing hepatoma cells. In this study, we constructed a hybrid promoter, [HRE]AF, in which a 0.4-kb fragment of human vascular endothelial growth factor 5'-flanking sequences containing hypoxia-responsive element (HRE) was fused to AF0.3 promoter. By means of the reporter gene transfection assay, hypoxia-inducible transcriptions that were mediated by [HRE]AF promoter were detected in low- and non-AFP-producing human hepatoma cells, but not in nonhepatoma cells. When the herpes simplex virus-thymidine kinase gene controlled by [HRE]AF promoter was transduced into hepatoma and nonhepatoma cells by a retroviral vector, the exposure to 1% O2 induced GCV cytotoxicity specifically in the hepatoma cells. Moreover, in nude mice bearing solid tumor xenografts, only the tumors consisting of the virus-infected hepatoma cells gradually disappeared by GCV administration. These results indicate that the hypoxia-inducible enhancer of the human vascular endothelial growth factor gene, which is directly linked to human AFP promoter, involves selective and enhanced tumoricidal activity in gene therapy for hepatocellular carcinoma.

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