Recombinant DNA-carrier proteins with improved intracellular trafficking capabilities for nonviral gene delivery
- Safety concerns associated with the use of viral vectors in gene therapy applications have attracted considerable attention towards the development of nonviral vectors as alternatives for DNA delivery. While nonviral vectors are commonly not associated with safety problems, they are still very inefficient compared to viral vectors, and require significant improvements to approach the efficiency of their viral counterparts. Meanwhile ligands or single-chain antibody fragments that bind to cell surface receptors for increased and/or specific cellular uptake, endosome escape activities, and nuclear localization sequences (NLSs) to enhance transport of plasmid DNA into the nucleus, have become available that can be incorporated into nonviral vectors to improve their efficacy. However, as gene delivery is a multistep process, the challenge is to incorporate multiple of these functional elements into a single nonviral vector system, while retaining their specific activities. A promising method to attach such entities to plasmid DNA is the use of multifunctional fusion proteins that bind to DNA through a DNA-binding domain. In principle, two types of DNA-binding domains/proteins can be used to anchor additional functional domains or peptides to a plasmid, namely sequence-specific DNA-binding domains, described in the first part of this thesis, or those that bind DNA independent of its sequence, exemplified in the second part of this work by a derivative of the human HMGB2 protein. The first fusion protein constructed and analyzed contained the E. coli LexA repressor as a sequence-specific DNA-binding domain. In addition, this DNA-carrier protein, termed TEL, included a bacterial translocation domain as an integrated endosome escape activity, and human TGF-a for specific targeting to the EGF-receptor (EGFR). TEL was expressed in E. coli and purified under both native and denaturing conditions. Purified, denatured TEL was refolded and subsequently shown to bind specifically to EGFR-expressing cells. However, inclusion of TEL in complexes of plasmid DNA and poly-L-lysine (pL) did not lead to increased gene delivery into EGFR-expressing COS-1 cells. Most likely this was due to the absence of DNA-binding activity of the LexA moiety in TEL. In contrast, native TEL was able to interact specifically with DNA. Nevertheless, since this interaction was rather weak, and refolding of denatured TEL had not resulted in functional activity of all of its protein domains, it seemed unlikely that fusion proteins containing LexA would exhibit gene transfer capabilities superior to those of similar DNA-carrier proteins previously constructed in our group. Further work therefore focused on the use of the E2C-Sp1C protein as an alternative sequencespecific DNA-binding domain. This artificial zinc-finger protein was fused to the single-chain antibody fragment scFv(FRP5), directed against the human ErbB2 growth factor receptor. The resulting 5-E2C fusion protein was expressed in E. coli and purified under native and denaturing conditions. Refolded and native 5-E2C were found to bind specifically to ErbB2-expressing cells, indicating that scFv(FRP5) in 5-E2C was functional in both preparations. In contrast, whereas refolded 5-E2C bound DNA only weakly, significant DNA binding was observed for native 5-E2C. In addition, it could not only be shown that the interaction of native 5-E2C with DNA containing its recognition sequence was specific, but also that this protein was able to bind DNA and recombinant ErbB2 simultaneously, demonstrating the functionality of both domains in native 5-E2C. Despite these encouraging results, the inclusion of native 5-E2C in pL- or polyethyleneimine (PEI)-DNA complexes did not lead to an (5-E2C-specific) enhancement of gene transfer efficiency, irrespective of the presence of the endosome-disruptive reagent chloroquine during transfection. In the second part of this thesis an alternative approach for the development of DNA-carrier proteins for nonviral gene delivery is described, based on human HMGB2, a DNA-binding protein without sequence specificity. HMGB2 contains an acidic C-terminus that has been found to decrease the affinity of the protein for DNA. Therefore, this C-terminal tail was deleted, resulting in an HMGB2-variant consisting of amino acids 1-186. HMGB2186, purified under native conditions from E. coli lysates, was able to interact with DNA and bound to the surface of different cell lines. Importantly, after binding to plasmid DNA HMGB2186 mediated gene delivery into COS-7 cells with higher efficiency than pL. In addition, HMGB2186-mediated gene transfer was strongly enhanced in the presence of chloroquine, indicating that the endocytic pathway was involved in cellular uptake. To improve internalization and intracellular routing of HMGB2186 as a DNA-carrier, a derivative containing the TAT47-57 cell-penetrating peptide (CPP), reported to facilitate cell entry independent of endocytosis, was constructed. Since this peptide also contains an NLS, in addition an HGMB2186-variant containing the SV40-NLS was constructed to investigate the effect of a peptide that has only nuclear localizing properties. Interestingly, the resulting TAT-HMGB2186 and SV40-HMGB2186 fusion proteins displayed DNA-binding activities similar to HMGB2186, but mediated gene delivery into different cell lines clearly more efficiently than the parental molecule. Furthermore, the efficacy of both fusion proteins was enhanced markedly in the presence of chloroquine, an indication that endocytosis was involved in the transfection process mediated by these proteins. This suggests that the increased transfection efficiency observed for TAT-HMGB2186 was more likely due to the NLS function present in the TAT47-57 peptide, rather than to its ‘cell penetrating properties’. Finally, the incorporation of functional peptides derived from human proteins into HMGB2186 was investigated. An uncharged CPP originating from Kaposi-FGF, reported to facilitate efficient cellular uptake of fused protein domains in an endocytosis-independent manner, was fused to HMGB2186 together with the SV40-NLS. Interestingly, the resulting KSV40-HMGB2186 fusion protein bound DNA similarly as previously tested DNA-carrier proteins, but did not mediate enhanced transfection compared to HMGB2186. In addition, the importin-b-binding (IBB) domain derived from human importin-a2 was investigated as a component of a DNA-carrier protein. Since the IBB domain can function as an NLS, it was fused to HMGB2186 resulting in the DNA-carrier protein IBBHMGB2186. Although IBB-HMGB2186 bound DNA in a similar manner as the other HMGB2186-derivatives, gene delivery mediated by IBB-HMGB2186 was only as effective as HMGB2186 mediated transfection, suggesting no significant role of the IBB domain. However, addition of chloroquine resulted in a remarkable enhancement of IBB-HMGB2186-mediated gene transfer, which was now more efficient than with any other HMGB2186-variant tested, and not much lower than gene transfer mediated by PEI, one of the most efficient transfection reagents available to date. To enhance nonviral gene delivery even further, the HMGB2186-based DNA-carrier proteins described in this thesis might now serve as building blocks for novel fusion proteins that include additional complementing activities. In this respect it seems particularly promising that, under conditions of effective end some escape, IBB-HMGB2186, which consists entirely of protein domains of human origin, was the most efficient of all proteins tested in this work.
Target-specific glioma therapy in an immunocompetent mouse model : meeting abstract
- Objective: Establishment of an immunocompetent mouse model representing the typical progressive stages observed in malignant human gliomas for the in vivo evaluation of novel target-specific regimens. Methods: Isolated clones from tumours that arose spontaneously in GFAP-v-src transgenic mice were used to develop a transplantable brain tumour model in syngeneic B6C3F1 mice. STAT3 protein was knocked down by infection of tumour cells with replication-defective lentivirus encoding STAT3-siRNA. Apoptosis is designed to be induced by soluble recombinant TRAIL + chemical Bcl-2/Bcl-xL inhibitors. Results: Striatal implantation of 105 mouse tumour cells resulted in the robust development of microscopically (2 – 3 mm) infiltrating malignant gliomas. Immunohistochemically, the gliomas displayed the astroglial marker GFAP and the oncogenic form of STAT3 (Tyr-705-phosphorylated) which is found in many malignancies including gliomas. Phosphorylated STAT3 was particularly prominent in the nucleus but was also found at the plasma membrane of peripherally infiltrating glioma cells. To evaluate the role of STAT3 in tumour progression, we stably expressed siRNA against STAT3 in several murine glioma cell lines. The effect of STAT3 depletion on proliferation, invasion and survival will be first assessed in vitro and subsequently after transplantation in vivo. Upstream and downstream components of the STAT3 signalling pathway as well as possible non-specific side effects of STAT3-siRNA expression after lentiviral infection will be examined, too. Conclusions: Its high rate of engraftment, its similarity to the malignant glioma of origin, and its rapid locally invasive growth should make this murine model useful in testing novel therapies for malignant gliomas.
Chimeric carrier proteins for targeted delivery of tumor antigens to professional antigen presenting cells
Winfried S. Wels
- Tumor-specific T lymphocytes can be regarded as a highly effective mechanism for tumor rejection. A substantial number of T-cell defined tumor antigens including mutated oncoproteins and differentiation antigens have been identified. However, while most spontaneous tumors appear to be antigenic, few are immunogenic. Activation of tumor-specific cytotoxic T cells (CTL) requires presentation of tumor antigens by professional antigen presenting cells (APCs) via MHC I molecules. Due to their crucial role in T-cell activation, APCs are being exploited for active cancer immunotherapy. Present experimental strategies include the incubation of dendritic cells with synthetic, tumor specific peptides to achieve uptake of tumor antigens and presentation in the context of MHC molecules. Alternatively, gene therapeutic approaches are aimed at the endogenous expression of tumor antigens in APCs upon transfer of suitable vector constructs. Our strategy for the presentation of tumor antigens by APCs is based on the intracellular delivery of tumor antigens as part of a fusion protein specifically targeted to APC cell surface receptors. We have constructed prototype molecules that contain a soluble fragment of CTLA-4 for cell binding via interaction with B7 molecules, genetically fused to a protein fragment derived from the tumor-associated antigen ErbB2. To improve uptake and direct the antigenic determinant preferentially to the MHC class I pathway, in one of these protein vaccines also the translocation domain of the bacterial Pseudomonas exotoxin A has been included. In the parental toxin this protein domain facilitates escape from the endosomal compartment to the cytosol upon receptor mediated endocytosis. Here we have investigated the in vitro cell binding activity of such reagents and their antitumoral activity in immunocompetent murine model systems. Specific binding to B7 molecules and uptake of bacterially expressed protein vaccines could be demonstrated. Ex vivo restimulation with an ErbB2-derived peptide of splenocytes from Balb/c mice injected with the fusion proteins resulted in enhanced IFN-gamma production by T cells. Protective and therapeutic effects of ErbB2 protein vaccines were also investigated. Vaccinated animals were protected against subsequent challenge with syngeneic ErbB2 expressing tumor cells. Likewise, s.c. injection of ErbB2 protein vaccines in the vicinity of established tumors resulted in tumor rejection and long lasting protection indicating that immunological memory was induced. Our results suggest that chimeric proteins combining a tumor antigen and specific recognition of APCs in a single molecule are suitable for targeted delivery of antigens to professional APCs and might become valuable tools for cancer immunotherapy.
Phage display selection of HIV specific conserved mimotopes with IgG from long-term non-progressors
- Poster presentation Background The aim of this study is to identify conserved epitopes of HIV-1 neutralizing antibodies in polyclonal plasma from LTNP to finally derive vaccine candidates. Materials and methods The presence of neutralizing antibodies in 9 LTNP sera was proved by in vitro neutralization assays. Phage displayed peptide libraries were screened with LTNP IgG. HIV-specific mimotopes were analyzed for homology to the gp120 structure by a software (3DEX) especially developed for this purpose. Mice were immunized with interesting phages and their sera were analyzed for neutralizing activities against HIV-1. Results After biopannings, between 19% and 75% HIV-specific phage clones were identified by ELISA. Mimotope sequences were identified and could be aligned by 3DEX to linear or conformational epitopes on gp120. A peptide specific immune response was detected in sera of immunized mice. The first mice sera analyzed showed neutralizing activities against HIV-1. Conclusion Mimotopes could be selected from LTNP sera that represent conformational epitopes on gp120. Those ones inducing neutralizing antibodies upon immunization potentially are suited to derive vaccine candidates.
Optimization and antiviral analysis of peptide ligands for the HIV-1 packaging signal PSI
- Oral presentations Background: We selected peptide ligands for the HIV-1 packaging signal PSI by screening phage displayed peptide libraries. Peptide ligands were optimized by screening spot synthesis peptide membranes. The aim of this study is the functional characterization of these peptide ligands with respect to inhibition of HIV-1 replication. Methods: Phage displayed peptide libraries were screened with PSI-RNA structures. The Trp-rich peptide motifs were optimized for specific binding on spot synthesis peptide membranes. The best binding peptide was expressed intracellularly in fusion with RFP or linked to a protein transduction domain (PTD) for intracellular delivery. The effects on virion production were analyzed using pseudotyped lentiviral particles. Results: After positive and negative selection rounds, phages binding specifically to PSI-RNA were identified by ELISA. Peptide inserts contained conserved motifs of aromatic amino acids known to be implicated in binding of PSI-RNA by the natural Gag ligand. The filter assay identified HKWPWW as the best binding ligand for PSI-RNA, which is delivered into several cell lines by addition of a PTD. Compared to a control peptide, the HKWPWW peptide inhibited HIV-1 replication as deduced from reduced titers of culture supernatants. As HKWPWW also binds to the TAR-RNA like the natural nucleocapsid PSI-RNA ligand, the effect on Tat-TAR inhibition will also be analyzed. Currently T-cell lines are established which stably express HKWPWW as well as a control peptide, which will be infected with HIV-1 to monitor the ability of HKWPWW to inhibit wild type HIV-1 replication. Conclusion: The selection of a peptide ligand for PSI-RNA able to inhibit HIV-1 replication proves the suitability of the phage display technology for the selection of peptides binding to RNA-structures. This enables the indentification of peptides serving as leads to interfere with additional targets in the HIV-1 replication cycle.
Epigenetic aberrations and cancer
Mark A. Brown
- The correlation between epigenetic aberrations and disease underscores the importance of epigenetic mechanisms. Here, we review recent findings regarding chromatin modifications and their relevance to cancer.
Enzymatic and antisense effects of a specific anti-Ki-ras ribozyme in vitro and in cell culture
Claudio Detlef Giannini
W. Kurt Roth
- Due to their mode of action, ribozymes show antisense effects in addition to their specific cleavage activity. In the present study we investigated whether a hammerhead ribozyme is capable of cleaving mutated Ki-ras mRNA in a pancreatic carcinoma cell line and whether antisense effects contribute to the activity of the ribozyme. A 2[prime]-O-allyl modified hammerhead ribozyme was designed to cleave specifically the mutated form of the Ki-ras mRNA (GUU motif in codon 12). The activity was monitored by RT-PCR on Ki-ras RNA expression by determination of the relative amount of wild type to mutant Ki-ras mRNA, by 5-bromo-2[prime]-deoxy-uridine incorporation on cell proliferation and by colony formation in soft agar on malignancy in the human pancreatic adenocarcinoma cell line CFPAC-1, which is heterozygous for the Ki-ras mutation. A catalytically inactive ribozyme was used as control to differentiate between antisense and cleavage activity and a ribozyme with random guide sequences as negative control. The catalytically active anti-Ki-ras ribozyme was at least 2-fold more potent in decreasing cellular Ki-ras mRNA levels, inhibiting cell proliferation and colony formation in soft agar than the catalytically inactive ribozyme. The catalytically active anti-Ki-ras ribozyme, but not the catalytically inactive or random ribozyme, increased the ratio of wild type to mutated Ki-ras mRNA in CFPAC-1 cells. In conclusion, both cleavage activity and antisense effects contribute to the activity of the catalytically active anti-Ki-ras hammerhead ribozyme. Specific ribozymes might be useful in the treatment of pancreatic carcinomas containing an oncogenic GTT mutation in codon 12 of the Ki-ras gene.
Assessment of HIV-1 entry inhibitors by MLV/HIV-1 pseudotyped vectors
Barbara S. Schnierle
- Background: Murine leukemia virus (MLV) vector particles can be pseudotyped with a truncated variant of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) envelope protein (Env) and selectively target gene transfer to human cells expressing both CD4 and an appropriate co-receptor. Vector transduction mimics the HIV-1 entry process and is therefore a safe tool to study HIV-1 entry. Results: Using FLY cells, which express the MLV gag and pol genes, we generated stable producer cell lines that express the HIV-1 envelope gene and a retroviral vector genome encoding the green fluorescent protein (GFP). The BH10 or 89.6 P HIV-1 Env was expressed from a bicistronic vector which allowed the rapid selection of stable cell lines. A codon-usage-optimized synthetic env gene permitted high, Rev-independent Env expression. Vectors generated by these producer cells displayed different sensitivity to entry inhibitors. Conclusion: These data illustrate that MLV/HIV-1 vectors are a valuable screening system for entry inhibitors or neutralizing antisera generated by vaccines.
Bispecific costimulatory molecules for activation of tumor-killing lymphocytes
Winfried S. Wels
- The receptor tyrosine kinase ErbB2 (HER2) is overexpressed in multiple human tumors of epithelial origin. High ErbB2 expression is functionally involved in tumorigenesis and correlates with poor clinical prognosis. For immunotherapy of ErbB2 expressing tumors, we developed a strategy to supply the tumor cells with costimulatory activity. A bispecific fusion protein was constructed (BIg5), containing the IgV-like domain of huCD86, the CH2/CH3 domain of huIgG1 and the ErbB2-specific single chain antibody fragment scFv(FRP5). A similar fusion protein lacking the CD86 domain (Ig5) was used as a control. Upon binding of BIg5 to ErbB2 on tumor cells, these cells display CD86 on their surface and thus can deliver costimulatory signals for T-cell activation. In addition, NK cells could be activated by CD86 binding to CD28. BIg5 is secreted by eukaryotic cells as a homodimer with increased stability compared to monomers and possibly enhanced costimulatory activity due to crosslinking of CD28 on effector cells. By FACS analysis, specific binding of the scFv(FRP5) domain to ErbB2 as well as CD86 IgV binding to CTLA-4 could be demonstrated. Together with anti-CD3 antibody, BIg5 stimulates proliferation of human CD2-purified lymphocytes in vitro. After binding to ErbB2 on murine Renca-lacZ/ErbB2 tumor cells, about 50% of initially bound BIg5 is still present on the cell surface after 4 hours. For delivery of chimeric fusion proteins in vivo, we used syngeneic, stably transfected HC11 mammary epithelial cells continuously secreting the proteins. Inoculation of these bystander cells close to subcutaneously growing Renca-lacZ/ErbB2 tumors should provide a long-lasting source to achieve high local concentrations of BIg5 at the tumor site. In vivo HC11-BIg5 cells proved to be non-tumorigenic and secreted BIg5 for several weeks, causing a strong anti-BIg5 antibody response. Treatment of established Renca-lacZ/ErbB2 or ErbB2-negative Renca-lacZ tumors by peritumoral inoculation of either HC11-BIg5 or HC11-Ig5 cells led to rejection of all Renca-lacZ/ErbB2, but none of the Renca-lacZ tumors. HC11neo control cells had no effect on tumor growth. Rejection of ErbB2+ tumors led to long-term protection also against subsequent challenge with intravenously injected ErbB2- tumor cells. Intraperitoneal injection of bystander cells secreting the fusion proteins did not lead to tumor regression suggesting that high local concentrations at the tumor site are necessary to target ErbB2 on tumor cells and to overcome elimination of BIg5 or Ig5 by neutralizing antibodies. The CD86 IgV domain of BIg5 did not play a major role in the observed antitumoral immune response suggesting NK-cell mediated ADCC as the initial effector mechanism followed by activation of tumor specific T cells. Targeting of ErbB2 on tumor cells with antibody fusion proteins that interact specifically with the host immune system could be an efficient and specific approach for therapy of solid ErbB2+ tumors.
Phase I clinical study of the recombinant antibody toxin scFv(FRP5)-ETA specific for the ErbB2/HER2 receptor in patients with advanced solid malignomas
Gunter von Minckwitz
Alexander B. Maurer
Winfried S. Wels
- Introduction: ScFv(FRP5)-ETA is a recombinant antibody toxin with binding specificity for ErbB2 (HER2). It consists of an N-terminal single-chain antibody fragment (scFv), genetically linked to truncated Pseudomonas exotoxin A (ETA). Potent antitumoral activity of scFv(FRP5)-ETA against ErbB2-overexpressing tumor cells was previously demonstrated in vitro and in animal models. Here we report the first systemic application of scFv(FRP5)-ETA in human cancer patients. Methods: We have performed a phase I dose-finding study, with the objective to assess the maximum tolerated dose and the dose-limiting toxicity of intravenously injected scFv(FRP5)-ETA. Eighteen patients suffering from ErbB2-expressing metastatic breast cancers, prostate cancers, head and neck cancer, non small cell lung cancer, or transitional cell carcinoma were treated. Dose levels of 2, 4, 10, 12.5, and 20 μg/kg scFv(FRP5)-ETA were administered as five daily infusions each for two consecutive weeks. Results: No hematologic, renal, and/or cardiovascular toxicities were noted in any of the patients treated. However, transient elevation of liver enzymes was observed, and considered dose limiting, in one of six patients at the maximum tolerated dose of 12.5 μg/kg, and in two of three patients at 20 μg/kg. Fifteen minutes after injection, peak concentrations of more than 100 ng/ml scFv(FRP5)-ETA were obtained at a dose of 10 μg/kg, indicating that predicted therapeutic levels of the recombinant protein can be applied without inducing toxic side effects. Induction of antibodies against scFv(FRP5)-ETA was observed 8 days after initiation of therapy in 13 patients investigated, but only in five of these patients could neutralizing activity be detected. Two patients showed stable disease and in three patients clinical signs of activity in terms of signs and symptoms were observed (all treated at doses ≥ 10 μg/kg). Disease progression occurred in 11 of the patients. Conclusion: Our results demonstrate that systemic therapy with scFv(FRP5)-ETA can be safely administered up to a maximum tolerated dose of 12.5 μg/kg in patients with ErbB2-expressing tumors, justifying further clinical development.