Transcriptional targeting of acute hypoxia in the tumour stroma is a novel and viable strategy for cancer gene therapy
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Deregulated tumour growth and neovascularization result in an inadequate tumour blood supply, leading to areas of chronic hypoxia and necrosis. Irregular vascular structure and abnormal tumour physiology also cause erratic blood flow in tumour vessels. We reasoned that tumour stroma, including vascular endothelial cells, would consequently experience transient hypoxia that may allow transcriptional targeting as part of an antivascular gene therapy approach to cancer. To exploit hypoxia for transcriptional regulation, retroviral vectors were generated with modified LTRs: a 6-mer of hypoxia response elements in place of the viral enhancer produced near wild-type levels of expression in hypoxia but was functionally inert in normoxia. In a tumour xenograft model, expression was mainly around areas of necrosis, which were shown to be hypoxic; no expression was detected in tumour stroma. Time-course experiments in vitro demonstrated that expression was transient in response to a hypoxic episode, such that a reporter gene would be insensitive to acute hypoxia in vivo. In contrast, a significant therapeutic effect was seen upon ganciclovir administration with a vector expressing thymidine kinase (TK) in the tumour stroma. Expression of TK was more effective when targeted to acute hypoxia in the stroma compared to chronic hypoxia in the poorly vascularized regions of the tumour cell compartment. The data presented here are evidence that hypoxia in the stromal compartment does occur and that transient hypoxia constitutes a valid therapeutic target.
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GENE THERAPY, 2005, 12 pp. 1058 - 1069