Adenoviral vectors are widely used in cancer gene therapy. After systemic administration however, the majority of the virus homes to the liver and the expressed transgene may cause hepatotoxicity. To restrict transgene expression to tumor cells, tumor- or tissue-specific promoters are utilized. The tumor antigen epithelial glycoprotein-2 (EGP-2), also known as Ep-CAM, is expressed in many cancers from different epithelial origins. In this study, the EGP-2 promoter was shown to restrict the expression of luciferase and thymidine kinase in an adenoviral context in different cell lines. In vivo, the EGP-2 promoter mediated efficient expression of luciferase in tumors but showed a 3-log lower activity in liver tissue when compared with the cytomegalovirus (CMV) promoter. Similarly, the EGP-2 promoter mediated specific cell killing after ganciclovir treatment in EGP-2-positive cells. Moreover, in vivo, this treatment regiment did not cause any rise in the liver enzymes aspartate aminotransferase (ASAT) and alanine aminotransferase (ALAT), demonstrating absence of liver toxicity. In contrast, CMV-mediated expression of thymidine kinase in combination with ganciclovir treatment resulted in high ASAT and ALAT values. This study demonstrates the value of the EGP-2 promoter to restrict transgene expression to a broad range of tumor types, thereby preventing liver toxicity.
- Transcriptional retargeting
- Tumor-specific promoter