Development of an in vitro genotoxicity assay to detect retroviral vector-induced lymphoid insertional mutants

Safety assessment in retroviral vector-mediated gene therapy remains challenging. In clinical trials for different blood and immune disorders, insertional mutagenesis led to myeloid and lymphoid leukemia. We previously developed the In Vitro Immortalization Assay (IVIM) and Surrogate Assay for Genotoxicity Assessment (SAGA) for pre-clinical genotoxicity prediction of integrating vectors. Murine hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (mHSPCs) transduced with mutagenic vectors acquire a proliferation advantage under limiting dilution (IVIM) and activate stem cell- and cancer-related transcriptional programs (SAGA). However, both assays present an intrinsic myeloid bias due to culture conditions. To detect lymphoid mutants, we differentiated mHSPCs to mature T cells and analyzed their phenotype, insertion site pattern, and gene expression changes after transduction with retroviral vectors. Mutagenic vectors induced a block in differentiation at an early progenitor stage (double-negative 2) compared to fully differentiated untransduced mock cultures. Arrested samples harbored high-risk insertions close to Lmo2, frequently observed in clinical trials with severe adverse events. Lymphoid insertional mutants displayed a unique gene expression signature identified by SAGA. The gene expression-based highly sensitive molecular readout will broaden our understanding of vector-induced oncogenicity and help in pre-clinical prediction of retroviral genotoxicity.


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