Scientific reports 2017 03 067(1) 79 doi 10.1038/s41598-017-00152-5
Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) is caused by a lack of dystrophin expression in patient muscle fibres. Current DMD gene therapy strategies rely on the expression of internally deleted forms of dystrophin, missing important functional domains. Viral gene transfer of full-length dystrophin could restore wild-type functionality, although this approach is restricted by the limited capacity of recombinant viral vectors. Lentiviral vectors can package larger transgenes than adeno-associated viruses, yet lentiviral vectors remain largely unexplored for full-length dystrophin delivery. In our work, we have demonstrated that lentiviral vectors can package and deliver inserts of a similar size to dystrophin. We report a novel approach for delivering large transgenes in lentiviruses, in which we demonstrate proof-of-concept for a ‘template-switching’ lentiviral vector that harnesses recombination events during reverse-transcription. During this work, we discovered that a standard, unmodified lentiviral vector was efficient in delivering full-length dystrophin to target cells, within a total genomic load of more than 15,000 base pairs. We have demonstrated gene therapy with this vector by restoring dystrophin expression in DMD myoblasts, where dystrophin was expressed at the sarcolemma of myotubes after myogenic differentiation. Ultimately, our work demonstrates proof-of-concept that lentiviruses can be used for permanent full-length dystrophin gene therapy, which presents a significant advancement in developing an effective treatment for DMD.