MicroRNA silencing improves the tumor specificity of adenoviral transgene expression

P. B. Card, R. T. Hogg, C. R. Gil Del Alcazar, R. D. Gerard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Adenoviral technology has been thoroughly evaluated for delivering genetic material to tumor tissue and the surrounding microenvironment. Almost any gene can be cloned into an adenovirus (Ad) vector, which when combined with strong, constitutively active promoters permit up to a million-fold amplification of the transgene in a single adenoviral particle, thus facilitating their use in cancer therapy and imaging. However, widespread infection of the liver and other non-targeted tissues by Ad vectors is a substantial problem that often results in significant liver inflammation and hepatotoxicity at doses required to achieve efficient tumor transduction. miR-122 is a highly expressed liver-specific microRNA (miRNA) that provides a unique opportunity for downregulating adenoviral transgene expression in liver tissue. The binding of endogenous miRNAs to complementary miRNA-targeting elements (miRTs) incorporated into the 3′ untranslated region of adenoviral transgenes interferes with message stability and/or protein translation, and miRT elements against miR-122 (miRT-122) can selectively reduce adenoviral transgene expression in the liver. Previous studies using miR-122-based regulation, with and without other types of transcriptional targeting, have yielded promising preliminary results. However, investigations to date evaluating miRT-122 elements for improving tumor specificity have used either non-tumor-bearing animals or direct intratumoral injection as the mode of delivery. In the present study, we confirmed the ability of miRT-122 sequences to selectively downregulate adenoviral luciferase expression in the liver in vitro and in vivo, and show that this strategy can improve tumor-specific transgene expression in a HT1080 human fibrosarcoma model. Rapid growth and the inefficient flow of blood through tumor neovasculature often results in profound hypoxia, which provides additional opportunities for targeting solid tumors and their microenvironment using vectors incorporating hypoxia-responsive promoters to drive transgene expression. We therefore used a combinatorial approach using miRT-122 elements with hypoxia-responsive transcriptional targeting to further improve the tumor-specific expression of an adenoviral reporter gene. Results from this investigation reveal that miRT122 elements alone decrease off-target liver expression and improve tumor specificity of adenoviral vectors. Furthermore, increased tumor specificity can be achieved by combining miRT-122 elements with hypoxia-responsive promoters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)451-459
Number of pages9
JournalCancer Gene Therapy
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2012


  • adenovirus vector
  • hypoxia
  • microRNA
  • tumor targeting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cancer Research


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