Part II: Functional delivery of a neurotherapeutic gene to neural stem cells using minicircle DNA and nanoparticles: Translational advantages for regenerative neurology

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Both neurotrophin-based therapy and neural stem cell (NSC)-based strategies have progressed to clinical trials for treatment of neurological diseases and injuries. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in particular can confer neuroprotective and neuro-regenerative effects in preclinical studies, complementing the cell replacement benefits of NSCs. Therefore, combining both approaches by genetically-engineering NSCs to express BDNF is an attractive approach to achieve combinatorial therapy for complex neural injuries. Current genetic engineering approaches almost exclusively employ viral vectors for gene delivery to NSCs though safety and scalability pose major concerns for clinical translation and applicability. Magnetofection, a non-viral gene transfer approach deploying magnetic nanoparticles and DNA with magnetic fields offers a safe alternative but significant improvements are required to enhance its clinical application for delivery of large sized therapeutic plasmids. Here, we demonstrate for the first time the feasibility of using minicircles with magnetofection technology to safely engineer NSCs to overexpress BDNF. Primary mouse NSCs overexpressing BDNF generated increased daughter neuronal cell numbers post-differentiation, with accelerated maturation over a four-week period. Based on our findings we highlight the clinical potential of minicircle/magnetofection technology for therapeutic delivery of key neurotrophic agents.Graphical abstractGenetic engineering of neural stem cell transplant populations to overexpress brain derived neurotrophic factor using minicircle DNA vectors and nanoparticle vehicles appears feasible and safe. The procedure results in enhanced genesis of neurons and neuronal maturation.

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