Adeno-Associated Virus Vectors as Therapeutic and Investigational Tools in the Cardiovascular System

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The use of vectors based on the small parvovirus adeno-associated virus has gained significant momentum during the past decade. Their high efficiency of transduction of postmitotic tissues in vivo, such as heart, brain, and retina, renders these vectors extremely attractive for several gene therapy applications affecting these organs. Besides functional correction of different monogenic diseases, the possibility to drive efficient and persistent transgene expression in the heart offers the possibility to develop innovative therapies for prevalent conditions, such as ischemic cardiomyopathy and heart failure. Therapeutic genes are not only restricted to protein-coding complementary DNAs but also include short hairpin RNAs and microRNA genes, thus broadening the spectrum of possible applications. In addition, several spontaneous or engineered variants in the virus capsid have recently improved vector efficiency and expanded their tropism. Apart from their therapeutic potential, adeno-associated virus vectors also represent outstanding investigational tools to explore the function of individual genes or gene combinations in vivo, thus providing information that is conceptually similar to that obtained from genetically modified animals. Finally, their single-stranded DNA genome can drive homology-directed gene repair at high efficiency. Here, we review the main molecular characteristics of adeno-associated virus vectors, with a particular view to their applications in the cardiovascular field.

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