Characterization of intravitreally delivered capsid mutant AAV2-Cre vector to induce tissue-specific mutations in murine retinal ganglion cells

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Targeted expression of Cre recombinase in murine retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) by viral vector is an effective strategy for creating tissue-specific gene knockouts for investigation of genetic contribution to RGC degeneration associated with optic neuropathies. Here we characterize dosage, efficacy and toxicity for sufficient intravitreal delivery of a capsid mutant Adeno-associated virus 2 (AAV2) vector encoding Cre recombinase. Wild type and Rosa26 (R26) LacZ mice were intravitreally injected with capsid mutant AAV2 viral vectors. Murine eyes were harvested at intervals ranging from 2 weeks to 15 weeks post-injection and were assayed for viral transduction, transgene expression and RGC survival. 109 vector genomes (vg) were sufficient for effective in vivo targeting of murine ganglion cell layer (GCL) retinal neurons. Transgene expression was observed as early as 2 weeks post-injection of viral vectors and persisted to 11 weeks. Early expression of Cre had no significant effect on RGC survival, while significant RGC loss was detected beginning 5 weeks post-injection. Early expression of viral Cre recombinase was robust, well-tolerated and predominantly found in GCL neurons suggesting this strategy can be effective in short-term RGC-specific mutation studies in experimental glaucoma models such as optic nerve crush and transection experiments. RGC degeneration with Cre expression for more than 4 weeks suggests that Cre toxicity is a limiting factor for targeted mutation strategies in RGCs.Graphical abstractHighlightsAn effective timing and dosage regiment for in vivo targeting of capsid mutant AAV2-Cre viral particles to murine ganglion cell layer retinal neurons is demonstrated.Unintended loxP-independent toxicity is observed in RGCs with long-term Cre expression.Short-term Cre expression strategies targeting adult murine RGCs have no measurable impact on RGC survival within a 4 week time frame.Short-term Cre expression studies can be conducted in tandem with axonal injury rodent models for genetic analysis of optic neuropathies.

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