Noninvasive, neuron-specific gene therapy can be facilitated by focused ultrasound and recombinant adeno-associated virus

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Recombinant adeno-associated virus (rAAV) has shown great promise as a potential cure for neurodegenerative diseases. The existence of the blood-brain barrier (BBB), however, hinders efficient delivery of the viral vectors. Direct infusion through craniotomy is the most commonly used approach to achieve rAAV delivery, which carries increased risks of infection and other complications. Here, we report a focused ultrasound (FUS)-facilitated noninvasive rAAV delivery paradigm that is capable of producing targeted and neuron-specific transductions. Oscillating ultrasound contrast agents (microbubbles), driven by FUS waves, temporarily ‘unlock’ the BBB, allowing the systemically administrated rAAVs to enter the brain parenchyma, while maintaining their bioactivity and selectivity. Taking the advantage of the neuron-specific promoter synapsin, rAAV gene expression was triggered almost exclusively (95%) in neurons of the targeted caudate-putamen region. Both behavioral assessment and histological examination revealed no significant long-term adverse effects (in the brain and several other critical organs) for this combined treatment paradigm. Results from this study demonstrated the feasibility and safety for the noninvasive, targeted rAAV delivery, which might have open a new avenue in gene therapy in both preclinical and clinical settings.

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