Herpesvirus microRNAs for use in gene therapy immune-evasion strategies

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Transplantation of allogeneic cells as well as of genetically corrected autologous cells are potent approaches to restore cellular functions in patients suffering from genetic diseases. The recipient's immune responses against non-self-antigens may compromise the survival of the grafted cells. Recipients of the graft may therefore require lifelong treatment with immunosuppressive drugs. An alternative approach to reduce graft rejection could involve the use of immune-evasion molecules. Expression of such molecules in cells of the graft may subvert recognition by the host's immune system. Viruses in particular are masters of exploitation and modulation of their hosts immune response. The Herpesviridae family provides a proof of concept for this as these viruses are capable to establish latency and a lifelong persistence in the infected hosts. While several viral proteins involved in immune evasion have been characterized, the Herpesviridae also encode a multitude of viral microRNA (miRNAs). Several of these miRNAs have been demonstrated to reduce the sensitivity of the infected cells to the destructive action of the host's immune cells. In this review, the miRNAs of some common herpesviruses that are associated with immune modulation will be discussed with a focus on their potential use in strategies aiming at generating non-immunogenic cells for transplantation.

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