Ex vivo nonviral gene delivery of μ-opioid receptor to attenuate cancer-induced pain

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Virus-mediated gene delivery shows promise for the treatment of chronic pain. However, viral vectors have cytotoxicity. To avoid toxicities and limitations of virus-mediated gene delivery, we developed a novel nonviral hybrid vector: HIV-1 Tat peptide sequence modified with histidine and cysteine residues combined with a cationic lipid. The vector has high transfection efficiency with little cytotoxicity in cancer cell lines including HSC-3 (human tongue squamous cell carcinoma) and exhibits differential expression in HSC-3 (∼45-fold) relative to HGF-1 (human gingival fibroblasts) cells. We used the nonviral vector to transfect cancer with OPRM1, the μ-opioid receptor gene, as a novel method for treating cancer-induced pain. After HSC-3 cells were transfected with OPRM1, a cancer mouse model was created by inoculating the transfected HSC-3 cells into the hind paw or tongue of athymic mice to determine the analgesic potential of OPRM1 transfection. Mice with HSC-3 tumors expressing OPRM1 demonstrated significant antinociception compared with control mice. The effect was reversible with local naloxone administration. We quantified β-endorphin secretion from HSC-3 cells and showed that HSC-3 cells transfected with OPRM1 secreted significantly more β-endorphin than control HSC-3 cells. These findings indicate that nonviral delivery of the OPRM1 gene targeted to the cancer microenvironment has an analgesic effect in a preclinical cancer model, and nonviral gene delivery is a potential treatment for cancer pain.

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