Targeted retroviral gene delivery using ultrasound

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Achieving specificity of delivery represents a major problem limiting the clinical application of retroviral vectors for gene therapy, whilst lack of efficiency and longevity of gene expression limit non-viral techniques. Ultrasound and microbubble contrast agents can be used to effect plasmid DNA delivery. We therefore sought to evaluate the potential for ultrasound/microbubble-mediated retroviral gene delivery.


An envelope-deficient retroviral vector, inherently incapable of target cell entry, was combined with cationic microbubbles and added to target cells. The cells were exposed to pulsed 1 MHz ultrasound for 5 s and subsequently analysed for marker gene expression. The acoustic pressure profile of the ultrasound field, to which transduction efficiency was related, was determined using a needle hydrophone.


Ultrasound-targeted gene delivery to a restricted area of cells was achieved using virus-loaded microbubbles. Gene delivery efficiency was up to 2% near the beam focus. Significant transduction was restricted to areas exposed to ≥ 0.4 MPa peak-negative acoustic pressure, despite uniform application of the vector. An acoustic pressure-dependence was demonstrated that can be exploited for targeted retroviral transduction. The mechanism of entry likely involves membrane perturbation in the vicinity of oscillating microbubbles, facilitating fusion of the viral and cell membranes.


We have established the basis of a novel retroviral vector technology incorporating favourable aspects of existing viral and non-viral gene delivery vectors. In particular, transduction can be controlled by means of ultrasound exposure. The technology is ideally suited to targeted delivery following systemic vector administration. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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