Recent findings in a clinical trial in which an adeno-associated virus (AAV) vector expressing coagulation factor IX (F.IX) was introduced into the liver of hemophilia B subjects highlighted a new issue previously not identified in animal studies. Upon AAV gene transfer to liver, two subjects enrolled in this trial developed transient elevation of liver enzymes, likely as a consequence of immune rejection of transduced hepatocytes mediated by AAV capsid-specific CD8+ T cells. Studies in healthy donors showed that humans carry a population of antigen-specific memory CD8+ T cells probably arising from wild-type AAV infections. The hypothesis formulated here is that these cells expanded upon re-exposure to capsid, i.e. upon AAV-2 hepatic gene transfer, and cleared AAV epitope-bearing transduced hepatocytes. Other hypotheses have been formulated which include specific receptor-binding properties of AAV-2 capsid, presence of capsidexpressing DNA in AAV vector preparations, and expression of alternative reading frames from the transgene. Absence of a valid animal model has prevented an in-depth mechanistic study of the phenomenon. Several possible solutions to the problem are discussed, including the administration of a short-term anti-T cell immunosuppression regimen concomitant with gene transfer. While more studies will be necessary to further define mechanisms and risks associated with capsidspecific immune responses in humans, monitoring of these responses in clinical trials will be essential to achieving the goal of long-term therapeutic gene transfer in humans.
Keywords: Adeno-associated virus, AAV, immune response, gene therapy, clinical trial, CD8 T cells, capsid, liver
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