The cornea is a particularly attractive target for gene therapy designed to improve the outcome of corneal transplantation. First, there is a clear and well-defined clinical need. Second, because donor corneas can be preserved for days if not weeks within an eye bank, ex vivo transduction of a donor cornea can be carried out without the urgency associated with many other forms of transplantation. Finally, the partial sequestration of the eye from the systemic circulation decreases the likelihood of spillover of vector and transgene, and the immune privileged nature of the cornea and anterior segment affords a degree of protection from immune responses directed against the vector. A wide range of vectors has been investigated for gene transfer to the cornea. A number of viral vectors, in particular, have proved to be efficient at transducing the cornea and in association with a variety of transgenes, have been used successfully to prolong corneal allograft survival significantly in animal models. The most suitable such vector for future clinical studies in corneal transplantation has yet to be determined, but the most likely include recombinant adenoviral, adeno-associated viral and lentiviral vectors. In this review, we examine the ability of these viral vectors to transduce the cornea, and summarise those studies in which gene therapy has been used to prolong experimental corneal allograft survival.
Keywords: Corneal transplantation, corneal endothelium, graft rejection, adenoviral vector, adeno-associated viral vector, lentiviral vector, transgene, immunogenicity
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