Hepatocytes are a key target for gene transfer directed at correction of inborn errors of metabolism. The theoretical potential of hepatocyte-directed gene transfer contrasts with the hurdles for clinical translation of this technology. Innate immune responses following gene transfer are initiated by recognition of pathogen-associated molecular patterns by pattern recognition receptors like Toll-like receptors. Adaptive immune responses may constitute the most significant hurdle for efficient gene transfer. Besides the challenge imposed by adaptive immune responses against the vector and the potential problem of pre-existing immunity, immune responses against the transgene product may also constitute an obstacle. The liver is a tolerogenic organ. Naive T cells encounter liver antigens initially in the liver, rather than in lymphoid tissue. Lymph nodes and the spleen are anatomical compartments that provide a particular microarchitecture and microenvironment for the induction of immunity. In contrast, antigen presentation in the liver takes place in a completely different microarchitecture and microenvironment. This is a key aspect of the hepatic adaptive immune tolerance induction. Consistent with the tolerogenic nature of the liver microenvironment, the risk of antibody formation against the transgene product may be limited in the setting of hepatocyte-directed gene transfer and specifically by restricting transgene expression to hepatocytes by use of hepatocyte-specific expression cassettes. However, it is unclear to which extent animal experimental data following gene transfer predict immune responses in humans. Extrapolations from animals to humans are required but should be performed with sufficient insight into the dramatic species differences of the immune system.
Keywords: gene therapy, gene transfer, innate immunity, tolerance, adaptive immunity, liver, Adenoviral vectors, Interleukin (IL)-6, macrophages, hepatocytes
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