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To determine the effects of mitochondrial targeting sequence (MTS) modified AAV gene delivery of wild-type human NADH dehydrogenase subunit 4 (ND4), mutated in most cases of the blinding disease Leber hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON), on the host mouse mitochondrial genome. We injected a modified self-complementary (sc) AAV vector, to which we appended the cytochrome oxidase subunit 8 (COX8) leader to one of the three capsid proteins (VP2) comprising the protein shell of the AAV virion, into the mouse vitreous to deliver the human ND4 gene under the control of a mitochondrial heavy strand promoter (HSP) directly to the mitochondria of the mouse retina. Control viruses consisting of scAAV lacking the COX8 targeting sequence and containing human ND4, or scAAV containing GFP, were also vitreally injected. Using next-generation sequencing of mitochondrial DNA extracted from the pooled mouse retinas of experimental and control eyes, we tested for the presence of the transferred human ND4, and any potential recombination of the transferred human ND4 gene with the endogenous host mitochondrial genome. We found hundreds of human ND4 DNA reads in mitochondrial samples of MTS AAV-ND4-injected eyes, a few human ND4 reads with AAV-ND4 lacking the MTS, and none with AAV-GFP injection. Putative chimeric read pairs at the 5' or 3' ends of human ND4 showed only vector sequences without the flanking mouse sequences expected with homologous recombination of human ND4 with the murine ND4. Examination of mouse mitochondrial ND4 sequences for evidence of intra-molecular small-scale homologous recombination events yielded no significant stretches greater than three to four nucleotides attributable to human ND4. Furthermore, in no instance did human ND4 insert into other non-homologous sites of the 16 kb host mtDNA. Our findings suggest that human ND4 remains episomal in host mitochondria and is not disruptive to any of the endogenous mitochondrial genes of the host genome. Therefore, mitochondrial gene transfer with an MTS-AAV is non-mutagenic and likely to be safe if used to treat LHON patients with mutated ND4.


Hong Yu, Arpit Mehta, Gaofeng Wang, William W Hauswirth, Vince Chiodo, Sanford L Boye, John Guy. Next-generation sequencing of mitochondrial targeted AAV transfer of human ND4 in mice. Molecular vision. 2013;19:1482-91

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PMID: 23869167

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