Donor T lymphocytes genetically engineered to express a "suicide gene" to facilitate negative selection represent a promising strategy for the management of graft-versus-host disease occurring after allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT). For this purpose, the herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase (HSV-tk) gene, although well studied, has limitations. Cytosine deaminase (CD), an alternative gene for negative selection, converts 5-fleorocytosine (5-FC) to the toxic metabolite 5-fluorouracil (S-FU). Sensitivity of cells to 5-FU can be further increased by expression of uracil phosphoribosyltransferase (UPRT), which catalyzes the conversion of 5-FU to 5-fluorouritline monophosphate. By using a chimeric gene (NG/CD) expressing the truncated human nerve growth factor receptor (NGFR) for positive selection fused to the Saccharomyces cerevisiae CD gene, we investigated strategies to achieve optimal T cell eradication by CD and UPRT expression, utilizing a single retroviral vector. Three vector strategies were compared on the basis of NGFR expression by flow cytometry, western analysis, and enzymatic activity. A construct (NG/CDiU) expressing UPRT and NG/CD, using a bicistronic message, provided the greatest UPRT activity and killing, reducing the lethal dose of S-FC sufficient to eradicate 90% of cells from 38.7 μg/ml (300 μM) (NG/CD expression alone) to 0.13 μg/ml (1 μM). This approach provides an effective alternative to the HSV-tk system for eradication of donor T lymphocytes after allogeneic HCT.
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