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Retinal gene therapy with a large MYO7A cDNA using adeno-associated virus

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Usher 1 patients are born profoundly deaf and then develop retinal degeneration. Thus they are readily identified before the onset of retinal degeneration, making gene therapy a viable strategy to prevent their blindness. Here, we have investigated the use of adeno-associated viruses (AAVs) for the delivery of the Usher 1B gene, MYO7A, to retinal cells in cell culture and in Myo7a-null mice. MYO7A cDNA, under control of a smCBA promoter, was packaged in single AAV2 and AAV5 vectors and as two overlapping halves in dual AAV2 vectors. The 7.9-kb smCBA-MYO7A exceeds the capacity of an AAV vector; packaging of such oversized constructs into single AAV vectors may involve fragmentation of the gene. Nevertheless, the AAV2 and AAV5 single vector preparations successfully transduced photoreceptor and retinal pigment epithelium cells, resulting in functional, full-length MYO7A protein and correction of mutant phenotypes, suggesting successful homologous recombination of gene fragments. With discrete, conventional-sized dual AAV2 vectors, full-length MYO7A was detected, but the level of protein expression was variable, and only a minority of cells showed phenotype correction. Our results show that MYO7A therapy with AAV2 or AAV5 single vectors is efficacious; however, the dual AAV2 approach proved to be less effective.

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