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Lentivector cryptic splicing mediates increase in CD34+ clones expressing truncated HMGA2 in human X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency


X-linked Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID-X1) due to IL2RG mutations is potentially fatal in infancy where 'emergency' life-saving stem cell transplant may only achieve incomplete immune reconstitution following transplant. Salvage therapy SCID-X1 patients over 2 years old (NCT01306019) is a non-randomized, open-label, phase I/II clinical trial for administration of lentiviral-transduced autologous hematopoietic stem cells following busulfan (6 mg/kg total) conditioning. The primary and secondary objectives assess efficacy in restoring immunity and safety by vector insertion site analysis (VISA). In this ongoing study (19 patients treated), we report VISA in blood lineages from first eight treated patients with longer follow up found a > 60-fold increase in frequency of forward-orientated VIS within intron 3 of the High Mobility Group AT-hook 2 gene. All eight patients demonstrated emergence of dominant HMGA2 VIS clones in progenitor and myeloid lineages, but without disturbance of hematopoiesis. Our molecular analysis demonstrated a cryptic splice site within the chicken β-globin hypersensitivity 4 insulator element in the vector generating truncated mRNA transcripts from many transcriptionally active gene containing forward-oriented intronic vector insert. A two base-pair change at the splice site within the lentiviral vector eliminated splicing activity while retaining vector functional capability. This highlights the importance of functional analysis of lentivectors for cryptic splicing for preclinical safety assessment and a redesign of clinical vectors to improve safety.

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