Object. Lentiviral vectors may constitute a vehicle for long-term therapeutic gene expression in the spinal cord. In amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, spinal cord sclerosis and altered axonal transport pose barriers to therapeutic gene distribution. In the present study the authors characterize gene expression distribution and the behavioral impact of the rabies G (RabG) protein pseudotyped lentiviral vector EIAV.LacZ through cervical spinal cord injection in control and Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase—1 (SOD-1) transgenic mice.
Methods. Seven-week-old SOD-1 transgenic mice and their wild-type littermates underwent exposure of the cervicomedullary junction and microinjection of RabG.EIAV.LacZ or vehicle. The Basso-Beattie-Bresnahan locomotor score, grip strength meter, and Rotarod assays were used to assess the effects of disease progression, spinal cord microinjection, and lentiviral gene expression. Spinal cords were removed when the mice were in the terminal stage of the disease. The distribution of LacZ gene expression was histologically evaluated and quantified.
Direct cervical spinal cord microinjection of RabG.EIAV.LacZ results in extensive central nervous system uptake in SOD-1 transgenic mice; these findings were statistically similar to those in wild-type mice (p > 0.05). Gene expression lasts for the duration of the animal's survival (132 days). The SOD-1 mutation does not prevent retrograde axonal transport of the vector. Three behavioral assays were used to demonstrate that long-term gene expression does not alter sensorimotor function. In comparison with normative data, vector injection and transgene expression do not accelerate disease progression.
Conclusions. Direct spinal cord injection of RabG.EIAV vectors represents a feasible method for delivering therapeutic genes to upper cervical spinal cord and brainstem motor neurons. Distribution is not affected by the SOD-1 mutation or disease phenotype.