Rincon, Melvin Y × Sarcar, Shilpita Danso-Abeam, Dina Keyaerts, Marleen Matrai, Janka Samara-Kuko, Ermira Acosta-Sanchez, Abel Athanasopoulos, Takis Dickson, George Lahoutte, Tony De Bleser, Pieter Vandendriessche, Thierry Chuah, Marinee #
Molecular Therapy vol:23 issue:1 pages:43-52
Gene therapy is a promising emerging therapeutic modality for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases and hereditary diseases that afflict the heart. Hence, there is a need to develop robust cardiac-specific expression modules that allow for stable expression of the gene of interest in cardiomyocytes. We therefore explored a new approach based on a genome-wide bioinformatics strategy that revealed novel cardiac-specific cis-acting regulatory modules (CS-CRMs). These transcriptional modules contained evolutionary-conserved clusters of putative transcription factor binding sites that correspond to a "molecular signature" associated with robust gene expression in the heart. We then validated these CS-CRMs in vivo using an adeno-associated viral vector serotype 9 that drives a reporter gene from a quintessential cardiac-specific α-myosin heavy chain promoter. Most de novo designed CS-CRMs resulted in a >10-fold increase in cardiac gene expression. The most robust CRMs enhanced cardiac-specific transcription 70- to 100-fold. Expression was sustained and restricted to cardiomyocytes. We then combined the most potent CS-CRM4 with a synthetic heart and muscle-specific promoter (SPc5-12) and obtained a significant 20-fold increase in cardiac gene expression compared to the cytomegalovirus promoter. This study underscores the potential of rational vector design to improve the robustness of cardiac gene therapy.