In Vitro and in Vivo Targeting of Gene Expression to Melanoma Cells

Richard G. Vile, Ian R. Hart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

191 Scopus citations


Gene therapy protocols for cancer usually involve removal of tumor cells, culture in vitro to allow gene transfer, and subsequent reintroduction in vivo. Targeting therapeutic genes to tumor cells in situ requires an accuracy of gene delivery that currently is not possible with the use of existing techniques. To overcome these limitations we have used two promoters, which are preferentially active in melanocytic cells, to direct gene expression specifically to melanoma cells both in vitro and in vivo. Here we describe experiments showing that as little as 769 base pairs of the 5’-flanking regions of the tyrosinase, and 1.4 kilobase pair of the tyrosinase-related protein 1, genes are sufficient to direct expression of the -galac-tosidase gene to both human and murine melanoma cells and melanocytes, while not permitting expression in a range of other cell types in vitro. These promoters showed high levels of activity in 12 of 14 murine and human melanoma cell lines tested but showed only basal levels of activity, similar to that of a promoterless construct, in a range of 12 other cell types. Cell type specificity is maintained when the construct is delivered to cells either by physical means or by inclusion of the cell type-specific expression cassette into a retroviral vector. Direct injection of DNA, encoding the -galactosidase gene expressed from either promoter, into established B16 melanomas or Colo 26 tumors in syngeneic mice resulted in extensive transduction of tumor cells in the B16 melanomas (10% of tumor cells expressing 10 days after DNA injection), whereas no blue-staining cells were seen in the Colo 26 tumors. The reporter gene was expressed in melanoma cells and in some normal melanocytes but not in other surrounding normal tissue. We propose that the combination of a tissue-specific promoter driving a therapeutic gene, with delivery of such a construct directly to sites of tumor growth in vivo, either by direct DNA injection or by retroviral infection, may provide significantly enhanced safety for gene therapy for solid tumors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)962-967
Number of pages6
JournalCancer research
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 1 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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