A gene therapy approach to treat demyelinating diseases using nonreplicative herpetic vectors engineered to produce cytokines

G. Martino, R. Furlan, F. Galbiati, P. L. Poliani, A. Bergami, L. M E Grimaldi, L. Adorini, G. Comi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A successful gene therapy approach in organ-specific autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), encompasses the inhibition of the autoreactive T cells or the modification of the target organ cells by the introduction of exogenous 'protective' genes. In MS, an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (CNS), the inciting autoantigen is still unknown and therefore the isolation of autoreactive T cells may only be inferential. At present, gene therapy approaches in MS should therefore aim to the modification of the target organ. Possible candidate genes to be transferred within the CNS of MS patients are those coding for anti-inflammatory cytokines (i.e. interleukin-4, interleukin-10, transforming growth factor β) which have been shown to ameliorate demyelinating diseases at least in experimental models. However, a limiting factor for this therapy is the difficulty to reach the CNS. A gene therapy approach using viral vectors able to infect post-mitotic cells, such as those present within the CNS, without inducing toxic reactions, may overcome this limitation. We propose to use non-replicative herpetic vectors, which represent a viable gene-transfer alternative to the classical retroviral and adenoviral vectors. Key advantages are their size, able to accommodate multiple foreign genes, and their ability to infect post-mitotic cells such as those present within the CNS. We first transferred a gene coding for interleukin-4 within the CNS of mice undergoing experimental allergic encephalomyelitis, an animal model for MS, using non-replicative Herpes Simplex Virus type I-derived vectors. We found that this approach ameliorates the disease course and delays the disease onset. The establishment of this technique to deliver anti-inflammatory cytokines within the CNS using herpetic vectors should clarify the role of individual cytokines in the demyelinating process and allow assessment of whether gene therapy using herpetic vectors is a feasible and safe approach to treat human demyelinating disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)222-227
Number of pages6
JournalMultiple Sclerosis Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1998


  • Cytokines
  • Experimental demyelination
  • Gene therapy
  • Herpetic vectors
  • Multiple sclerosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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