In vitro and in vivo studies have demonstrated that gene transfer of the CFTR (cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator) cDNA into human respiratory cells through nonviral vectors can occur safely and can be done repeatedly. Although functional evaluation of CFTR in cystic fibrosis (CF) patients enrolled in phase I clinical trials using cationic liposomes has shown a partial correction of nasal potential difference, a biological assay indicating a therapeutic relevance of CFTR gene transfer is still missing. Our aims were to study the induction of killing activity toward Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PA) in CF cells by cationic vector-mediated CFTR gene transfer and to use this assay as a therapeutic end point. Luciferase expression and GFP FACS analysis were used to evaluate the optimal vector and the efficiency of gene transfer into non-CF human respiratory cells growing from nasal polyp explants at the air-liquid interface. To prove that transgenic CFTR was expressed in CF cell cultures under the same experimental conditions, a specific RT-PCR was performed. Challenge of the outgrowths with a known amount of PA showed a bacterial clearance activity by non-CF respiratory cells, while in the case of CF cells it even resulted in bacterial growth. Cationic vector-mediated CFTR cDNA determined the recovery of bacterial clearance activity only under those conditions yielding 5% or more of GFP- positive cells. The results shown in this study might be helpful in considering cationic vectors as therapeutic nonviral vectors for transferring CFTR into human CF respiratory cells, as well as for restoring the bacterial killing activity defective in cystic fibrosis.
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