Retroviral integration process in the human genome: Is it really non-random? A new statistical approach

Alessandro Ambrosi, Claudia Cattoglio, Clelia Di Serio

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Retroviral vectors are widely used in gene therapy to introduce therapeutic genes into patients' cells, since, once delivered to the nucleus, the genes of interest are stably inserted (integrated) into the target cell genome. There is now compelling evidence that integration of retroviral vectors follows non-random patterns in mammalian genome, with a preference for active genes and regulatory regions. In particular, Moloney Leukemia Virus (MLV)-derived vectors show a tendency to integrate in the proximity of the transcription start site (TSS) of genes, occasionally resulting in the deregulation of gene expression and, where proto-oncogenes are targeted, in tumor initiation. This has drawn the attention of the scientific community to the molecular determinants of the retroviral integration process as well as to statistical methods to evaluate the genome-wide distribution of integration sites. In recent approaches, the observed distribution of MLV integration distances (IDs) from the TSS of the nearest gene is assumed to be non-random by empirical comparison with a random distribution generated by computational simulation procedures. To provide a statistical procedure to test the randomness of the retroviral insertion pattern, we propose a probability model (Beta distribution) based on IDs between two consecutive genes. We apply the procedure to a set of 595 unique MLV insertion sites retrieved from human hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells. The statistical goodness of fit test shows the suitability of this distribution to the observed data. Our statistical analysis confirms the preference of MLV-based vectors to integrate in promoter-proximal regions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1000144
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Ecology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modelling and Simulation
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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