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Wild-type Sindbis virus (SV) shows promise as an oncolytic agent, although potential off-target replication is a safety concern. To remove possible pathology reflecting virus replication in liver, muscle, and/or hematopoietic cells, microRNA (miR)-response elements (MREs) to liver-specific miR122, muscle-specific miR133a and miR206, or hematopoietic-specific miR142-3p were inserted into the Sindbis viral genome. We compared the effectiveness of MREs in two distinct genomic locations and found better tissue-specific attenuation when they were inserted into the structural polyprotein coding region (up to 6000-fold selectivity with miR142-3p) rather than into the 3' untranslated region (up to 850-fold with miR142-3p). While this degree of tissue-specific attenuation may be effective for relieving pathology in vivo, genetic instability of RNA viruses raises concerns over the mutation or loss of MREs conferring safety. Genetically modified SVs containing a reporter transgene, used as a surrogate for virus replication, mutated quickly in vitro, losing 50% transgene sequence within 6.2 passages. Using a shorter insert containing MREs but no transgene, complete genetic stability was observed over at least 10 passages. We conclude that SV may be genetically modified to improve clinical properties, but attention must be paid to ensure that genetic stability is sufficient for intended applications.

Original publication




Journal article


Hum Gene Ther Methods

Publication Date





154 - 165


3' Untranslated Regions, Animals, Cell Line, Cricetinae, Genome, Viral, Genomic Instability, Green Fluorescent Proteins, HEK293 Cells, Hematopoietic Stem Cells, Humans, Liver, Mice, MicroRNAs, Muscles, Oncolytic Viruses, Response Elements, Sindbis Virus