Enhancer sequences of the DF3 gene regulate expression of the herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase gene and confer sensitivity of human breast cancer cells to ganciclovir
Enhancer Elements, Genetic
Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
A potentially novel therapeutic strategy for breast cancer treatment involves sensitization of tumor cells to chemotherapy through gene transfer. Clinical application of this approach, however, may be limited by the lack of target cell specificity of currently available gene delivery techniques. Development of vectors with tumor-selective gene expression could overcome this problem. The DF3/MUC1 gene encodes a high molecular weight mucin-like glycoprotein which is overexpressed at the transcriptional level in the majority of human breast cancers. To develop a breast tumor-selective enhancer, we cloned the upstream region of the DF3 gene and have identified a 114-base pair enhancer region that can modulate transcription from heterologous promoters. The present studies demonstrate that the DF3 enhancer sequences can direct selective gene expression in DF3-positive breast carcinoma cells. DF3-positive breast carcinoma cell lines transfected with herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase gene expression cassettes modified by the DF3 enhancer were markedly more sensitive to killing by ganciclovir than were the same cells transfected with the expression cassettes lacking the DF3 enhancer. DF3-negative cell lines transfected with the DF3 enhancer constructs, however, were no more sensitive to ganciclovir than were cells treated with the unmodified expression plasmids. Consistent with an innocent bystander effect, nontransfected human breast carcinoma cells were susceptible in a cell density-dependent manner to ganciclovir-induced cell killing when adjacent to transfected cells. The results also demonstrate that the DF3 enhancer sequences can be effectively incorporated into a retroviral vector to mediate selective gene expression following retroviral infection. These findings suggest that the DF3 promoter/enhancer may be useful for incorporation into vectors designed for gene therapy of breast cancer.