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The woodchuck hepatitis virus posttranscriptional regulatory element (WPRE) has been included in the transgene cassette of adeno-associated virus (AAV) in several gene therapy clinical trials, including those for inherited retinal diseases. However, the extent to which WPRE increases transgene expression in the retina is still unclear. To address this question, AAV2 vectors containing a reporter gene with and without WPRE were initially compared in vitro and subsequently in vivo by subretinal delivery in mice. In both instances, the presence of WPRE led to significantly higher levels of transgene expression as measured by fundus fluorescence, western blot, and immunohistochemistry. The two vectors were further compared in human retinal explants derived from patients undergoing clinically indicated retinectomy, where again the presence of WPRE resulted in an enhancement of reporter gene expression. Finally, an analogous approach using a transgene currently employed in a clinical trial for choroideremia delivered similar results both in vitro and in vivo, confirming that the WPRE effect is transgene independent. Our data fully support the inclusion of WPRE in ongoing and future AAV retinal gene therapy trials, where it may allow a therapeutic effect to be achieved at an overall lower dose of vector.

Original publication




Journal article


Mol Ther Nucleic Acids

Publication Date





198 - 208


AAV2, WPRE, choroideremia, gene therapy, human retina, mouse retina