Yingchao Han, Zhihua Ouyang, Richard A. Wawrose, Stephen R. Chen, Maximiliane Hallbaum, Qing Dong, Emily Dando, Ying Tang, Bing Wang, Joon Y. Lee, Jeremy D. Shaw, James D. Kang, Gwendolyn A. Sowa, Nam N. Vo

May 2021, Volume 30, Issue 5, pp 1098 - 1107 Original Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-021-06728-0

First Online: 01 February 2021

ISSLS prize in basic science 2021: a novel inducible system to regulate transgene expression of TIMP1


Inflammatory and oxidative stress upregulates matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) activity, leading to intervertebral disc degeneration (IDD). Gene therapy using human tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase 1 (hTIMP1) has effectively treated IDD in animal models. However, persistent unregulated transgene expression may have negative side effects. We developed a recombinant adeno-associated viral (AAV) gene vector, AAV-NFκB-hTIMP1, that only expresses the hTIMP1 transgene under conditions of stress.


Rabbit disc cells were transfected or transduced with AAV-CMV-hTIMP1, which constitutively expresses hTIMP1, or AAV-NFκB-hTIMP1. Disc cells were selectively treated with IL-1β. NFκB activation was verified by nuclear translocation. hTIMP1 mRNA and protein expression were measured by RT-PCR and ELISA, respectively. MMP activity was measured by following cleavage of a fluorogenic substrate.


IL-1β stimulation activated NFκB demonstrating that IL-1β was a surrogate for inflammatory stress. Stimulating AAV-NFκB-hTIMP1 cells with IL-1β increased hTIMP1 expression compared to unstimulated cells. AAV-CMV-hTIMP1 cells demonstrated high levels of hTIMP1 expression regardless of IL-1β stimulation. hTIMP1 expression was comparable between IL-1β stimulated AAV-NFκB-hTIMP1 cells and AAV-CMV-hTIMP1 cells. MMP activity was decreased in AAV-NFκB-hTIMP1 cells compared to baseline levels or cells exposed to IL-1β.


AAV-NFκB-hTIMP1 is a novel inducible transgene delivery system. NFκB regulatory elements ensure that hTIMP1 expression occurs only with inflammation, which is central to IDD development. Unlike previous inducible systems, the AAV-NFκB-hTIMP1 construct is dependent on endogenous factors, which minimizes potential side effects caused by constitutive transgene overexpression. It also prevents the unnecessary production of transgene products in cells that do not require therapy.

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