Enhanced therapeutic effect of mutiple injections of HSV-TK + GCV gene therapy in combination with ionizing radiation in a mouse mammary tumor model

Maria T. Vlachaki, Madhu Chhikara, Laura Aguilar, Xiaohong Zhu, Kam J. Chiu, Shiao Woo, Bin S. Teh, Timothy C. Thompson, Edward Brian Butler, Estuardo Aguilar-Cordova

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Purpose: Standard therapies for breast cancer lack tumor specificity and have significant risk for recurrence and toxicities. Herpes simplex virus-thymidine kinase (HSV-tk) gene therapy combined with radiation therapy (XRT) may be effective because of complementary mechanisms and distinct toxicity profiles. HSV-tk gene therapy followed by systemic administration of ganciclovir (GCV) enhances radiation-induced DNA damage by generating high local concentrations of phosphorylated nucleotide analogs that increase radiation-induced DNA breaks and interfere with DNA repair mechanisms. In addition, radiation-induced membrane damage enhances the 'bystander effect' by facilitating transfer of nucleotide analogs to neighboring nontransduced cells and by promoting local and systemic immune responses. This study assesses the effect of single and multiple courses of HSV-tk gene therapy in combination with ionizing radiation in a mouse mammary cancer model. Methods and Materials: Mouse mammary TM40D tumors transplanted s.c. in syngeneic immunocompetent BALB-c mice were treated with either adenoviral-mediated HSV-tk gene therapy or local radiation or the combination of gene and radiation therapy. A vector consisting of a replication-deficient (E1-deleted) adenovirus type 5 was injected intratumorally to administer the HSV-tk gene, and GCV was initiated 24 h later for a total of 6 days. Radiation was given as a single dose of 5 Gy 48 h after the HSV-tk injection. A metastatic model was developed by tail vein injection of TM40D cells on the same day that the s.c. tumors were established. Systemic antitumor effect was evaluated by counting the number of lung nodules after treating only the primary tumors with gene therapy, radiation, or the combination of gene and radiation therapy. To assess the therapeutic efficacy of multiple courses of this combinatorial approach, one, two, and three courses of HSV-tk + GCV gene therapy, in combination with radiation, were compared to HSV-tk or XRT alone and to sham-treated animals. (Treatments were repeated at 7-day intervals from the HSV-tk injection.) Results:Both single-therapy modalities reduced tumor growth by 11% compared to controls, while the combined therapy resulted in a decrease of 29%. Median survival was 36 days in the combined therapy group, compared to 33 days in the monotherapy groups and 26 days in the control group. In the metastatic model, the number of lung nodules was reduced by 59.5% after HSV-tk gene therapy, whereas radiotherapy had no effect on metastatic growth. Combined therapy led to an additional 66.7% reduction in lung colonization. Compared to controls, local tumor growth was maximally suppressed by three courses of combined therapy (51.5%), followed by two courses of combined therapy (37.2%), and three sessions of XRT alone (35.6%). Median survival was also significantly prolonged to 58 days with the three courses of combined therapy, followed by two courses, to 45 days. All other treatment groups demonstrated median survival times between 26 and 35 days, while controls had a median survival of 24 days.Conclusions: These results indicate that multiple courses of HSV-tk therapy in combination with radiation improve the therapeutic efficacy of this approach and may provide therapeutic implications for the treatment of human breast cancer and other solid tumors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1008-1017
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 15 2001


  • Adenoviral vector
  • Breast cancer
  • Gene therapy
  • Herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase
  • Radiotherapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Radiation


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