Objective: Fetal gene replacement is a novel, potential therapy for monogenic disorders which are diagnosed prenatally. The purpose of this study was to develop in vitro, respiratory-epithelium targeted, lentiviral (LV)-mediated gene transfer in fetal rabbit tracheas. Methods: Via triple plasmid transfection, vesicular stomatitis virus-G (VSV-G)-pseudotyped LV vector containing green fluorescent protein (GFP) marker gene, under the control of a cytomegalovirus promoter was constructed. LV bioavailability in rabbit amniotic fluid (AF) was evaluated by infectivity assays of 293T cell monolayers in variable concentrations of AF. Fetal tracheas from time-mated rabbits (term gestation, G = 31 days) were collected on G 23–25 days, and placed in tissue culture (substrate-enriched DMEM, 37°C, 5% CO2/room air). The tracheal cultures were transfected with 1 × 105 LV particles, and analyzed daily for: reporter gene by polymerase chain reaction, and reporter gene product (GFP) by whole-mount fluoroscopy and immunohistochemistry. Results: 293T cell infectivity assays confirmed bioavailability of LV in rabbit AF. Following in vitro transfection, GFP DNA and GFP were detectable in fetal rabbit tracheas by 4 and 5 days, respectively. Immunocytochemistry localized GFP to the luminal aspect of tracheal epithelium. Conclusions: In vitro, LV-mediated GFP gene transfer to fetal rabbit tracheas occurs within 4 days, and gene expression is evident by 5 days post-transfection. This observation, and the bioavailability of LV through AF, suggests the appropriateness of this model for the future evaluation of in vivo, transamniotic gene delivery strategies.

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