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Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology
Volume 2003, Issue 1, Pages 9-12

Retroviral Vector Biosafety: Lessons from Sheep

Laboratory of Experimental Hematology, Bordet Institute, Brussels 1000, Belgium

Received 6 June 2002; Accepted 19 July 2002

Copyright © 2003 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The safety of retroviral-based systems and the possible transmission of replication-competent virus to patients is a major concern associated with using retroviral vectors for gene therapy. While much effort has been put into the design of safe retroviral production methods and effective in vitro monitoring assays, there is little data evaluating the risks resulting from retroviral vector instability at post-transduction stages especially following in vivo gene delivery. Here, we briefly describe and discuss our observations in an in vivo experimental model based on the inoculation of retroviral vector-transduced tumor cells in sheep. Our data indicates that the in vivo generation of mosaic viruses is a dynamic process and that virus variants, generated by retroviral vector-mediated recombination, may be stored and persist in infected individuals prior to selection at the level of replication. Recombination may not only restore essential viral functions or provide selective advantages in a changing environment but also reestablish or enhance the pathogenic potential of the particular virus undergoing recombination. These observations in sheep break new ground in our understanding of how retroviral vectors may have an impact on the course of a preestablished disease or reactivate dormant or endogenous viruses. The in vivo aspects of vector stability raise important biosafety issues for the future development of safe retroviral vector-based gene therapy.