Safety of interleukin-12 gene therapy against cancer: A murine biodistribution and toxicity study

Michael Imboden, Fushun Shi, Thomas D. Pugh, Aharon G. Freud, Nathaniel J. Thom, Jacquelin A. Hank, Zhengling Hao, Stephen T. Staelin, Paul M. Sondel, David M. Mahvi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


As a prerequisite for a human clinical trial using interleukin (IL)-12 gene therapy, the biodistribution and safety of IL-12, administered as an intradermal naked DNA injection, was evaluated in mice. The pNGVL3-mIL12 plasmid used in this study is a nonviral vector designed to induce a high level of IL-12 protein expression during a transient transfection of the host cell. The biodistribution was evaluated by a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay that is capable of detecting less than 100 copies of the plasmid in the context of host DNA. Twenty-four hours after three intradermal injections of 0.5 μg or 5 μg of pNGVL3-mIL12 plasmid, the plasmid was detectable in various internal organs, the blood, and the injection site. The plasmid was detectable in the gonads of only one animal at the high-dose treatment 24 hr after the injections. In the majority of the organs the plasmid was undetectable throughout the study. Possible side effects were monitored by histology and clinical chemistry, and the level of IL-12 protein expression was assessed by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). No treatment-related histologic abnormalities were detected and the blood chemistry parameters showed no toxicity. The IL-12 protein was undetectable at all times at the injection site and interferon (IFN)-γ levels at the injection site and in the serum were at background levels. The results of this murine safety study indicate that based on the distribution pattern of the plasmid in the body and the undetectable toxicities in the tissues, the use of the pNGVL3-hIL12 plasmid in cancer gene therapy clinical trials can be considered as safe.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1037-1048
Number of pages12
JournalHuman Gene Therapy
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jul 20 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology


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