Although many methods are available for introducing genes into the mammalian germ line, none is ideal for genetic manipulation of livestock or primates. These organisms produce relatively few offspring in each reproductive cycle and they have long generation times. For these reasons, a recent report that adenovirus vectors can efficiently insert genes into the mouse germ line by embryo infection is of considerable interest. Adenovirus vectors have a high cloning capacity, can be produced in high titers, and can infect a wide variety of cell types. We have investigated in more detail the potential for such vectors to infect embryos and integrate their DNA into the genome. We exposed mouse embryos to adenovirus vectors that express bacterial β-galactosidase (LacZ), and studied expression in the preimplantation period, toxicity of the vectors, and the frequency with which fetuses and pups integrate vector DNA. Our findings indicate that fully functional adenovirus receptor does not appear until the two-cell stage of development. Successful infection is associated with high toxicity, such that viral titers must be balanced to achieve high infection with tolerable levels of toxicity. Screening of 94 animals after embryo infection revealed a single positive polymerase chain reaction signal, which is indicative of the presence of the lacZ gene. This finding could not be confirmed by Southern blotting, which indicates that the founder animal was a genetic mosaic for the exogenous DNA. We conclude from these experiments that adenovirus gene transfer vectors are not readily usable for germ line gene insertion.
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