Gene therapy to the blood-brain barrier with resulting protein secretion as a strategy for treatment of Niemann Picks type C2 disease

Eva Hede, Christine Bodelund Christiansen, Christian Würtz Heegaard, Torben Moos, Annette Burkhart

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Treatment of many diseases affecting the central nervous system (CNS) is complicated by the inability of several therapeutics to cross the blood–brain barrier (BBB). Genetically modifying brain capillary endothelial cells (BCECs) denotes an approach to overcome the limitations of the BBB by turning BCECs into recombinant protein factories. This will result in protein secretion toward both the brain and peripheral circulation, which is particularly relevant in genetic diseases, like lysosomal storage diseases (LSD), where cells are ubiquitously affected both in the CNS and the periphery. Here we investigated transfection of primary rat brain capillary endothelial cells (rBCECs) for synthesis and secretion of recombinant NPC2, the protein deficient in the lysosomal cholesterol storage disease Niemann Pick type C2. We demonstrate prominent NPC2 gene induction and protein secretion in 21% of BCECs in non-mitotic monocultures with a biological effect on NPC2-deficient fibroblasts as verified from changes in filipin III staining of cholesterol deposits. By comparison the transfection efficiency was 75% in HeLa-cells, known to persist in a mitotic state. When co-cultured with primary rat astrocytes in conditions with maintained BBB properties 7% BCECs were transfected, clearly suggesting that induction of BBB properties with polarized conditions of the non-mitotic BCECs influences the transfection efficacy and secretion directionality. In conclusion, non-viral gene therapy to rBCECs leads to protein secretion and signifies a method for NPC2 to target cells inside the CNS otherwise inaccessible because of the presence of the BBB. However, obtaining high transfection efficiencies is crucial in order to achieve sufficient therapeutic effects.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14982
JournalJournal of Neurochemistry
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)290-308
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2020 International Society for Neurochemistry.


  • NPC2 deficient fibroblasts
  • Niemann Picks disease type C2
  • blood–brain barrier
  • cholesterol
  • gene therapy
  • primary culture


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