Editors' ChoiceNanotechnology

Tangled Up in Nanofibers

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Science Translational Medicine  06 Feb 2013:
Vol. 5, Issue 171, pp. 171ec24
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3005801

Retroviruses are both agents of disease and useful biotechnological tools—for example, as gene transfer agents. Manipulating viruses by controlling their distribution and infectivity is necessary for use in biotechnological application. To this end, Yolamanova and colleagues describe a new strategy for enhancing retroviral transmission by using self-assembled peptide nanofibers.

Semen-derived fibrillar peptides have been shown to mediate HIV infection, which was the starting point for Yolamanova et al. The authors designed a new peptide with homology to HIV-1 glycoprotein 120 (gp120) that was able to form predictable nanofibers. These engineered nanofibers boosted virus infection fourfold in a human cancer cell line compared with the naturally occurring semen-derived peptides. Because they also form macromolecular complexes with retroviral particles, the authors were able to quickly isolate and concentrate virus particles via centrifugation. By concentrating the lentivirus particles, Yolamanova et al. achieved efficient viral transduction into a variety of cell types, including human cancer cells and hematopoietic stem cells. When immobilized on the surface of cell culture plates, the virus/nanofiber composites were able to infect mouse bone marrow cells ex vivo and then be engrafted back into mice more quickly than existing technologies. This process could be used to simplify and accelerate ex vivo cell transfection regimens in gene therapy approaches.

Yolamanova et al. show how nanofibrous peptides can manipulate viruses, demonstrating a range of functions that have not been appreciated for this class of materials to date. The same peptide can be used for concentrating and redistributing the virus in vitro, or as a transfection enhancer. How the peptide enhances transfection is not yet known, but the material’s synthetic nature should facilitate systematic studies to understand it more deeply for its eventual use in retroviral gene therapy.

M. Yolamanova et al., Peptide nanofibrils boost retroviral gene transfer and provide a rapid means for concentrating viruses. Nat. Nanotechnol., published online 20 January 2013 (10.1038/nnano.2012.248). [Abstract]

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