Our increasingly aging society leads to a growing incidence of neurodegenerative diseases. So far, the pathological mechanisms are inadequately understood, thus impeding the establishment of defined treatments. Cell-based additive gene therapies for the increased expression of a protective factor are considered as a promising option to medicate neurodegenerative diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). We have developed a method for the stable expression of the gene encoding pigment epithelium-derived factor (PEDF), which is characterized as a neuroprotective and anti-angiogenic protein in the nervous system, into the genome of primary human pigment epithelial (PE) cells using the Sleeping Beauty (SB) transposon system. Primary PE cells were isolated from human donor eyes and maintained in culture. After reaching confluence, 1 x 104 cells were suspended in 11 µL of resuspension buffer and combined with 2 µL of a purified solution containing 30 ng of hyperactive SB (SB100X) transposase plasmid and 470 ng of PEDF transposon plasmid. Genetic modification was carried out with a capillary electroporation system using the following parameters: two pulses with a voltage of 1,100 V and a width of 20 ms. Transfected cells were transferred into culture plates containing medium supplemented with fetal bovine serum; antibiotics and antimycotics were added with the first medium exchange. Successful transfection was demonstrated in independently performed experiments. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) showed the increased expression of the PEDF transgene. PEDF secretion was significantly elevated and remained stable, as evaluated by immunoblotting, and quantified by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). SB100X-mediated transfer allowed for a stable PEDF gene integration into the genome of PE cells and ensured the continuous secretion of PEDF, which is critical for the development of a cell-based gene addition therapy to treat AMD or other retinal degenerative diseases. Moreover, analysis of the integration profile of the PEDF transposon into human PE cells indicated an almost random genomic distribution.

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