Articles > Design of a trans protease lentiviral packaging system that produces high titer virus

Design of a trans protease lentiviral packaging system that produces high titer virus

Karen A Westerman1, Zhujun Ao2, Éric A Cohen2 and Philippe Leboulch3

1Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Department of Anesthesia (SR157), 75 Francis Street, Boston, MA, 02115, USA

2Institut de Recherches Cliniques de Montréal and Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Université of Montréal, Quebec, Canada

3Genetics Division, Department of Medicine and Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard New Research Building, Boston, MA, 02115, USA


The structural and enzymatic proteins of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are initially generated as two long polyproteins encoded from overlapping reading frames, one producing the structural proteins (Gag) and the second producing both structural and enzymatic proteins (Gag-Pol). The Gag to Gag-Pol ratio is critical for the proper assembly and maturation of viral particles. To minimize the risk of producing a replication competent lentivirus (RCL), we developed a "super-split" lentiviral packaging system in which Gag was separated from Pol with minimal loss of transducibility by supplying protease (PR) in trans independently of both Gag and Pol.


In developing this "super-split" packaging system, we incorporated several new safety features that include removing the Gag/Gag-Pol frameshift, splitting the Gag, PR, and reverse transcriptase/integrase (RT/IN) functions onto separate plasmids, and greatly reducing the nucleotide sequence overlap between vector and Gag and between Gag and Pol. As part of the construction of this novel system, we used a truncated form of the accessory protein Vpr, which binds the P6 region of Gag, as a vehicle to deliver both PR and RT/IN as fusion proteins to the site of viral assembly and budding. We also replaced wt PR with a slightly less active T26S PR mutant in an effort to prevent premature processing and cytoxicity associated with wt PR. This novel "super-split" packaging system yielded lentiviral titers comparable to those generated by conventional lentiviral packaging where Gag-Pol is supplied intact (1.0 × 106 TU/ml, unconcentrated).


Here, we were able to create a true "split-function" lentiviral packaging system that has the potential to be used for gene therapy applications. This novel system incorporates many new safety features while maintaining high titers. In addition, because PR is supplied in trans, this unique system may also provide opportunities to examine viral protein processing and maturation.

An open access article from Retrovirology 2007, 4:96, viewed from

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