Background: Despite the advent of targeted therapies, interferon-alpha (IFN-α) remains a therapeutic option for advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC), especially in Japan, with a treatment response rate of 15-20 %. To improve the efficacy of IFN-α-based therapies, we evaluated a novel treatment strategy for RCC using an IFN-α2b gene construct with a repetitive hypoxia-inducible factor binding site. Methods: We constructed an expression plasmid designated 5HREp-IFN-α2b containing the coding region of the IFN-α2b gene. Five copies of the hypoxia-response element (HRE) sequences were inserted upstream of the IFN-α2b gene, and the construct was transfected into human RCC cell lines ACHN, 786-O and KU19-20. The concentrations of IFN-α2b in the conditioned media were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Cell viabilities were determined by MTS assays. Results: Construct-induced IFN-α secretion was confirmed in all three cell lines. IFN-α production was significantly enhanced by the hypoxia-mimicking agent deferoxamine mesylate in cell lines expressing the wild-type von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) gene (KU19-20 and ACHN) compared with cells expressing the mutant VHL gene (786-O). The construct exerted significant suppressive effects on the viabilities of all RCC cell lines. Conclusion: This is the first study to report on the construction of a cytokine gene with a repetitive hypoxia-inducible factor binding site and its application in the suppression of human cancer cells. Gene therapy using this IFN-α2b gene construct with HREs may represent a novel treatment modality for advanced RCC.
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