Plant thymidine kinase 1: a novel efficient suicide gene for malignant glioma therapy

Z. Khan, Wolfgang Knecht, Mette Willer, E. Rozpedowska, Peter Kristoffersen, Anders Clausen, B. Munch-Petersen, P. M. Almqvist, Zoran Gojkovic, Jure Piskur, T. J. Ekström

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


    The prognosis for malignant gliomas remains poor, and new treatments are urgently needed. Targeted suicide gene therapy exploits the enzymatic conversion of a prodrug, such as a nucleoside analog, into a cytotoxic compound. Although this therapeutic strategy has been considered a promising regimen for central nervous system (CNS) tumors, several obstacles have been encountered such as inefficient gene transfer to the tumor cells, limited prodrug penetration into the CNS, and inefficient enzymatic activity of the suicide gene. We report here the cloning and successful application of a novel thymidine kinase 1 (TK1) from the tomato plant, with favorable characteristics in vitro and in vivo. This enzyme (toTK1) is highly specific for the nucleoside analog prodrug zidovudine (azidothymidine, AZT), which is known to penetrate the blood-brain barrier. An important feature of toTK1 is that it efficiently phosphorylates its substrate AZT not only to AZT monophosphate, but also to AZT diphosphate, with excellent kinetics. The efficiency of the toTK1/AZT system was confirmed when toTK1-transduced human glioblastoma (GBM) cells displayed a 500-fold increased sensitivity to AZT compared with wild-type cells. In addition, when neural progenitor cells were used as delivery vectors for toTK1 in intracranial GBM xenografts in nude rats, substantial attenuation of tumor growth was achieved in animals exposed to AZT, and survival of the animals was significantly improved compared with controls. The novel toTK1/AZT suicide gene therapy system in combination with stem cell mediated gene delivery promises new treatment of malignant gliomas.
    Original languageEnglish
    Issue number6
    Pages (from-to)549-558
    Publication statusPublished - 2010


    • plant thymidine kinase 1
    • neural stem cells
    • zidovudine (azidothymidine)
    • suicide gene therapy
    • malignant glioma


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