Development of adenovirus vectors as potential therapeutic agents for multiple applications of in vivo human gene therapy has resulted in numerous preclinical and clinical studies. However, lack of standardization of the methods for quantifying the physical concentration and functionally active fraction of virions in these studies has often made comparison between various studies difficult or impossible. This study was therefore carried out to define the variables for quantification of the concentration of adenovirus vectors. The methods for evaluation of total virion concentration included electron microscopy and optical absorbance. The methods for evaluation of the concentration of functional virions included detection of gene transfer (transgene transfer and expression) and the plaque assay on 293 cells. Enumeration of total virion concentration by optical absorbance was found to be a precise procedure, but accuracy was dependent on physical disruption of the virion to eliminate artifacts from light scattering and also on a correct value for the extinction coefficient. Both biological assays for enumerating functional virions were highly dependent on the assay conditions and in particular the time of virion adsorption and adsorption volume. Under optimal conditions, the bioactivity of the vector, defined as the fraction of total virions which leads to detected target cell infection, was determined to be 0.10 in the plaque assay and 0.29 in the gene transfer assay. This difference is most likely due to the fact that detection by gene transfer requires only measurement of levels of transgene expression in the infected cell whereas plaque formation is dependent on a series of biological events of much greater complexity. These results show that the exact conditions for determination of infectious virion concentration and bioactivity of recombinant adenovirus vectors are critical and must be standardized for comparability. These observations may be very useful in comparison of data from different preclinical and clinical studies and may also have important implications for how adenovirus vectors can optimally be used in human gene therapy
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