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EpiPro, a Novel, Synthetic, Activity-Regulated Promoter That Targets Hyperactive Neurons in Epilepsy for Gene Therapy Applications

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International Journal of Molecular Sciences
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Epileptogenesis is characterized by intrinsic changes in neuronal firing, resulting in hyperactive neurons and the subsequent generation of seizure activity. These alterations are accompanied by changes in gene transcription networks, first with the activation of early-immediate genes and later with the long-term activation of genes involved in memory. Our objective was to engineer a promoter containing binding sites for activity-dependent transcription factors upregulated in chronic epilepsy (EpiPro) and validate it in multiple rodent models of epilepsy. First, we assessed the activity dependence of EpiPro: initial electrophysiology studies found that EpiPro-driven GFP expression was associated with increased firing rates when compared with unlabeled neurons, and the assessment of EpiPro-driven GFP expression revealed that GFP expression was increased ~150× after status epilepticus. Following this, we compared EpiPro-driven GFP expression in two rodent models of epilepsy, rat lithium/pilocarpine and mouse electrical kindling. In rodents with chronic epilepsy, GFP expression was increased in most neurons, but particularly in dentate granule cells, providing in vivo evidence to support the “breakdown of the dentate gate” hypothesis of limbic epileptogenesis. Finally, we assessed the time course of EpiPro activation and found that it was rapidly induced after seizures, with inactivation following over weeks, confirming EpiPro’s potential utility as a gene therapy driver for epilepsy.