Current gene therapy approaches for treating rheumatoid arthritis have made use of gene transfer technology as an improved delivery system for emerging proteins and other biologicals whose activities may have therapeutic value. Preclinical research has focused on two primary directions, evaluation of methods of gene delivery and identification of gene products with antiarthritic potential. Although there are reports involving systemic gene delivery, the bulk of effort has focused on local, intraarticular administration using ex vivo and in vivo methods. Viral-based vectors, including adenovirus, adeno-associated virus and herpes simplex virus have the greatest efficiency of gene delivery after intraarticular injection and are capable of generating relevant levels of gene products in several animal models of disease. However, there are limitations to existing generations of these systems that currently preclude their clinical application. Those gene products found to be efficacious in animal models of rheumatoid arthritis include proteins that specifically block the activity of the primary inflammatory cytokines, and include interleukin-1 receptor antagonist and soluble receptors for tumor necrosis factor and interleukin-1. Delivery and expression of genes encoding certain cytokines such as interleukins -4, -10, and -13 and viral interleukin-10, that block synthesis of inflammatory mediators and downregulate aspects of cellular and humoral immune pathways have been found beneficial. Although significant progress has been made, leading to Phase I clinical trials, there remain several hurdles to the routine practice of gene therapy for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

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