Directed adenovirus evolution using engineered mutator viral polymerases
Adenoviruses (Ads) are the most frequently used viruses for oncolytic and gene therapy purposes. Most Ad-based vectors have been generated through rational design. Although this led to significant vector improvements, it is often hampered by an insufficient understanding of Ad's intricate functions and interactions. Here, to evade this issue, we adopted a novel, mutator Ad polymerase-based, 'accelerated-evolution' approach that can serve as general method to generate or optimize adenoviral vectors. First, we site specifically substituted Ad polymerase residues located in either the nucleotide binding pocket or the exonuclease domain. This yielded several polymerase mutants that, while fully supportive of viral replication, increased Ad's intrinsic mutation rate. Mutator activities of these mutants were revealed by performing deep sequencing on pools of replicated viruses. The strongest identified mutators carried replacements of residues implicated in ssDNA binding at the exonuclease active site. Next, we exploited these mutators to generate the genetic diversity required for directed Ad evolution. Using this new forward genetics approach, we isolated viral mutants with improved cytolytic activity. These mutants revealed a common mutation in a splice acceptor site preceding the gene for the adenovirus death protein (ADP). Accordingly, the isolated viruses showed high and untimely expression of ADP, correlating with a severe deregulation of E3 transcript splicing.