The transplantation of cultured myoblasts into mature skeletal muscle is the basis for a new therapeutic approach to muscle and non-muscle diseases: myoblast-mediated gene therapy. The success of myoblast transplantation for correction of intrinsic muscle defects depends on the fusion of implanted cells with host myofibers. Previous studies in mice have been problematic because they have involved transplantation of established myogenic cell lines or primary muscle cultures. Both of these cell populations have disadvantages: myogenic cell lines are tumorigenic, and primary cultures contain a substantial percentage of non-myogenic cells which will not fuse to host fibers. Furthermore, for both cell populations, immune suppression of the host has been necessary for long-term retention of transplanted cells. To overcome these difficulties, we developed novel culture conditions that permit the purification of mouse myoblasts from primary cultures. Both enriched and clonal populations of primary myoblasts were characterized in assays of cell proliferation and differentiation. Primary myoblasts were dependent on added bFGF for growth and retained the ability to differentiate even after 30 population doublings. The fate of the pure myoblast populations after transplantation was monitored by labeling the cells with the marker enzyme beta-galactosidase (beta-gal) using retroviral mediated gene transfer. Within five days of transplantation into muscle of mature mice, primary myoblasts had fused with host muscle cells to form hybrid myofibers. To examine the immunobiology of primary myoblasts, we compared transplanted cells in syngeneic and allogeneic hosts. Even without immune suppression, the hybrid fibers persisted with continued beta-gal expression up to six months after myoblast transplantation in syngeneic hosts. In allogeneic hosts, the implanted cells were completely eliminated within three weeks. To assess tumorigenicity, primary myoblasts and myoblasts from the C2 myogenic cell line were transplanted into immunodeficient mice. Only C2 myoblasts formed tumors. The ease of isolation, growth, and transfection of primary mouse myoblasts under the conditions described here expand the opportunities to study muscle cell growth and differentiation using myoblasts from normal as well as mutant strains of mice. The properties of these cells after transplantation--the stability of resulting hybrid myofibers without immune suppression, the persistence of transgene expression, and the lack of tumorigenicity--suggest that studies of cell-mediated gene therapy using primary myoblasts can now be broadly applied to mouse models of human muscle and non-muscle diseases.

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