The ability to precisely upregulate genes in inflamed brain holds great therapeutic promise. Here we report a novel class of vectors, genetically modified macrophages that carry reporter and therapeutic genes to neural cells. Systemic administration of macrophages transfected ex vivo with a plasmid DNA (pDNA) encoding a potent antioxidant enzyme, catalase, produced month-long expression levels of catalase in the brain resulting in three-fold reductions in inflammation and complete neuroprotection in mouse models of Parkinson's disease (PD). This resulted in significant improvements in motor functions in PD mice. Mechanistic studies revealed that transfected macrophages secreted extracellular vesicles, exosomes, packed with catalase genetic material, pDNA and mRNA, active catalase, and NF-κb, a transcription factor involved in the encoded gene expression. Exosomes efficiently transfer their contents to contiguous neurons resulting in de novo protein synthesis in target cells. Thus, genetically modified macrophages serve as a highly efficient system for reproduction, packaging, and targeted gene and drug delivery to treat inflammatory and neurodegenerative disorders.
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