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Xandra O. Breakefield, Ph.D.
Neuroscience Center at Massachusetts General Hospital

Massachusetts General Hospital – East
Building 149
13th Street
Charlestown, MA 02129


Telephone: 617-726-5728

Predocs: Postdocs: 6 Completed PhD’s: 6

Click here to access the web site of Dr. Breakefield's lab

Research Program
The Breakefield laboratory uses molecular genetic techniques to elucidate the etiology of inherited neurologic diseases and to develop vectors, which can deliver genes to the nervous system.

A plasmid-based amplicon vector derived from herpes simplex virus type 1 has been developed for non-toxic gene delivery to neural cells. This vector, which uses the herpes virion for gene delivery, can carry large transgenes (>150 kb), and has been modified to include elements that promote episomal retention or site-specific integration into the host cell genome. Further constructions are underway to incorporate inducible and cell-specific promoters to promote homologous recombination and to convert cells to vector-producing cells. These vectors are being tested in transgenic mouse models of ataxia telangiectasia, neurofibromatosis and lysosomal storage diseases and for brain tumor therapy to try to achieve correction of genetic defects and therapeutic intervention, respectively. Work is also underway to expand the range of gene delivery in vivo using migratory neuroprecursor cells and to image transgene expression in animals with MRI, bioluminescence and infrared sensitive reporters.

Through positional cloning efforts this laboratory has identified the gene responsible for a severe form of dystonia characterized by contracted posturing of the limbs and torso starting in childhood. The responsible protein, torsinA, has homology to the AAA+ class of chaperone proteins, which have a variety of functions including protection from cellular stress and vesicle transport/fusion. Immunocytochemistry, yeast two-hybrid screens, and inducible cell expression are being used to study the ER localization and function of this protein, as well as the nature of whorled membrane inclusions formed by the dominant-negative mutant protein

Click here to access a full PubMed search on Dr. Breakefield

Aboody*, K.S., Brown*, A., Rainov, N., Bower, K., Liu, S., Yang, W., Small, J., Herrlinger, U., Ourednik, V., Black, P., Breakefield, X.O. and Snyder, E.: Neural stem cells display extensive tropism for pathology in adult brain: Evidence from intracranial gliomas. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 97:12846-12851, 2000 (*co-first authors).

Breakefield, X.O., Kamm, C., and Hanson, P.I.: TorsinA: Movement at many levels. Neuron, 31:9-12, 2001.

Davidson, B., and Breakefield, X.O.: Viral vectors for gene delivery to the nervous system. Nature Neurosci. Rev., 4:353-364, 2003.

Hewett, J., Ziefer, P., Bergeron, D., Naismith, T., Boston, H., Slater, D., Wilbur, J., Schuback, D., Kamm, C., Smith, N., Camp, S., Ozelius, L., Ramesh, V., Hanson, P., and Breakefield, X.O.: TorsinA in PC12 cells: localization in the endoplasmic reticulum and response to stress. J. Neurosci. Res., 72:158-68, 2003.

Sandler, V.M., Wang, S., Angelo, K., Lo, H.G., Breakefield, X.O., Clapham, D.E.: Modified herpes simplex virus delivery of enhanced GFP into the central nervous system. J. Neurosci. Methods 121: 211-219, 2002.

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