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1.  A designer cell-based histamine-specific human allergy profiler 
Nature communications  2014;5:4408.
Allergic disorders are markedly increasing in industrialized countries. The identification of compounds that trigger the immunoglobulin E-dependent allergic reaction remains the key to limit patients’ exposure to critical allergens and improve their quality of life. Here we use synthetic biology principles to design a mammalian cell-based allergy profiler that scores the allergen-triggered release of histamine from whole blood-derived human basophils. A synthetic signaling cascade engineered within the allergy profiler rewires histamine input to the production of reporter protein, thereby integrating histamine levels in whole blood samples with remarkable sensitivity and a wide dynamic range, allowing for rapid results or long-term storage of output, respectively. This approach provides non-intrusive allergy profiles for the personalized medicine era.
PMCID: PMC4143915  PMID: 25093291
2.  Mind-controlled transgene expression by a wireless-powered optogenetic designer cell implant 
Nature Communications  2014;5:5392.
Synthetic devices for traceless remote control of gene expression may provide new treatment opportunities in future gene- and cell-based therapies. Here we report the design of a synthetic mind-controlled gene switch that enables human brain activities and mental states to wirelessly programme the transgene expression in human cells. An electroencephalography (EEG)-based brain–computer interface (BCI) processing mental state-specific brain waves programs an inductively linked wireless-powered optogenetic implant containing designer cells engineered for near-infrared (NIR) light-adjustable expression of the human glycoprotein SEAP (secreted alkaline phosphatase). The synthetic optogenetic signalling pathway interfacing the BCI with target gene expression consists of an engineered NIR light-activated bacterial diguanylate cyclase (DGCL) producing the orthogonal second messenger cyclic diguanosine monophosphate (c-di-GMP), which triggers the stimulator of interferon genes (STING)-dependent induction of synthetic interferon-β promoters. Humans generating different mental states (biofeedback control, concentration, meditation) can differentially control SEAP production of the designer cells in culture and of subcutaneous wireless-powered optogenetic implants in mice.
Brain–machine interfaces offer the possibility of controlling prosthetic devices using changes in brain activity. Folcher et al. couple such a system wirelessly to an optogenetic implant in mice to control expression of a transgene, demonstrating its potential for mind-controlled drug delivery.
PMCID: PMC4241983  PMID: 25386727
3.  A designer cell-based histamine-specific human allergy profiler 
Nature Communications  2014;5:4408.
Allergic disorders are markedly increasing in industrialized countries. The identification of compounds that trigger the immunoglobulin E-dependent allergic reaction remains the key to limit patients’ exposure to critical allergens and improve their quality of life. Here we use synthetic biology principles to design a mammalian cell-based allergy profiler that scores the allergen-triggered release of histamine from whole-blood-derived human basophils. A synthetic signalling cascade engineered within the allergy profiler rewires histamine input to the production of reporter protein, thereby integrating histamine levels in whole-blood samples with remarkable sensitivity and a wide dynamic range, allowing for rapid results or long-term storage of output, respectively. This approach provides non-intrusive allergy profiles for the personalized medicine era.
The advancement of sensitive, accurate and non-invasive methods to identify the allergen that drives allergic disease in an individual remains a challenge. Here, the authors develop a synthetic biology approach using human designer cells to profile allergic reactions against an array of allergens measuring histamine release from whole blood.
PMCID: PMC4143915  PMID: 25093291
4.  Antagonistic control of a dual-input mammalian gene switch by food additives 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;42(14):e116.
Synthetic biology has significantly advanced the design of mammalian trigger-inducible transgene-control devices that are able to programme complex cellular behaviour. Fruit-based benzoate derivatives licensed as food additives, such as flavours (e.g. vanillate) and preservatives (e.g. benzoate), are a particularly attractive class of trigger compounds for orthogonal mammalian transgene control devices because of their innocuousness, physiological compatibility and simple oral administration. Capitalizing on the genetic componentry of the soil bacterium Comamonas testosteroni, which has evolved to catabolize a variety of aromatic compounds, we have designed different mammalian gene expression systems that could be induced and repressed by the food additives benzoate and vanillate. When implanting designer cells engineered for gene switch-driven expression of the human placental secreted alkaline phosphatase (SEAP) into mice, blood SEAP levels of treated animals directly correlated with a benzoate-enriched drinking programme. Additionally, the benzoate-/vanillate-responsive device was compatible with other transgene control systems and could be assembled into higher-order control networks providing expression dynamics reminiscent of a lap-timing stopwatch. Designer gene switches using licensed food additives as trigger compounds to achieve antagonistic dual-input expression profiles and provide novel control topologies and regulation dynamics may advance future gene- and cell-based therapies.
PMCID: PMC4132709  PMID: 25030908
5.  Biomedically relevant circuit-design strategies in mammalian synthetic biology 
The development and progress in synthetic biology has been remarkable. Although still in its infancy, synthetic biology has achieved much during the past decade. Improvements in genetic circuit design have increased the potential for clinical applicability of synthetic biology research. What began as simple transcriptional gene switches has rapidly developed into a variety of complex regulatory circuits based on the transcriptional, translational and post-translational regulation. Instead of compounds with potential pharmacologic side effects, the inducer molecules now used are metabolites of the human body and even members of native cell signaling pathways. In this review, we address recent progress in mammalian synthetic biology circuit design and focus on how novel designs push synthetic biology toward clinical implementation. Groundbreaking research on the implementation of optogenetics and intercellular communications is addressed, as particularly optogenetics provides unprecedented opportunities for clinical application. Along with an increase in synthetic network complexity, multicellular systems are now being used to provide a platform for next-generation circuit design.
PMCID: PMC3792348  PMID: 24061539
gene circuits; mammalian designer devices; synthetic biology
6.  Synthetic mammalian trigger-controlled bipartite transcription factors 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;41(13):e134.
Synthetic biology has significantly advanced the design of synthetic control devices, gene circuits and networks that can reprogram mammalian cells in a trigger-inducible manner. Prokaryotic helix-turn-helix motifs have become the standard resource to design synthetic mammalian transcription factors that tune chimeric promoters in a small molecule-responsive manner. We have identified a family of Actinomycetes transcriptional repressor proteins showing a tandem TetR-family signature and have used a synthetic biology-inspired approach to reveal the potential control dynamics of these bi-partite regulators. Daisy-chain assembly of well-characterized prokaryotic repressor proteins such as TetR, ScbR, TtgR or VanR and fusion to either the Herpes simplex transactivation domain VP16 or the Krueppel-associated box domain (KRAB) of the human kox-1 gene resulted in synthetic bi- and even tri-partite mammalian transcription factors that could reversibly program their individual chimeric or hybrid promoters for trigger-adjustable transgene expression using tetracycline (TET), γ-butyrolactones, phloretin and vanillic acid. Detailed characterization of the bi-partite ScbR-TetR-VP16 (ST-TA) transcription factor revealed independent control of TET- and γ-butyrolactone-responsive promoters at high and double-pole double-throw (DPDT) relay switch qualities at low intracellular concentrations. Similar to electromagnetically operated mechanical DPDT relay switches that control two electric circuits by a fully isolated low-power signal, TET programs ST-TA to progressively switch from TetR-specific promoter-driven expression of transgene one to ScbR-specific promoter-driven transcription of transgene two while ST-TA flips back to exclusive transgene 1 expression in the absence of the trigger antibiotic. We suggest that natural repressors and activators with tandem TetR-family signatures may also provide independent as well as DPDT-mediated control of two sets of transgenes in bacteria, and that their synthetic transcription-factor analogs may enable the design of compact therapeutic gene circuits for gene and cell-based therapies.
PMCID: PMC3711444  PMID: 23685433
7.  Phenylethyl Butyrate Enhances the Potency of Second-Line Drugs against Clinical Isolates of Mycobacterium tuberculosis 
Ethionamide (ETH) is a second-line drug for the treatment of tuberculosis. As a prodrug, ETH has to be activated by EthA. ethA is controlled by its repressor EthR. 2-Phenylethyl-butyrate (2-PEB) inhibits EthR binding, enhances expression of EthA, and thereby enhances the growth-inhibitory effects of ethionamide, isoxyl, and thiacetazone in Mycobacterium tuberculosis strains with resistance to ETH due to inhA promoter mutations but not ethA mutations.
PMCID: PMC3264283  PMID: 22106218
8.  The food additive vanillic acid controls transgene expression in mammalian cells and mice 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;40(5):e37.
Trigger-inducible transcription-control devices that reversibly fine-tune transgene expression in response to molecular cues have significantly advanced the rational reprogramming of mammalian cells. When designed for use in future gene- and cell-based therapies the trigger molecules have to be carefully chosen in order to provide maximum specificity, minimal side-effects and optimal pharmacokinetics in a mammalian organism. Capitalizing on control components that enable Caulobacter crescentus to metabolize vanillic acid originating from lignin degradation that occurs in its oligotrophic freshwater habitat, we have designed synthetic devices that specifically adjust transgene expression in mammalian cells when exposed to vanillic acid. Even in mice transgene expression was robust, precise and tunable in response to vanillic acid. As a licensed food additive that is regularly consumed by humans via flavoured convenience food and specific fresh vegetable and fruits, vanillic acid can be considered as a safe trigger molecule that could be used for diet-controlled transgene expression in future gene- and cell-based therapies.
PMCID: PMC3300003  PMID: 22187155
9.  Rational design of a small molecule-responsive intramer controlling transgene expression in mammalian cells 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;39(22):e155.
Aptamers binding proteins or small molecules have been shown to be versatile and powerful building blocks for the construction of artificial genetic switches. In this study, we present a novel aptamer-based construct regulating the Tet Off system in a tetracycline-independent manner thus achieving control of transgene expression. For this purpose, a TetR protein-inhibiting aptamer was engineered for use in mammalian cells, enabling the RNA-responsive control of the tetracycline-dependent transactivator (tTA). By rationally attaching the theophylline aptamer as a sensor, the inhibitory TetR aptamer and thus tTA activity became dependent on the ligand of the sensor aptamer. Addition of the small molecule theophylline resulted in enhanced binding to the corresponding protein in vitro and in inhibition of reporter gene expression in mammalian cell lines. By using aptamers as adaptors in order to control protein activity by a predetermined small molecule, we present a simple and straightforward approach for future applications in the field of Chemical Biology. Moreover, aptamer-based control of the widely used Tet system introduces a new layer of regulation thereby facilitating the construction of more complex gene networks.
PMCID: PMC3239198  PMID: 21984476
10.  An engineered mammalian band-pass network 
Nucleic Acids Research  2010;38(18):e174.
Gene expression circuitries, which enable cells to detect precise levels within a morphogen concentration gradient, have a pivotal impact on biological processes such as embryonic pattern formation, paracrine and autocrine signalling, and cellular migration. We present the rational synthesis of a synthetic genetic circuit exhibiting band-pass detection characteristics. The components, involving multiply linked mammalian trans-activator and -repressor control systems, were selected and fine-tuned to enable the detection of ‘low-threshold’ morphogen (tetracycline) concentrations, in which target gene expression was triggered, and a ‘high-threshold’ concentration, in which expression was muted. In silico predictions and supporting experimental findings indicated that the key criterion for functional band-pass detection was the matching of componentry that enabled sufficient separation of the low and high threshold points. Using the circuitry together with a fluorescence-encoded target gene, mammalian cells were genetically engineered to be capable of forming a band-like pattern of differentiation in response to a tetracycline chemical gradient. Synthetic gene networks designed to emulate naturally occurring gene behaviours provide not only insight into biological processes, but may also foster progress in future tissue engineering, gene therapy and biosensing applications.
PMCID: PMC2952875  PMID: 20693530
11.  A synthetic low-frequency mammalian oscillator 
Nucleic Acids Research  2010;38(8):2702-2711.
Circadian clocks have long been known to be essential for the maintenance of physiological and behavioral processes in a variety of organisms ranging from plants to humans. Dysfunctions that subvert gene expression of oscillatory circadian-clock components may result in severe pathologies, including tumors and metabolic disorders. While the underlying molecular mechanisms and dynamics of complex gene behavior are not fully understood, synthetic approaches have provided substantial insight into the operation of complex control circuits, including that of oscillatory networks. Using iterative cycles of mathematical model-guided design and experimental analyses, we have developed a novel low-frequency mammalian oscillator. It incorporates intronically encoded siRNA-based silencing of the tetracycline-dependent transactivator to enable the autonomous and robust expression of a fluorescent transgene with periods of 26 h, a circadian clock-like oscillatory behavior. Using fluorescence-based time-lapse microscopy of engineered CHO-K1 cells, we profiled expression dynamics of a destabilized yellow fluorescent protein variant in single cells and real time. The novel oscillator design may enable further insights into the system dynamics of natural periodic processes as well as into siRNA-mediated transcription silencing. It may foster advances in design, analysis and application of complex synthetic systems in future gene therapy initiatives.
PMCID: PMC2860125  PMID: 20197318
12.  Epigenetic Engineering of Ribosomal RNA Genes Enhances Protein Production 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(8):e6653.
Selection of mammalian high-producer cell lines remains a major challenge for the biopharmaceutical manufacturing industry. Ribosomal RNA (rRNA) genes encode the major component of the ribosome but many rRNA gene copies are not transcribed [1]–[5] due to epigenetic silencing by the nucleolar remodelling complex (NoRC) [6], which may limit the cell's full production capacity. Here we show that the knockdown of TIP5, a subunit of NoRC, decreases the number of silent rRNA genes, upregulates rRNA transcription, enhances ribosome synthesis and increases production of recombinant proteins. However, general enhancement of rRNA transcription rate did not stimulate protein synthesis. Our data demonstrates that the number of transcriptionally competent rRNA genes limits efficient ribosome synthesis. Epigenetic engineering of ribosomal RNA genes offers new possibilities for improving biopharmaceutical manufacturing and provides novel insights into the complex regulatory network which governs the translation machinery in normal cellular processes as well as in pathological conditions like cancer.
PMCID: PMC2721416  PMID: 19680546
13.  A synthetic mammalian electro-genetic transcription circuit 
Nucleic Acids Research  2009;37(4):e33.
Electric signal processing has evolved to manage rapid information transfer in neuronal networks and muscular contraction in multicellular organisms and controls the most sophisticated man-built devices. Using a synthetic biology approach to assemble electronic parts with genetic control units engineered into mammalian cells, we designed an electric power-adjustable transcription control circuit able to integrate the intensity of a direct current over time, to translate the amplitude or frequency of an alternating current into an adjustable genetic readout or to modulate the beating frequency of primary heart cells. Successful miniaturization of the electro-genetic devices may pave the way for the design of novel hybrid electro-genetic implants assembled from electronic and genetic parts.
PMCID: PMC2651811  PMID: 19190091
14.  Intronically encoded siRNAs improve dynamic range of mammalian gene regulation systems and toggle switch 
Nucleic Acids Research  2008;36(16):e101.
Applications of conditional gene expression, whether for therapeutic or basic research purposes, are increasingly requiring mammalian gene control systems that exhibit far tighter control properties. While numerous approaches have been used to improve the widely used Tet-regulatory system, many applications, particularly with respect to the engineering of synthetic gene networks, will require a broader range of tightly performing gene control systems. Here, a generically applicable approach is described that utilizes intronically encoded siRNA on the relevant transregulator construct, and siRNA sequence-specific tags on the reporter construct, to minimize basal gene activity in the off-state of a range of common gene control systems. To demonstrate tight control of residual expression the approach was successfully used to conditionally express the toxic proteins RipDD and Linamarase. The intronic siRNA concept was also extended to create a new generation of compact, single-vector, autoinducible siRNA vectors. Finally, using improved regulation systems a mammalian epigenetic toggle switch was engineered that exhibited superior in vitro and in vivo induction characteristics in mice compared to the equivalent non-intronic system.
PMCID: PMC2532736  PMID: 18632760
15.  Adeno-associated viral vectors engineered for macrolide-adjustable transgene expression In mammalian cells and mice 
BMC Biotechnology  2007;7:75.
Adjustable gene expression is crucial in a number of applications such as de- or transdifferentiation of cell phenotypes, tissue engineering, various production processes as well as gene-therapy initiatives. Viral vectors, based on the Adeno-Associated Virus (AAV) type 2, have emerged as one of the most promising types of vectors for therapeutic applications due to excellent transduction efficiencies of a broad variety of dividing and mitotically inert cell types and due to their unique safety features.
We designed recombinant adeno-associated virus (rAAV) vectors for the regulated expression of transgenes in different configurations. We integrated the macrolide-responsive E.REX systems (EON and EOFF) into rAAV backbones and investigated the delivery and expression of intracellular as well as secreted transgenes for binary set-ups and for self- and auto-regulated one-vector configurations. Extensive quantitative analysis of an array of vectors revealed a high level of adjustability as well as tight transgene regulation with low levels of leaky expression, both crucial for therapeutical applications. We tested the performance of the different vectors in selected biotechnologically and therapeutically relevant cell types (CHO-K1, HT-1080, NHDF, MCF-7). Moreover, we investigated key characteristics of the systems, such as reversibility and adjustability to the regulating agent, to determine promising candidates for in vivo studies. To validate the functionality of delivery and regulation we performed in vivo studies by injecting particles, coding for compact self-regulated expression units, into mice and adjusting transgene expression.
Capitalizing on established safety features and a track record of high transduction efficiencies of mammalian cells, adeno- associated virus type 2 were successfully engineered to provide new powerful tools for macrolide-adjustable transgene expression in mammalian cells as well as in mice.
PMCID: PMC2211474  PMID: 17986332
16.  An engineered l-arginine sensor of Chlamydia pneumoniae enables arginine-adjustable transcription control in mammalian cells and mice 
Nucleic Acids Research  2007;35(20):e136.
For optimal compatibility with biopharmaceutical manufacturing and gene therapy, heterologous transgene control systems must be responsive to side-effect-free physiologic inducer molecules. The arginine-inducible interaction of the ArgR repressor and the ArgR-specific ARG box, which synchronize arginine import and synthesis in the intracellular human pathogen Chlamydia pneumoniae, was engineered for arginine-regulated transgene (ART) expression in mammalian cells. A synthetic arginine-responsive transactivator (ARG), consisting of ArgR fused to the Herpes simplex VP16 transactivation domain, reversibly adjusted transgene transcription of chimeric ARG box-containing mammalian minimal promoters (PART) in an arginine-inducible manner. Arginine-controlled transgene expression showed rapid induction kinetics in a variety of mammalian cell lines and was adjustable and reversible at concentrations which were compatible with host cell physiology. ART variants containing different transactivation domains, variable spacing between ARG box and minimal promoter and several tandem ARG boxes showed modified regulation performance tailored for specific expression scenarios and cell types. Mice implanted with microencapsulated cells engineered for ART-inducible expression of the human placental secreted alkaline phosphatase (SEAP) exhibited adjustable serum phosphatase levels after treatment with different arginine doses. Using a physiologic inducer, such as the amino acid l-arginine, to control heterologous transgenes in a seamless manner which is devoid of noticeable metabolic interference will foster novel opportunities for precise expression dosing in future gene therapy scenarios as well as the manufacturing of difficult-to-produce protein pharmaceuticals.
PMCID: PMC2175317  PMID: 17947334
17.  Vitamin H-regulated transgene expression in mammalian cells 
Nucleic Acids Research  2007;35(17):e116.
Although adjustable transgene expression systems are considered essential for future therapeutic and biopharmaceutical manufacturing applications, the currently available transcription control modalities all require side-effect-prone inducers such as immunosupressants, hormones and antibiotics for fine-tuning. We have designed a novel mammalian transcription-control system, which is reversibly fine-tuned by non-toxic vitamin H (also referred to as biotin). Ligation of vitamin H, by engineered Escherichia coli biotin ligase (BirA), to a synthetic biotinylation signal fused to the tetracycline-dependent transactivator (tTA), enables heterodimerization of tTA to a streptavidin-linked transrepressor domain (KRAB), thereby abolishing tTA-mediated transactivation of specific target promoters. As heterodimerization of tTA to KRAB is ultimately conditional upon the presence of vitamin H, the system is vitamin H responsive. Transgenic Chinese hamster ovary cells, engineered for vitamin H-responsive gene expression, showed high-level, adjustable and reversible production of a human model glycoprotein in bench-scale culture systems, bioreactor-based biopharmaceutical manufacturing scenarios, and after implantation into mice. The vitamin H-responsive expression systems showed unique band pass filter-like regulation features characterized by high-level expression at low (0–2 nM biotin), maximum repression at intermediate (100–1000 nM biotin), and high-level expression at increased (>100 000 nM biotin) biotin concentrations. Sequential ON-to-OFF-to-ON, ON-to-OFF and OFF-to-ON expression profiles with graded expression transitions can all be achieved by simply increasing the level of a single inducer molecule without exchanging the culture medium. These novel expression characteristics mediated by an FDA-licensed inducer may foster advances in therapeutic cell engineering and manufacturing of difficult-to-produce protein therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC2034481  PMID: 17827215
18.  Therapeutic protein transduction of mammalian cells and mice by nucleic acid-free lentiviral nanoparticles 
Nucleic Acids Research  2006;34(2):e16.
The straightforward production and dose-controlled administration of protein therapeutics remain major challenges for the biopharmaceutical manufacturing and gene therapy communities. Transgenes linked to HIV-1-derived vpr and pol-based protease cleavage (PC) sequences were co-produced as chimeric fusion proteins in a lentivirus production setting, encapsidated and processed to fusion peptide-free native protein in pseudotyped lentivirions for intracellular delivery and therapeutic action in target cells. Devoid of viral genome sequences, protein-transducing nanoparticles (PTNs) enabled transient and dose-dependent delivery of therapeutic proteins at functional quantities into a variety of mammalian cells in the absence of host chromosome modifications. PTNs delivering Manihot esculenta linamarase into rodent or human, tumor cell lines and spheroids mediated hydrolysis of the innocuous natural prodrug linamarin to cyanide and resulted in efficient cell killing. Following linamarin injection into nude mice, linamarase-transducing nanoparticles impacted solid tumor development through the bystander effect of cyanide.
PMCID: PMC1356536  PMID: 16449199
19.  A novel mammalian expression system derived from components coordinating nicotine degradation in arthrobacter nicotinovorans pAO1 
Nucleic Acids Research  2005;33(12):e107.
We describe the design and detailed characterization of 6-hydroxy-nicotine (6HNic)-adjustable transgene expression (NICE) systems engineered for lentiviral transduction and in vivo modulation of angiogenic responses. Arthrobacter nicotinovorans pAO1 encodes a unique catabolic machinery on its plasmid pAO1, which enables this Gram-positive soil bacterium to use the tobacco alkaloid nicotine as the exclusive carbon source. The 6HNic-responsive repressor-operator (HdnoR-ONIC) interaction, controlling 6HNic oxidase production in A.nicotinovorans pAO1, was engineered for generic 6HNic-adjustable transgene expression in mammalian cells. HdnoR fused to different transactivation domains retained its ONIC-binding capacity in mammalian cells and reversibly adjusted transgene transcription from chimeric ONIC-containing promoters (PNIC; ONIC fused to a minimal eukaryotic promoter [Pmin]) in a 6HNic-responsive manner. The combination of transactivators containing various transactivation domains with promoters differing in the number of operator modules as well as in their relative inter-ONIC and/or ONIC-Pmin spacing revealed steric constraints influencing overall NICE regulation performance in mammalian cells. Mice implanted with microencapsulated cells engineered for NICE-controlled expression of the human glycoprotein secreted placental alkaline phosphatase (SEAP) showed high SEAP serum levels in the absence of regulating 6HNic. 6HNic was unable to modulate SEAP expression, suggesting that this nicotine derivative exhibits control-incompatible pharmacokinetics in mice. However, chicken embryos transduced with HIV-1-derived self-inactivating lentiviral particles transgenic for NICE-adjustable expression of the human vascular endothelial growth factor 121 (VEGF121) showed graded 6HNic response following administration of different 6HNic concentrations. Owing to the clinically inert and highly water-soluble compound 6HNic, NICE-adjustable transgene control systems may become a welcome alternative to available drug-responsive homologs in basic research, therapeutic cell engineering and biopharmaceutical manufacturing.
PMCID: PMC1174900  PMID: 16002786
20.  Design and in vivo characterization of self-inactivating human and non-human lentiviral expression vectors engineered for streptogramin-adjustable transgene expression 
Nucleic Acids Research  2004;32(12):e106.
Adjustable transgene expression is considered key for next-generation molecular interventions in gene therapy scenarios, therapeutic reprogramming of clinical cell phenotypes for tissue engineering and sophisticated gene-function analyses in the post-genomic era. We have designed a portfolio of latest generation self-inactivating human (HIV-derived) and non-human (EIAV-based) lentiviral expression vectors engineered for streptogramin-adjustable expression of reporter (AmySΔS, EYFP, SAMY, SEAP), differentiation-modulating (human C/EBP-α) and therapeutic (human VEGF) transgenes in a variety of rodent (CHO-K1, C2C12) and human cell lines (HT-1080, K-562), human and mouse primary cells (NHDF, PBMC, CD4+) as well as chicken embryos. Lentiviral design concepts include (i) binary systems harboring constitutive streptogramin-dependent transactivator (PIT) and PIT-responsive transgene expression units on separate lentivectors; (ii) streptogramin-responsive promoters (PPIR8) placed 5′ of desired transgenes; (iii) within modified enhancer-free 3′-long terminal repeats; and (iv) bidirectional autoregulated configurations providing streptogramin-responsive transgene expression in a lentiviral one-vector format. Rigorous quantitative analysis revealed HIV-based direct PPIR-transgene configurations to provide optimal regulation performance for (i) adjustable expression of intracellular and secreted product proteins, (ii) regulated differential differentiation of muscle precursor cell lines into adipocytes or osteoblasts and (iii) conditional vascularization fine-tuning in chicken embryos. Similar performance could be achieved by engineering streptogramin-responsive transgene expression into an autoregulated one-vector format. Powerful transduction systems equipped with adjustable transcription modulation options are expected to greatly advance sophisticated molecular interventions in clinically and/or biotechnologically relevant primary cells and cell lines.
PMCID: PMC484201  PMID: 15258250
21.  Dual-regulated expression of C/EBP-α and BMP-2 enables differential differentiation of C2C12 cells into adipocytes and osteoblasts 
Nucleic Acids Research  2004;32(1):e1.
CCAAT/enhancer-binding proteins (C/EBPs) as well as bone morphogenic proteins (BMPs) play essential roles in mammalian cell differentiation in shaping adipogenic and osteoblastic lineages in particular. Recent evidence suggested that adipocytes and osteoblasts share a common mesenchymal precursor cell phenotype. Yet, the molecular details underlying the decision of adipocyte versus osteoblast differentiation as well as the involvement of C/EBPs and BMPs remains elusive. We have engineered C2C12 cells for dual-regulated expression of human C/EBP-α and BMP-2 to enable independent transcription control of both differentiation factors using clinically licensed antibiotics of the streptogramin (pristinamycin) and tetracycline (tetracycline) classes. Differential as well as coordinated expression of C/EBP-α and BMP-2 revealed that (i) C/EBP-α may differentiate C2C12 myoblasts into adipocytes as well as osteoblasts, (ii) BMP-2 prevents myotube differentiation, (iii) is incompetent in differentiating C2C12 into osteoblasts and (iv) even decreases C/EBP-α’s osteoblast-specific differentiation potential but (v) cooperates with C/EBP-α on adipocyte differentiation, (vi) osteoblast formation occurs at low C/EBP-α levels while adipocyte-specific differentiation requires maximum C/EBP-α expression and that (vii) BMP-2 may bias the C/EBP-α-mediated adipocyte versus osteoblast differentiation switch towards fat cell formation. Dual-regulated expression technology enabled precise insight into combinatorial effects of two key differentiation factors involved in adipocyte/osteoblast lineage control which could be implemented in rational reprogramming of multipotent cells into desired cell phenotypes tailored for gene therapy and tissue engineering.
PMCID: PMC373304  PMID: 14704358
22.  Identification of a novel proliferation-inducing determinant using lentiviral expression cloning 
Nucleic Acids Research  2003;31(18):e113.
One of the major challenges in the post-genome era is the correlation between genes and function or phenotype. We have pioneered a strategy for screening of cDNA libraries, which is based on sequential combination of lentiviral and oncoretroviral expression systems and can be used to identify proliferation-modulating genes. Screening of a lentiviral expression library derived from adult human brain cDNA resulted in cloning of the potent proliferation-inducing determinant termed pi1 (proliferation inducer 1). Transduction experiments using GFP-expressing oncoretroviruses to target proliferation-competent cells suggested that overexpression of pi1 initiates proliferation of human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs). Growth induction of HUVECs as well as Swiss3T3 fibroblasts was confirmed by Brd-uridine incorporation assays, which correlated increased DNA synthesis with expression of pi1. The identified pi1 cDNA is 297 bp long and encodes a 10 kDa polypeptide. Since deregulation of proliferation control accounts for a number of today’s untreatable human diseases such as neurodegenerative disorders and cancer, discovery of novel proliferation-modulating genes is essential for developing new strategies for gene therapy and tissue engineering.
PMCID: PMC203339  PMID: 12954789
23.  Streptomyces-derived quorum-sensing systems engineered for adjustable transgene expression in mammalian cells and mice 
Nucleic Acids Research  2003;31(14):e71.
Prokaryotic transcriptional regulatory elements have been adopted for controlled expression of cloned genes in mammalian cells and animals, the cornerstone for gene-function correlations, drug discovery, biopharmaceutical manufacturing as well as advanced gene therapy and tissue engineering. Many prokaryotes have evolved specific molecular communication systems known as quorum-sensing to coordinate population-wide responses to physiological and/or physicochemical signals. A generic bacterial quorum-sensing system is based on a diffusible signal molecule that prevents binding of a repressor to corresponding operator sites thus resulting in derepression of a target regulon. In Streptomyces, a family of butyrolactones and their corresponding receptor proteins, serve as quorum-sensing systems that control morphological development and antibiotic biosynthesis. Fusion of the Streptomyces coelicolor quorum-sensing receptor (ScbR) to a eukaryotic transactivation domain (VP16) created a mammalian transactivator (SCA) which binds and adjusts transcription from chimeric promoters containing an SCA-specific operator module (PSPA). Expression of erythropoietin or the human secreted alkaline phosphatase (SEAP) by this quorum-sensor-regulated gene expression system (QuoRex) could be fine-tuned by non-toxic butyrolactones in a variety of mammalian cells including human primary and mouse embryonic stem cells. Following intraperitoneal implantation of microencapsulated Chinese hamster ovary cells transgenic for QuoRex-controlled SEAP expression into mice, the serum levels of this model glycoprotein could be adjusted to desired concentrations using different butyrolactone dosing regimes.
PMCID: PMC167645  PMID: 12853648
24.  Conditional human VEGF-mediated vascularization in chicken embryos using a novel temperature-inducible gene regulation (TIGR) system 
Nucleic Acids Research  2003;31(12):e69.
Advanced heterologous transcription control systems for adjusting desired transgene expression are essential for gene function assignments, drug discovery, manufacturing of difficult to produce protein pharmaceuticals and precise dosing of gene-based therapeutic interventions. Conversion of the Streptomyces albus heat shock response regulator (RheA) into an artificial eukaryotic transcription factor resulted in a vertebrate thermosensor (CTA; cold-inducible transactivator), which is able to adjust transcription initiation from chimeric target promoters (PCTA) in a low-temperature- inducible manner. Evaluation of the temperature-dependent CTA–PCTA interaction using a tailored ELISA-like cell-free assay correlated increased affinity of CTA for PCTA with temperature downshift. The temperature-inducible gene regulation (TIGR) system enabled tight repression in the chicken bursal B-cell line DT40 at 41°C as well as precise titration of model product proteins up to maximum expression at or below 37°C. Implantation of microencapsulated DT40 cells engineered for TIGR-controlled expression of the human vascular endothelial growth factor A (hVEGF121) provided low-temperature-induced VEGF-mediated vascularization in chicken embryos.
PMCID: PMC162344  PMID: 12799458
25.  Advanced modular self-inactivating lentiviral expression vectors for multigene interventions in mammalian cells and in vivo transduction 
Nucleic Acids Research  2002;30(21):e113.
In recent years, lentiviral expression systems have gained an unmatched reputation among the gene therapy community for their ability to deliver therapeutic transgenes into a wide variety of difficult-to-transfect/transduce target tissues (brain, hematopoietic system, liver, lung, retina) without eliciting significant humoral immune responses. We have cloned a construction kit-like self-inactivating lentiviral expression vector family which is compatible to state-of-the-art packaging and pseudotyping technologies and contains, besides essential cis-acting lentiviral sequences, (i) unparalleled polylinkers with up to 29 unique sites for restriction endonucleases, many of which recognize 8 bp motifs, (ii) strong promoters derived from the human cytomegalovirus immediate-early promoter (PhCMV) or the human elongation factor 1α (PhEF1α), (iii) PhCMV– or PPGK– (phosphoglycerate kinase promoter) driven G418 resistance markers or fluorescent protein-based expression tracers and (iv) tricistronic expression cassettes for coordinated expression of up to three transgenes. In addition, we have designed a size-optimized series of highly modular lentiviral expression vectors (pLenti Module) which contain, besides the extensive central polylinker, unique restriction sites flanking any of the 5′U3, R-U5-ψ+-SD, cPPT-RRE-SA and 3′LTRΔU3 modules or placed within the 5′U3 (–78 bp) and 3′LTRΔU3 (8666 bp). pLentiModule enables straightforward cassette-type module swapping between lentiviral expression vector family members and facilitates the design of Tat-independent (replacement of 5′LTR by heterologous promoter elements), regulated and self-excisable proviruses (insertion of responsive operators or LoxP in the 3′LTRΔU3 element). We have validated our lentiviral expression vectors by transduction of a variety of insect, chicken, murine and human cell lines as well as adult rat cardiomyocytes, rat hippocampal slices and chicken embryos. The novel multi-purpose construction kit-like vector series described here is compatible with itself as well as many other (non-viral) mammalian expression vectors for straightforward exchange of key components (e.g. promoters, LTRs, resistance genes) and will assist the gene therapy and tissue engineering communities in developing lentiviral expression vectors tailored for optimal treatment of prominent human diseases.
PMCID: PMC135834  PMID: 12409472

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