Limiting Transactivator Amounts Contribute to Transgene Mosaicism in Tet-On All-in-One Systems


MicroRNAs play an essential role in cell homeostasis and have been proposed as therapeutic agents. One strategy to deliver microRNAs is to genetically engineer target cells to express microRNAs of interest. However, to control dosage and timing, as well as to limit potential side-effects, microRNAs’ expression should ideally be under exogenous, inducible control. Conditional expression of miRNA-based short hairpin RNAs (shRNAmirs) via gene regulatory circuits such as the Tet-system is therefore a promising strategy to control shRNAmirs’ expression in research and therapy. Single vector approaches like Tet-On all-in-one designs are more compatible with potential clinical applications by providing the Tet-On system components in a single round of genetic engineering. However, all-in-one systems often come at the expense of heterogeneous and unstable expression. In this study, we aimed to understand the causes that lead to such erratic transgene expression. By using a reporter cell, we found that the degree of heterogeneity mostly correlated with reverse tetracycline transactivator (rtTA) expression levels. Moreover, the targeted integration of a potent rtTA expression cassette into a genomic safe harbor locus functionally rescued previously silenced rtTA-responsive transcription units. Overall, our results suggest that ensuring homogenous and stable rtTA expression is essential for the robust and reliable performance of future Tet-On all-in-one designs.
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