A fully human transgene switch to regulate therapeutic protein production by cooling sensation

Bai, P; Liu, Y; Xue, S; Hamri, GCE; Saxena, P; Ye, HF; Xie, MQ; Fussenegger, M

Fussenegger, M (reprint author), Swiss Fed Inst Technol, Dept Biosyst Sci & Engn, Basel, Switzerland.; Fussenegger, M (reprint author), Univ Basel, Fac Sci, Basel, Switzerland.

NATURE MEDICINE, 2019; 25 (8): 1266


The ability to safely control transgene expression with simple synthetic gene switches is critical for effective gene-and cell-based therapies. In the present study, the signaling pathway controlled by human transient receptor potential (TRP) melastatin 8 (hTRPM8), a TRP channel family member(1), is harnessed to control transgene expression. Human TRPM8 signaling is stimulated by menthol, an innocuous, natural, cooling compound, or by exposure to a cool environment (15-18 degrees C). By functionally linking hTRPM8-induced signaling to a synthetic promoter containing elements that bind nuclear factor of activated T cells, a synthetic gene circuit was designed that can be adjusted by exposure to either a cool environment or menthol. It was shown that this gene switch is functional in various cell types and human primary cells, as well as in mice implanted with engineered cells. In response to transdermal delivery of menthol, microencapsulated cell implants harboring this gene circuit, coupled to expression of either of two therapeutic proteins, insulin or a modified, activin type IIB, receptor ligand trap protein (mActRIIB(ECD)-hFc), could alleviate hyperglycemia in alloxan-treated mice (a model of type 1 diabetes) or reverse muscle atrophy in dexamethasone-treated mice (a model of muscle wasting), respectively. This fully human-derived orthogonal transgene switch should be amenable to a wide range of clinical applications.

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