in vitro transcription

mRNA Transfection for Better Transgene Expression

Different approaches have been developed to over-express or ectopically express a protein in cells: peptide or full length recombinant protein transfer, viral gene transfer, non-viral DNA transfer and non-viral mRNA transfer.

1) Peptide transfection can be efficient, yet it is limited to only a small part of the protein, limiting the functional potential. Protein transfection is not consistent enough so far, because of the complicated properties of different proteins. Allele Biotech has tested dozens of proteins with several proprietary reagents, leader peptides, etc. but we have decided not to carry a protein transfection product line due to its instability. Furthermore, protein production is an expensive and laborious process.

2) Viral gene transfer is very effective, such as the HIV-based lentivirus or MMLV-based retrovirus, adenovirus, adeno-like virus or baculovirus, etc. However, the potent side-effect will still need to be considered for certain applications, especially involving clinical studies. Nevertheless, as research tools, viral gene transfer is still a highly preferred method. Allele Biotech has been providing the most effective platform for both MMLV-based and HIV-1-based retrovirus packaging. Check out our product website for details.

3) Non-viral DNA transfer is the most widely used transgene method in the biological research community, due to the simplicity of the procedure. There are many commercial kits on the market. However, the low efficiency for transfecting most primary cells significantly limits their use. In recent years, several leading biotech companies have developed various electroporation systems to improve the transfection efficiency and cell viability; although these improvements help with getting DNA inside the cytoplasm, they hardly help transport it into nucleus where DNA is transcribed.

4) Non-viral mRNA transfer has been around for a long time, but it is not widely used. It made a big splash recently through its use for iPSCs reprogramming. IPSCs factor mRNAs greatly improved the iPSCs induction efficiency and completely avoided the viral integration. Other well-known examples of mRNA transfection include loading special cancer antigens or HIV antigens to dendritic cells (DCs) in vitro for personal immunotherapy. PSA antigen expressing DCs transfected by mRNA has moved on to Phrase I Clinical Trials for this purpose.

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Expression of iPS Factors from Transfected mRNA

Differentiated cells can be reprogrammed to pluripotency by enforced expression of certain combinations of stem cell-specific protein factors in them. The power of this method was first demonstrated by Yamanaka’s group using retroviruses carrying Oct3/4, Sox2, c-Myc, and Klf4. Alternative factors such as Lin28 and Nanog, and additional factors such as the human telomerase gene hTert and shRNA against p53 were also shown to contribute to reprogramming. From the very beginning it was realized that viral integration would pose a major problem in using the induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) for clinical purposes. There have been multiple attempts to circumvent this problem by using non-integrating vectors such as plasmid, minicircle DNA, adenovirus, baculovirus, removable transposons, episomal DNA, or by introducing recombinant proteins with a transmembrane domain into target cells. From reports in the field and customer feedbacks it seems that retroviral or lentiviral systems are still the most efficient in reprogramming. mRNA is about the only option left unreported, until an article by Warren et al was published in Cell Stem Cell online recently.

From that report, it is clear that the reason that it took so long for RNA-induced iPSCs (RiPSCs) to appear in the literature was because synthetic mRNAs activate interferon responses in mammalian cells, reminding us of the early days of RNAi. The authors took a number of steps to reduce interferon responses, including adding a 5’-cap (actually a fairly standard step in in vitro transcription), using a phosphatase to remove 5’ triphosphates on uncapped mRNAs, and using modified C and U bases (5-methucytidine or 5mC and pseudouridine or psi) during T7 promoter-driven in vitro transcription. The prepared mRNA was then administered everyday for 17 days at an amount not clearly defined in the paper. The main benefit of this method is of course that there is no gene integration to alter the chromosome. The efficiency of the new method was also compared to using viral vectors and it was shown that 1.4% conversion efficiency was achieved vs retroviral systems’ 0.01% (although we have experienced better results using lentivirus, at least the 4-in-1 version).

The DNA templates used for in vitro transcription of the iPS factors were created by multiple PCR reactions and bridged ligation; it could also be done by other cloning strategies. For those excited about trying this new way of making iPSCs, the major hassle would be preparing modified mRNAs good and abundant enough for 17 consecutive transfections. Allele Biotech would like to provide custom services, before offering shelf products, for creating such mRNAs as the method sounds potentially very helpful to many researchers in the iPSC field.

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