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In Nature communications ; h5-index 260.0

Despite significant clinical progress in cell and gene therapies, maximizing protein expression in order to enhance potency remains a major technical challenge. Here, we develop a high-throughput strategy to design, screen, and optimize 5' UTRs that enhance protein expression from a strong human cytomegalovirus (CMV) promoter. We first identify naturally occurring 5' UTRs with high translation efficiencies and use this information with in silico genetic algorithms to generate synthetic 5' UTRs. A total of ~12,000 5' UTRs are then screened using a recombinase-mediated integration strategy that greatly enhances the sensitivity of high-throughput screens by eliminating copy number and position effects that limit lentiviral approaches. Using this approach, we identify three synthetic 5' UTRs that outperform commonly used non-viral gene therapy plasmids in expressing protein payloads. In summary, we demonstrate that high-throughput screening of 5' UTR libraries with recombinase-mediated integration can identify genetic elements that enhance protein expression, which should have numerous applications for engineered cell and gene therapies.

Cao Jicong, Novoa Eva Maria, Zhang Zhizhuo, Chen William C W, Liu Dianbo, Choi Gigi C G, Wong Alan S L, Wehrspaun Claudia, Kellis Manolis, Lu Timothy K

2021-07-06