Modular extracellular sensor architecture for engineering mammalian cell-based devices.
ABSTRACT: Engineering mammalian cell-based devices that monitor and therapeutically modulate human physiology is a promising and emerging frontier in clinical synthetic biology. However, realizing this vision will require new technologies enabling engineered circuitry to sense and respond to physiologically relevant cues. No existing technology enables an engineered cell to sense exclusively extracellular ligands, including proteins and pathogens, without relying upon native cellular receptors or signal transduction pathways that may be subject to crosstalk with native cellular components. To address this need, we here report a technology we term a Modular Extracellular Sensor Architecture (MESA). This self-contained receptor and signal transduction platform is maximally orthogonal to native cellular processes and comprises independent, tunable protein modules that enable performance optimization and straightforward engineering of novel MESA that recognize novel ligands. We demonstrate ligand-inducible activation of MESA signaling, optimization of receptor performance using design-based approaches, and generation of MESA biosensors that produce outputs in the form of either transcriptional regulation or transcription-independent reconstitution of enzymatic activity. This systematic, quantitative platform characterization provides a framework for engineering MESA to recognize novel ligands and for integrating these sensors into diverse mammalian synthetic biology applications.
Project description:Protein modification by ubiquitin (UB) controls diverse cellular processes. UB is conjugated to cellular proteins by sequential transfer through an E1-E2-E3 enzymatic cascade. The cross-activities of 2 E1s, 50 E2s and thousands of E3s encoded by the human genome make it difficult to identify the substrate proteins of a specific E3 enzyme in the cell. One way to solve this problem is to engineer an orthogonal UB transfer (OUT) cascade in which the engineered UB (xUB) is relayed by engineered E1, E2 and E3 enzymes (xE1, xE2, xE3) to modify the substrate proteins of a specific E3. Here, we use phage display and mutagenesis to construct xUB-xE1 and xE1-xE2 pairs that are orthogonal to the native E1 and E2 enzymes. Our work on engineering the UB transfer cascades will enable us to use OUT to map the signal transduction networks mediated by protein ubiquitination.
Project description:Directed migration of diverse cell types plays a critical role in biological processes ranging from development and morphogenesis to immune response, wound healing, and regeneration. However, techniques to direct, manipulate, and study cell migration in vitro and in vivo in a specific and facile manner are currently limited. We conceived of a strategy to achieve direct control over cell migration to arbitrary user-defined locations, independent of native chemotaxis receptors. Here, we show that genetic modification of cells with an engineered G protein-coupled receptor allows us to redirect their migration to a bioinert drug-like small molecule, clozapine-N-oxide (CNO). The engineered receptor and small-molecule ligand form an orthogonal pair: The receptor does not respond to native ligands, and the inert drug does not bind to native cells. CNO-responsive migration can be engineered into a variety of cell types, including neutrophils, T lymphocytes, keratinocytes, and endothelial cells. The engineered cells migrate up a gradient of the drug CNO and transmigrate through endothelial monolayers. Finally, we demonstrate that T lymphocytes modified with the engineered receptor can specifically migrate in vivo to CNO-releasing beads implanted in a live mouse. This technology provides a generalizable genetic tool to systematically perturb and control cell migration both in vitro and in vivo. In the future, this type of migration control could be a valuable module for engineering therapeutic cellular devices.
Project description:Engineered cell-based therapies comprise a promising, emerging biomedical technology. Broad utilization of this strategy will require new approaches for implementing sophisticated functional programs, such as sensing and responding to the environment in a defined fashion. Toward this goal, we investigated whether our self-contained receptor and signal transduction system (MESA) could be multiplexed to evaluate extracellular cues, with a focus on elucidating principles governing the integration of such engineered components. We first developed a set of hybrid promoters that exhibited AND gate activation by two transcription factors. We then evaluated these promoters when paired with two MESA receptors and various ligand combinations. Unexpectedly, although the multiplexed system exhibited distinct responses to ligands applied individually and in combination, the same synergy was not observed as when promoters were characterized with soluble transcription factors. Therefore, we developed a mechanistic computational model leveraging these observations, to both improve our understanding of how the receptors and promoters interface and to guide the design and implementation of future systems. Notably, the model explicitly accounts for the impact of intercellular variation on system characterization and performance. Model analysis identified key factors that affect the current receptors and promoters, and enabled an in silico exploration of potential modifications that inform the design of improved logic gates and their robustness to intercellular variation. Ultimately, this quantitative design-driven approach may guide the use and multiplexing of synthetic receptors for diverse custom biological functions beyond the case study considered here.
Project description:Synthetic receptors are powerful tools for engineering mammalian cell-based devices. These biosensors enable cell-based therapies to perform complex tasks such as regulating therapeutic gene expression in response to sensing physiological cues. Although multiple synthetic receptor systems now exist, many aspects of receptor performance are poorly understood. In general, it would be useful to understand how receptor design choices influence performance characteristics. In this study, we examined the modular extracellular sensor architecture (MESA) and systematically evaluated previously unexamined design choices, yielding substantially improved receptors. A key finding that might extend to other receptor systems is that the choice of transmembrane domain (TMD) is important for generating high-performing receptors. To provide mechanistic insights, we adopted and employed a Förster resonance energy transfer-based assay to elucidate how TMDs affect receptor complex formation and connected these observations to functional performance. To build further insight into these phenomena, we developed a library of new MESA receptors that sense an expanded set of ligands. Based upon these explorations, we conclude that TMDs affect signaling primarily by modulating intracellular domain geometry. Finally, to guide the design of future receptors, we propose general principles for linking design choices to biophysical mechanisms and performance characteristics.
Project description:Previous efforts to control cellular behaviour have largely relied upon various forms of genetic engineering. Once the genetic content of a living cell is modified, the behaviour of that cell typically changes as well. However, other methods of cellular control are possible. All cells sense and respond to their environment. Therefore, artificial, non-living cellular mimics could be engineered to activate or repress already existing natural sensory pathways of living cells through chemical communication. Here we describe the construction of such a system. The artificial cells expand the senses of Escherichia coli by translating a chemical message that E. coli cannot sense on its own to a molecule that activates a natural cellular response. This methodology could open new opportunities in engineering cellular behaviour without exploiting genetically modified organisms.
Project description:BACKGROUND:The engineering of metabolism holds tremendous promise for the production of desirable metabolites, particularly alternative fuels and other highly reduced molecules. Engineering approaches must redirect the transfer of chemical reducing equivalents, preventing these electrons from being lost to general cellular metabolism. This is especially the case for high energy electrons stored in iron-sulfur clusters within proteins, which are readily transferred when two such clusters are brought in close proximity. Iron sulfur proteins therefore require mechanisms to ensure interaction between proper partners, analogous to many signal transduction proteins. While there has been progress in the isolation of engineered metabolic pathways in recent years, the design of insulated electron metabolism circuits in vivo has not been pursued. RESULTS:Here we show that a synthetic hydrogen-producing electron transfer circuit in Escherichia coli can be insulated from existing cellular metabolism via multiple approaches, in many cases improving the function of the pathway. Our circuit is composed of heterologously expressed [Fe-Fe]-hydrogenase, ferredoxin, and pyruvate-ferredoxin oxidoreductase (PFOR), allowing the production of hydrogen gas to be coupled to the breakdown of glucose. We show that this synthetic pathway can be insulated through the deletion of competing reactions, rational engineering of protein interaction surfaces, direct protein fusion of interacting partners, and co-localization of pathway components on heterologous protein scaffolds. CONCLUSIONS:Through the construction and characterization of a synthetic metabolic circuit in vivo, we demonstrate a novel system that allows for predictable engineering of an insulated electron transfer pathway. The development of this system demonstrates working principles for the optimization of engineered pathways for alternative energy production, as well as for understanding how electron transfer between proteins is controlled.
Project description:Cells perceive a wide variety of cellular and environmental signals, which are often processed combinatorially to generate particular phenotypic responses. Here, we employ both single and mixed cell type populations, pre-programmed with engineered modular cell signalling and sensing circuits, as processing units to detect and integrate multiple environmental signals. Based on an engineered modular genetic AND logic gate, we report the construction of a set of scalable synthetic microbe-based biosensors comprising exchangeable sensory, signal processing and actuation modules. These cellular biosensors were engineered using distinct signalling sensory modules to precisely identify various chemical signals, and combinations thereof, with a quantitative fluorescent output. The genetic logic gate used can function as a biological filter and an amplifier to enhance the sensing selectivity and sensitivity of cell-based biosensors. In particular, an Escherichia coli consortium-based biosensor has been constructed that can detect and integrate three environmental signals (arsenic, mercury and copper ion levels) via either its native two-component signal transduction pathways or synthetic signalling sensors derived from other bacteria in combination with a cell-cell communication module. We demonstrate how a modular cell-based biosensor can be engineered predictably using exchangeable synthetic gene circuit modules to sense and integrate multiple-input signals. This study illustrates some of the key practical design principles required for the future application of these biosensors in broad environmental and healthcare areas.
Project description:Bioengineering holds great promise to provide fast and efficient biocatalysts for methanol-based biotechnology, but necessitates proven methods to optimize physiology in engineered strains. Here, we highlight experimental evolution as an effective means for optimizing an engineered Methylobacterium extorquens AM1. Replacement of the native formaldehyde oxidation pathway with a functional analog substantially decreased growth in an engineered Methylobacterium, but growth rapidly recovered after six hundred generations of evolution on methanol. We used whole-genome sequencing to identify the basis of adaptation in eight replicate evolved strains, and examined genomic changes in light of other growth and physiological data. We observed great variety in the numbers and types of mutations that occurred, including instances of parallel mutations at targets that may have been "rationalized" by the bioengineer, plus other "illogical" mutations that demonstrate the ability of evolution to expose unforeseen optimization solutions. Notably, we investigated mutations to RNA polymerase, which provided a massive growth benefit but are linked to highly aberrant transcriptional profiles. Overall, we highlight the power of experimental evolution to present genetic and physiological solutions for strain optimization, particularly in systems where the challenges of engineering are too many or too difficult to overcome via traditional engineering methods.
Project description:Angiogenesis is a necessary process for solid tumor growth. Cellular markers for endothelial cell proliferation are potential targets for identifying the vasculature of tumors in homeostasis. Here we customize the behaviors of engineered cells to recognize Apj, a surface marker of the neovascular endothelium, using synthetic Notch (synNotch) receptors. We designed apelin-based synNotch receptors (AsNRs) that can specifically interact with Apj and then stimulate synNotch pathways. Cells engineered with AsNRs have the ability to sense the proliferation of endothelial cells (ECs). Designed for different synNotch pathways, engineered cells express different proteins to respond to angiogenic signals; therefore, angiogenesis can be detected by cells engineered with AsNRs. Furthermore, T cells customized with AsNRs can sense the proliferation of vascular endothelial cells. As solid tumors generally require vascular support, AsNRs are potential tools for the detection and therapy of a variety of solid tumors in adults.
Project description:Notch signaling is highly conserved in most animals and plays critical roles during neurogenesis as well as embryonic development. Synthetic Notch-based systems, modeled from Notch receptors, have been developed to sense and respond to a specific extracellular signal. Recent advancement of synNotch has shown promise for future use in cellular engineering to treat cancers. However, synNotch from Morsut et al. (2016) has a high level of ligand-independent activation, which limits its application. Here we show that adding an intracellular hydrophobic sequence (QHGQLWF, named as RAM7) present in native Notch, significantly reduced ligand-independent activation. Our enhanced synthetic Notch receptor (esNotch) demonstrates up to a 14.6-fold reduction in ligand-independent activation, without affecting its antigen-induced activation efficiency. Our work improves a previously reported transmembrane receptor and provides a powerful tool to develop better transmembrane signaling transduction modules for further advancement of eukaryotic synthetic biology.