Increasing the dynamic control space of mammalian transcription devices by combinatorial assembly of homologous regulatory elements from different bacterial species

Prokaryotic transcriptional regulatory elements are widely utilized building blocks for constructing regulatory genetic circuits adapted for mammalian cells and have found their way into a broad range of biotechnological applications. Prokaryotic transcriptional repressors, fused to eukaryotic transactivation or repression domains, compose the transcription factor, which binds and adjusts transcription from chimeric promoters containing the repressor-specific operator sequence. Escherichia coli and Chlamydia trachomatis share common features in the regulatory mechanism of the biosynthesis of l-tryptophan. The repressor protein TrpR of C. trachomatis regulates the trpRBA operon and the TrpR of E. coli regulates the trpEDCBA operon, both requiring l-tryptophan as a co-repressor. Fusion of these bacterial repressors to the VP16 transactivation domain of Herpes simplex virus creates synthetic transactivators that could bind and activate chimeric promoters, assembled by placing repressor-specific operator modules adjacent to a minimal promoter, in an l-tryptophan-adjustable manner. Combinations of different transactivator and promoter variants from the same or different bacterial species resulted in a multitude of regulatory systems where l-tryptophan regulation properties, background noise, and maximal gene expression levels were significantly diverse. Different l-tryptophan analogues showed diverse regulatory capacity depending on the promoter/transactivator combination. We believe the systems approach to rationally choose promoters, transactivators and inducer molecules, to obtain desired and predefined genetic expression dynamics and control profiles, will significantly advance the design of new regulatory circuits as well as improving already existing ones. © 2012 Elsevier Inc.