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Open Access Methodology article

Stringent and reproducible tetracycline-regulated transgene expression by site-specific insertion at chromosomal loci with pre-characterised induction characteristics

Rachel Brough12, Antigoni M Papanastasiou13 and Andrew CG Porter1*

Author Affiliations

1 Gene Targeting Group, Department of Haematology and MRC Clinical Sciences Centre, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College, London, W12 0NN, UK

2 The Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre, Institute of Cancer Research, 237 Fulham Road, London, SW3 6JB, UK

3 Institute of Child Health, 30 Guilford Street, London, WC1N 1EH, UK

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BMC Molecular Biology 2007, 8:30  doi:10.1186/1471-2199-8-30

Published: 10 May 2007

Abstract

Background

The ability to regulate transgene expression has many applications, mostly concerning the analysis of gene function. Desirable induction characteristics, such as low un-induced expression, high induced expression and limited cellular heterogeneity, can be seriously impaired by chromosomal position effects at the site of transgene integration. Many clones may therefore need to be screened before one with optimal induction characteristics is identified. Furthermore, such screens must be repeated for each new transgene investigated, and comparisons between clones with different transgenes is complicated by their different integration sites.

Results

To circumvent these problems we have developed a "screen and insert" strategy in which clones carrying a transgene for a fluorescent reporter are first screened for those with optimal induction characteristics. Site-specific recombination (SSR) is then be used repeatedly to insert any new transgene at the reporter transgene locus of such clones so that optimal induction characteristics are conferred upon it. Here we have tested in a human fibrosarcoma cell line (HT1080) two of many possible implementations of this approach. Clones (e.g. Rht14-10) in which a GFP reporter gene is very stringently regulated by the tetracycline (tet) transactivator (tTA) protein were first identified flow-cytometrically. Transgenes encoding luciferase, I-SceI endonuclease or Rad52 were then inserted by SSR at a LoxP site adjacent to the GFP gene resulting stringent tet-regulated transgene expression. In clone Rht14-10, increases in expression from essentially background levels (+tet) to more than 104-fold above background (-tet) were reproducibly detected after Cre-mediated insertion of either the luciferase or the I-SceI transgenes.

Conclusion

Although previous methods have made use of SSR to integrate transgenes at defined sites, none has effectively combined this with a pre-selection step to identify integration sites that support optimal regulatory characteristics. Rht14-10 and similar HT1080-derived clones can now be used in conjunction with a convenient delivery vector (pIN2-neoMCS), in a simple 3-step protocol leading to stringent and reproducible transgene regulation. This approach will be particularly useful for transgenes whose products are very active at low concentrations and/or for comparisons of multiple related transgenes.