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Open Access Highly Accessed Methodology article

Development of a new bicistronic retroviral vector with strong IRES activity

Patrick Martin1, Olivier Albagli2, Marie Christine Poggi1, Kim E Boulukos1 and Philippe Pognonec1*

Author Affiliations

1 CNRS UMR6548, Parc Valrose, Université de Nice Sophia Antipolis, Nice, France

2 INSERM U362, Institut Gustave Roussy, Villejuif, France

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BMC Biotechnology 2006, 6:4  doi:10.1186/1472-6750-6-4

Published: 12 January 2006

Abstract

Background

Internal Ribosome Entry Site (IRES)-based bicistronic vectors are important tools in today's cell biology. Among applications, the expression of two proteins under the control of a unique promoter permits the monitoring of expression of a protein whose biological function is being investigated through the observation of an easily detectable tracer, such as Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP). However, analysis of published results making use of bicistronic vectors indicates that the efficiency of the IRES-controlled expression can vary widely from one vector to another, despite their apparent identical IRES sequences. We investigated the molecular basis for these discrepancies.

Results

We observed up to a 10 fold difference in IRES-controlled expression from distinct bicistronic expression vectors harboring the same apparent IRES sequences. We show that the insertion of a HindIII site, in place of the initiating AUG codon of the wild type EMCV IRES, is responsible for the dramatic loss of expression from the second cistron, whereas expression from the first cistron remains unaffected. Thus, while the replacement of the authentic viral initiating AUG by a HindIII site results in the theoretical usage of the initiation codon of the HindIII-subcloned cDNA, the subsequent drop of expression dramatically diminishes the interest of the bicistronic structure. Indeed, insertion of the HindIII site has such a negative effect on IRES function that detection of the IRES-controlled product can be difficult, and sometimes even below the levels of detection. It is striking to observe that this deleterious modification is widely found in available IRES-containing vectors, including commercial ones, despite early reports in the literature stating the importance of the integrity of the initiation codon for optimal IRES function.

Conclusion

From these observations, we engineered a new vector family, pPRIG, which respects the EMCV IRES structure, and permits easy cloning, tagging, sequencing, and expression of any cDNA in the first cistron, while keeping a high level of expression from its IRES-dependent second cistron (here encoding eGFP).