Genetic selection of phage engineered for receptor-mediated gene transfer to mammalian cells

Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 1999 Nov 2;264(3):921-8. doi: 10.1006/bbrc.1999.1603.


Although phage display is a powerful way of selecting ligands against purified target proteins, it is less effective for selecting functional ligands for complex targets like living cells. Accordingly, phage display has had limited utility in the development of targeting agents for gene therapy vectors. By adapting a filamentous bacteriophage for gene delivery to mammalian cells, however, we show here that it is possible to screen phage libraries for functional ligands capable of delivering DNA to cells. For example, when targeted with epidermal growth factor (EGF), M13 bacteriophage were capable of delivering a green fluorescent protein (GFP) gene to EGF receptor bearing cells in a ligand-, time-, and phage concentration-dependent manner. The EGF-targeted phage transduced COS-1 cells in a highly specific manner as demonstrated by competition with excess free EGF or alternatively with anti-EGF receptor antibodies. We further demonstrate that EGF-phage can be selected, by their ability to transduce EGF receptor bearing cells from libraries of peptide display phage. When phage were incubated with COS-1 cells, EGF ligand-encoding sequences were recovered by PCR from FACsorted, GFP-positive cells and the EGF-displaying phage were enriched 1 million-fold by four rounds of selection. These data suggest the feasibility of applying molecular evolution to phage gene delivery to select novel cell-specific DNA-targeting ligands. The same approach could be used to select genetically altered phage that are specifically designed and evolved as gene therapy vectors.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteriophages / genetics*
  • Epidermal Growth Factor / genetics
  • Gene Transfer Techniques*
  • Genetic Engineering*
  • Genetic Therapy*
  • Genetic Vectors*
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Humans
  • Luminescent Proteins / genetics
  • Mammals


  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Epidermal Growth Factor