A versatile framework for the design of ligand-dependent, transgene-specific transcription factors

Mol Ther. 2001 Feb;3(2):262-73. doi: 10.1006/mthe.2000.0254.


The ability to regulate transgene expression will be essential for the safety and efficacy of many gene therapies. Various ligand-dependent transcription factors, including steroid hormone receptors, have been modified to enable transgene-specific regulation. To minimize effects on cellular gene expression, chimeric steroid receptors have been constructed by replacing their native DNA binding domain (DBD) with a heterologous DBD, like that from the yeast transcription factor GAL4. This approach has limitations for human gene therapy, including the potential immunogenicity of the GAL4 domain and the inability to discriminate between different GAL4-linked transgenes in the same cell. To address this, we have constructed chimeric regulators containing the human estrogen receptor (ER) ligand binding domain (LBD) and a Cys(2)-His(2)-type zinc finger DBD. Cys(2)-His(2) zinc finger domains are common among human DNA binding proteins and can be engineered to selectively bind different DNA sequences. We demonstrate over 500-fold drug-dependent transgene induction with these chimeric regulators in vitro and the ability to regulate an adenovirus-delivered transgene in mice. Two chimeras containing different Cys(2)-His(2) domains displayed highly sequence-specific binding and regulation. Incorporating a point mutation in the ER LBD that ablates estrogen binding enables selective in vivo regulation with the clinically useful anti-estrogen tamoxifen. These Cys(2)-His(2)-ER LBD chimeras represent a versatile framework for creating transgene-specific regulators potentially useful for human gene therapy applications.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenoviridae / genetics
  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • DNA / metabolism
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Gene Transfer Techniques*
  • Genetic Therapy / methods*
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Ligands*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mutagenesis
  • Plasmids / metabolism
  • Point Mutation
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Receptors, Estrogen / chemistry
  • Time Factors
  • Transcription Factors / genetics*
  • Transfection
  • Transgenes*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Zinc Fingers


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Ligands
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Transcription Factors
  • DNA