Anoxic and metabolic stresses in large-scale cell culture during biopharmaceutical production can induce apoptosis. Strategies designed to ameliorate the problem of apoptosis in cell culture have focused on mRNA knockdown of pro-apoptotic proteins and over-expression of anti-apoptotic ones. Apoptosis in cell culture involves mitochondrial permeabilization by the pro-apoptotic Bak and Bax proteins; activity of either protein is sufficient to permit apoptosis. We demonstrate here the complete and permanent elimination of both the Bak and Bax proteins in combination in Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells using zinc-finger nuclease-mediated gene disruption. Zinc-finger nuclease cleavage of BAX and BAK followed by inaccurate DNA repair resulted in knockout of both genes. Cells lacking Bax and Bak grow normally but fail to activate caspases in response to apoptotic stimuli. When grown using scale-down systems under conditions that mimic growth in large-scale bioreactors they are significantly more resistant to apoptosis induced by starvation, staurosporine, and sodium butyrate. When grown under starvation conditions, BAX- and BAK-deleted cells produce two- to fivefold more IgG than wild-type CHO cells. Under normal growth conditions in suspension culture in shake flasks, double-knockout cultures achieve equal or higher cell densities than unmodified wild-type cultures and reach viable cell densities relevant for large-scale industrial protein production.
2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.