Evaluation of long-term transgene expression in piggyBac-modified human T lymphocytes

J Immunother. 2013 Jan;36(1):3-10. doi: 10.1097/CJI.0b013e3182791234.


The piggyBac transposon system is a promising nonviral method to genetically modify T cells for immunotherapeutic applications. To evaluate the regulation and stability of transgene expression in human T cells modified with piggyBac-transposons, peripheral blood mononuclear cells were nucleofected with transposase and an enhanced green fluorescence protein (eGFP)-expressing transposon. Single-cell clones that were subsequently stimulated and expanded exhibited homogenous eGFP expression for >26 weeks in culture. CD3 stimulation of the T-cell receptor together with CD28-mediated costimulation resulted in an approximate 10-fold transient increase in eGFP expression, but immunomodulatory cytokines, including interferon-γ, interleukin-12, interleukin-4, and transforming growth factor-β, did not alter transgene expression in actively dividing, activated, or resting T cells. Epigenetic modification with 5-azacytidine or trichostatin-A increased transgene expression indicating that piggyBac-mediated transgene expression could be modulated by methylation or histone acetylation, respectively. We performed transposon copy number analysis of populations of stably transfected T cells, comparing transposon plasmids of 5.6 and 3.5 kb. The smaller vector achieved an average of 22 transposon copies per cell, whereas the larger vector achieved 1.6 copies/cell, implying that transposon copy number can be engineered to be low or high depending on the vector used. Our results provide important insight into the ability of piggyBac to achieve stable genetic modification of T cells for immunotherapy applications and how transgene expression might be regulated by TCR activation, cytokines, and epigenetic mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Azacitidine / pharmacology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytokines / pharmacology
  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • Gene Expression / drug effects
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Hydroxamic Acids / pharmacology
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics*
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism*
  • Transfection / methods
  • Transgenes / genetics*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Cytokines
  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors
  • Hydroxamic Acids
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • PGBD1 protein, human
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell
  • enhanced green fluorescent protein
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • trichostatin A
  • Azacitidine