Engineering T cell function using chimeric antigen receptors identified using a DNA library approach

PLoS One. 2013 May 7;8(5):e63037. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0063037. Print 2013.


Genetic engineering of cellular function holds much promise for the treatment of a variety of diseases including gene deficiencies and cancer. However, engineering the full complement of cellular functions can be a daunting genetic exercise since many molecular triggers need to be activated to achieve complete function. In the case of T cells, genes encoding chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) covalently linking antibodies to cytoplasmic signaling domains can trigger some, but not all, cellular functions against cancer cells. To date, relatively few CAR formats have been investigated using a candidate molecule approach, in which rationally chosen molecules were trialed one by one. Therefore, to expedite this arduous process we developed an innovative screening method to screen many thousands of CAR formats to identify genes able to enhance the anticancer ability of T cells. We used a directional in-frame library of randomly assembled signaling domains in a CAR specific for the tumor associated antigen erbB2. Several new and original CARs were identified, one of which had an enhanced ability to lyse cancer cells and inhibit tumor growth in mice. This study highlights novel technology that could be used to screen a variety of molecules for their capacity to induce diverse functions in cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Engineering / methods*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Gene Library*
  • Genes, erbB-2 / genetics
  • Genetic Vectors / genetics
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Receptors, Antigen / genetics*
  • Receptors, Immunologic / genetics
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / genetics*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Retroviridae / genetics
  • T-Lymphocytes / cytology*
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor Receptor Superfamily, Member 7 / genetics


  • HCST protein, human
  • Receptors, Antigen
  • Receptors, Immunologic
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor Receptor Superfamily, Member 7

Grant support

Funding was provided by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, grant number 1006188 ( The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.