Synthetic biology devices and circuits for RNA-based 'smart vaccines': a propositional review

Expert Rev Vaccines. 2015 Feb;14(2):313-31. doi: 10.1586/14760584.2015.997714. Epub 2015 Jan 7.


Nucleic acid vaccines have been gaining attention as an alternative to the standard attenuated pathogen or protein based vaccine. However, an unrealized advantage of using such DNA or RNA based vaccination modalities is the ability to program within these nucleic acids regulatory devices that would provide an immunologist with the power to control the production of antigens and adjuvants in a desirable manner by administering small molecule drugs as chemical triggers. Advances in synthetic biology have resulted in the creation of highly predictable and modular genetic parts and devices that can be composed into synthetic gene circuits with complex behaviors. With the recent advent of modified RNA gene delivery methods and developments in the RNA replicon platform, we foresee a future in which mammalian synthetic biologists will create genetic circuits encoded exclusively on RNA. Here, we review the current repertoire of devices used in RNA synthetic biology and propose how programmable 'smart vaccines' will revolutionize the field of RNA vaccination.

Keywords: RNA; RNA binding proteins; RNA replicons; RNAi; destabilizing domains; modified RNA; post-transcriptional gene regulation; synthetic biology; synthetic gene circuits; synthetic riboswitches; vaccination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • DNA / genetics
  • DNA / immunology*
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Genetic Engineering
  • Genetic Therapy
  • Humans
  • Proteins / genetics
  • Proteins / immunology*
  • RNA / genetics
  • RNA / immunology*
  • RNA Processing, Post-Transcriptional
  • RNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Synthetic Biology
  • Vaccination*
  • Vaccines, DNA / genetics
  • Vaccines, DNA / immunology*


  • Proteins
  • RNA-Binding Proteins
  • Vaccines, DNA
  • RNA
  • DNA