Design of fast proteolysis-based signaling and logic circuits in mammalian cells

Nat Chem Biol. 2019 Feb;15(2):115-122. doi: 10.1038/s41589-018-0181-6. Epub 2018 Dec 10.


Cellular signal transduction is predominantly based on protein interactions and their post-translational modifications, which enable a fast response to input signals. Owing to difficulties in designing new unique protein-protein interactions, designed cellular logic has focused on transcriptional regulation; however, that process has a substantially slower response, because it requires transcription and translation. Here, we present de novo design of modular, scalable signaling pathways based on proteolysis and designed coiled coils (CC) and implemented in mammalian cells. A set of split proteases with highly specific orthogonal cleavage motifs was constructed and combined with strategically positioned cleavage sites and designed orthogonal CC dimerizing domains with tunable affinity for competitive displacement after proteolytic cleavage. This framework enabled the implementation of Boolean logic functions and signaling cascades in mammalian cells. The designed split-protease-cleavable orthogonal-CC-based (SPOC) logic circuits enable response to chemical or biological signals within minutes rather than hours and should be useful for diverse medical and nonmedical applications.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Endopeptidases
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics
  • Humans
  • Logic
  • Mammals
  • Protein Domains / physiology
  • Protein Engineering / methods*
  • Protein Interaction Mapping / methods*
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational / physiology
  • Proteolysis
  • Signal Transduction
  • Synthetic Biology / methods


  • Endopeptidases