Generation of homogeneous cell populations with tunable levels of transgene expression

J Biotechnol. 2021 Jan 10;325:288-293. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiotec.2020.10.008. Epub 2020 Oct 9.


We describe here a vector construct to establish homogeneous cell populations expressing a recombinant gene of interest (GOI) at tuneable levels, including low expression levels that are difficult to generate using standard cell line development techniques. This is achieved using a tricistronic mRNA that contains an open reading frame for the gene of interest, a first internal ribosome entry site (IRES), an open reading frame for a fluorescent reporter protein (such as green fluorescent protein, GFP), a second IRES and an open reading for an antibiotic resistance gene (such as puromycin N-acetyl-transferase, PAC). The resistance gene allows convenient selection of stable cell populations. The fluorescent reporter protein allows convenient homogeneity and expression stability assessments of the cell line. The expression level of the GOI can be adjusted by using different start codons for the open reading frame. These alternate start codons will initiate the translation of the GOI with different efficiency, leading to cell populations expressing different levels of the GOI, and similar levels of the fluorescent reporter through the first IRES and the puromycin resistance gene through the second IRES to the GOI. Such cell populations are useful tools, for instance to assess the safety of potent targeted therapeutics, as they allow the simplified generations of homogenous cell populations with different levels of target protein expression between populations.

Keywords: Homogeneous cell populations; Low expressing cell populations; Stable cell line development; Tunable expression.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Genetic Vectors* / genetics
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics
  • Puromycin / pharmacology
  • Transgenes


  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Puromycin