- Controlling gene expression with engineered catalytic riboswitches (2012)
- The importance of RNA in molecular and cell biology has long been underestimated. Besides transmitting genetic information, studies of recent years have revealed crucial tasks of RNA especially in gene regulation. Riboswitches are natural RNA-based genetic switches and known only for ten years. They directly sense small-molecule metabolites and regulate in response the expression of the corresponding metabolic genes. Within recent years, artificial riboswitches have been developed that operate according to user-defined demands. Hence, they represent powerful tools for synthetic biology. This study focused on the development of engineered catalytic riboswitches for conditional gene expression in eukaryotes. A self-cleaving hammerhead ribozyme was linked to a tetracycline binding aptamer in order to regulate ribozyme cleavage allosterically with tetracycline. By integrating such a hybrid molecule into a gene of interest, mRNA cleavage and thereby gene expression is controllable in a ligand dependent manner. The linking domain between ribozyme and aptamer was randomised. Tetracycline inducible ribozymes were isolated after eleven cycles of in vitro selection (SELEX). 80% of the analysed ribozymes show cleavage that strongly depends on tetracycline. In the presence of 1 μM tetracycline, their cleavage rates are comparable to that of the parental hammerhead ribozyme. In the absence of tetracycline, cleavage rates are inhibited up to 333-fold. The allosteric ribozymes bind tetracycline with similar affinity and specificity as the parental aptamer. Ribozyme cleavage is fully induced within minutes after addition of tetracycline. Interestingly, the isolated linker domains exhibit structural consensus motives rather than consensus sequences. When transferred to yeast, three switches reduced reporter gene expression by 30 - 60% in the presence of tetracycline; none of them controlled gene expression in mammalian cells. In vitro selected molecules do not necessarily retain their characteristics when applied in a cellular context. Therefore, high throughput screening and selection systems have been developed in mammalian cells. The screening system is based on two fluorescent reporter proteins (GFP and mCherry). 1152 individual constructs of the selected ribozyme pool were tested, but none of them reduced reporter gene expression significantly in the presence of tetracycline. The selection system employs a fusion peptide encoding two selection markers (Hygromycin B phosphotransferase and HSV thymidine kinase) facilitating both negative and positive selection. 6.5 x 104 individual constructs of the selected ribozyme pool are currently under investigation.