Biologically Improved Electrotransfection for Gene Delivery and Genome Editing


Yuan, Fan

Mao, Mao





Biomedical Engineering


Successful transfection of genetically active materials is essential to gene delivery and genome editing. Electrotransfection, also known as electroporation, is a fast, safe, and convenient non-viral method for introducing materials such as proteins and nucleic acids into cells and tissues. It has been widely used in academic research, industrial manufacturing, and clinical therapeutics. Particularly, electrotransfection is one of the most commonly used method in gene delivery into mammalian cells. However, despite its many advantages comparing to other gene delivery methods, the application of electrotransfection is limited by inconsistent transfection efficiency, which is caused by the poor understanding of the mechanism of electrotransfection.

The goal of my research is to understand the fundamental biological mechanisms of electrotransfection and to develop novel strategies that can improve the transfection efficiency of gene delivery and genome editing. To this end, this study is divided into two phases. Phase 1 aims at understanding the key cellular components involved in the transport process. Phase 2 focuses on the development of strategies to enhance electrotransfection by controlling the biological pathways that are involved in electrotransfection.

In the first phase of my study, we investigated the dependence of electrotransfection efficiency on endocytosis. Data from this study demonstrated that macropinocytosis is involved in electrotransfection. The results revealed that electric pulses induced cell membrane ruffling and actin cytoskeleton remodeling. Using fluorescently labeled pDNA and a macropinocytosis marker (i.e., dextran), the study showed that electrotransfected pDNA co-localized with dextran in intracellular vesicles formed from macropinocytosis. Furthermore, electrotransfection efficiency was reduced significantly by lowering temperature or treatment of cells with a pharmacological inhibitor of Rac1 and could be altered by changing Rac1 activity. Taken together, the findings suggested that electrotransfection of pDNA involved Rac1-dependent macropinocytosis.

Second phase of this study focuses on the intracellular transport of plasmid DNA, especially the transport of DNA molecules towards degradative compartments. Our data elucidated that components in both endocytic and autophagic pathways are responsible for intracellular trafficking and processing of transfected materials such as pDNA. In addition, we also characterized a new type of vesicle named amphisome-like vesicle (ALB) and revealed its involvement in electrotransfection. Based on these findings, we propose a novel strategy to enhance electrotransfection by blocking degradative routes within the endocytic pathways, which led to the development of a new technique called transfection by redirection of endocytic and autophagic traffic (TREAT). Transfection of plasmid DNA (pDNA), messenger RNA (mRNA), sleeping beauty transposon system (SB), and different forms of CRISPR/Cas9 system by TREAT achieved superior efficiency in various cell lines including difficult-to-transfect human primary cells. In addition, we successfully applied TREAT method to improve clinically relevant applications including SB-based gene integration and CRISPR/Cas9-based editing of T cell receptor alpha constant (TRAC). In summary, we studied the biological mechanism of electrotransfection and developed a general, flexible, and reliable technique to enable highly efficient non-viral gene delivery and genome editing. Furthermore, the insights gained on the mechanism of electrotransfection provide better understanding of cellular response to exogenous materials. In the future, our study could potentially pave new paths for a wide range of research and therapeutic applications such as CRISPR/Cas9 mediated high-throughput loss-of-function gene screening analysis, correction of disease-related mutations, as well as genetic engineering of immune cells and stem cells for transplantation.



Biomedical engineering


Cell therapy




Gene delivery


Gene therapy


Genome editing




Biologically Improved Electrotransfection for Gene Delivery and Genome Editing






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