Adjustable control of therapeutic transgenes in engineered cell implants after transdermal and topical delivery of nontoxic trigger molecules would increase convenience, patient compliance, and elimination of hepatic first-pass effect in future therapies. Pseudomonas putida DOT-T1E has evolved the flavonoid-triggered TtgR operon, which controls expression of a multisubstrate-specific efflux pump (TtgABC) to resist plant-derived defense metabolites in its rhizosphere habitat. Taking advantage of the TtgR operon, we have engineered a hybrid P. putida-mammalian genetic unit responsive to phloretin. This flavonoid is contained in apples, and, as such, or as dietary supplement, regularly consumed by humans. The engineered mammalian phloretin-adjustable control element (PEACE) enabled adjustable and reversible transgene expression in different mammalian cell lines and primary cells. Due to the short half-life of phloretin in culture, PEACE could also be used to program expression of difficult-to-produce protein therapeutics during standard bioreactor operation. When formulated in skin lotions and applied to the skin of mice harboring transgenic cell implants, phloretin was able to fine-tune target genes and adjust heterologous protein levels in the bloodstream of treated mice. PEACE-controlled target gene expression could foster advances in biopharmaceutical manufacturing as well as gene- and cell-based therapies.
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