Biological Systems Engineering, Department of


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Kozisek et al. Journal of Biological Engineering, (2020) 14:16


© The Author(s). 2020


Background: Human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) are intensely researched for applications in cell therapeutics due to their unique properties, however, intrinsic therapeutic properties of hMSCs could be enhanced by genetic modification. Viral transduction is efficient, but suffers from safety issues. Conversely, nonviral gene delivery, while safer compared to viral, suffers from inefficiency and cytotoxicity, especially in hMSCs. To address the shortcomings of nonviral gene delivery to hMSCs, our lab has previously demonstrated that pharmacological ‘priming’ of hMSCs with the glucocorticoid dexamethasone can significantly increase transfection in hMSCs by modulating transfection-induced cytotoxicity. This work seeks to establish a library of transfection priming compounds for hMSCs by screening 707 FDA-approved drugs, belonging to diverse drug classes, from the NIH Clinical Collection at four concentrations for their ability to modulate nonviral gene delivery to adipose-derived hMSCs from two human donors.

Results: Microscope images of cells transfected with a fluorescent transgene were analyzed in order to identify compounds that significantly affected hMSC transfection without significant toxicity. Compound classes that increased transfection across both donors included glucocorticoids, antibiotics, and antihypertensives. Notably, clobetasol propionate, a glucocorticoid, increased transgene production 18-fold over unprimed transfection. Furthermore, compound classes that decreased transfection across both donors included flavonoids, antibiotics, and antihypertensives, with the flavonoid epigallocatechin gallate decreasing transgene production − 41-fold compared to unprimed transfection.

Conclusions: Our screen of the NCC is the first high-throughput and drug-repurposing approach to identify nonviral gene delivery priming compounds in two donors of hMSCs. Priming compounds and classes identified in this screen suggest that modulation of proliferation, mitochondrial function, and apoptosis is vital for enhancing nonviral gene delivery to hMSCs.