Biological Systems Engineering


Date of this Version



Molecular Therapy: Methods & Clinical Development Vol. 18 September 2020


2020 The Author(s).


Human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) are under study for cell and gene therapeutics because of their immunomodulatory and regenerative properties. Safe and efficient gene delivery could increase hMSC clinical potential by enabling expression of transgenes for control over factor production, behavior, and differentiation. Viral delivery is efficient but suffers from safety issues, while nonviral methods are safe but highly inefficient, especially in hMSCs. We previously demonstrated that priming cells with glucocorticoids (Gcs) before delivery of DNA complexes significantly increases hMSC transfection, which correlates with a rescue of transfection-induced metabolic and protein synthesis decline, and apoptosis. In this work, we show that transgene expression enhancement is mediated by transcriptional activation of endogenous hMSC genes by the cytosolic glucocorticoid receptor (cGR) and that transfection enhancement can be potentiated with a GR transcription-activation synergist. We demonstrate that the Gc-activated cGR modulates endogenous hMSC gene expression to ameliorate transfection-induced endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and oxidative stresses, apoptosis, and inflammatory responses to prevent hMSC metabolic and protein synthesis decline, resulting in enhanced transgene expression after nonviral gene delivery to hMSCs. These results provide insights important for rational design of more efficient nonviral gene delivery and priming techniques that could be utilized for clinical hMSC applications.