Biological Systems Engineering, Department of


Document Type


Date of this Version



Kozisek et al. Journal of Biological Engineering (2023) 17:76


Open access.


Background Human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) are being researched for cell-based therapies due to a host of unique properties, however, genetic modification of hMSCs, accomplished through nonviral gene delivery, could greatly advance their therapeutic potential. Furthermore, expression of multiple transgenes in hMSCs could greatly advance their clinical significance for treatment of multifaceted diseases, as individual transgenes could be expressed that target separate pathogenic drivers of complex diseases. Expressing multiple transgenes can be accomplished by delivering multiple DNA vectors encoding for each transgene, or by delivering a single poly-cistronic vector that encodes for each transgene and accomplishes expression through either use of multiple promoters, an internal ribosome entry site (IRES), or a 2A peptide sequence. These different transgene expression strategies have been used to express multiple transgenes in various mammalian cells, however, they have not been fully evaluated in difficult-to-transfect primary cells, like hMSCs. This study systematically compared four transgene expression and delivery strategies for expression of two reporter transgenes in four donors of hMSCs from two tissue sources using lipid- and polymer-mediate transfection, as follows: (i) delivery of separate DNA vectors in separate nanoparticles; (ii) delivery of separate DNA vectors combined in the same nanoparticle; (iii) delivery of a bi-cistronic DNA vector with an IRES sequence via nanoparticles; and (iv) delivery of a bi-cistronic DNA vector with a dual 2A peptide sequence via nanoparticles.

Results Our results indicate that expression of two transgenes in hMSCs, independent of expression or delivery strategy, is inefficient compared to expressing a single transgene. However, delivery of separate DNA vectors complexed in the same nanoparticle, or delivery of a bi-cistronic DNA vector with a dual 2A peptide sequence, significantly increased the number of hMSCs expressing both transgenes compared to other conditions tested.

Conclusion Separate DNA vectors delivered in the same nanoparticle and bi-cistronic DNA vectors with dual 2A peptide sequences are highly efficient at simultaneously expressing two transgenes in multiple donors of hMSCs from different tissue sources. The data presented in this work can guide the development of hMSC transfection systems for delivery of multiple transgenes, with the goal of producing clinically relevant, genetically modified hMSCs.