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Abstract

Transient gene expression (TGE) is a rapid method for the production of recombinant proteins. Recently, valproic acid (VPA), a well known histone deacetylase inhibitor, has been suggested for the use in cell cultures to enhance recombinant protein expression. However, little was known about protein expression in HEK-293E cells under VPA treatment. Therefore, the first aim of this thesis was to describe the effects of VPA on protein expression by TGE in HEK-293E cells. The addition of VPA induced a dose-dependent increase in protein production. Under the optimal VPA concentration (3.75 mM) IgG volumetric productivity increased over 8-fold compared to the control. This was achieved through improvements in both integral viable cell density (IVCD) and cell specific productivity. The IVCD was improved by the VPA-induced cell growth arrest resulting in longer culture duration and extended protein production phase. The enhancement in specific productivity in VPA-treated cells was a consequence of higher cellular pDNA copy number and improved pDNA utilization that led to higher transgene mRNA levels. The study on limitations governing VPA-based TGE protein expression in HEK-293E cells revealed the bottlenecks at the transcriptional and translational levels, however the limitation did not appear to be at the level of protein folding or assembly for the model IgG antibody studied. In addition, the effect of VPA was tested on the expression of different recombinant monoclonal antibodies and Fc-fusion proteins. The results showed that VPA addition did not always significantly improve protein titers. Since the optimal VPA concentration was dependent on both the recombinant protein being expressed and the amount of coding pDNA used for transfection, we recommend evaluating the suitability of VPA addition and the optimization of VPA concentration in order to find the optimal conditions for TGE protein expression. We believe that this work will contribute to the design of more rational, robust, and successful expression platforms for recombinant protein production in HEK-293E cells. One of the major contributors to the cost of TGE process at large scale is the considerable amount of pDNA required for transfection. Therefore, the second aim of III this thesis was to determine a cost-effective method to reduce the pDNA amount. We showed that a part of the coding pDNA can be replaced with nonspecific (filler) DNA with minimal loss in volumetric productivity. The studies revealed that the presence of filler DNA allowed the coding pDNA to be distributed over a larger number of DNA-PEI complexes. This resulted in a higher percentage of transfected cells and may favor the better utilization of the coding pDNA by the cell’s transcription machinery. The use of filler DNA as a part of defined fed-batch process (based on the addition of glucose and plant derived protein hydrolysates) resulted in 25 fold reduction in coding pDNA amount requirement while maintaining volumetric protein productivity over 1 g/l. The cost reduction of TGE-produced proteins, due to significant decrease in pDNA amount requirement for transfections, will certainly facilitate the development and implementation of large scale TGE as a feasible method for TGE-based protein production.

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