Development of plasmid-based expression technology for rapid and sustained production of recombinant proteins in insect cells

Due to the high demand for heterogeneous protein production in insect cells, we have established efficient methods for plasmid-based transient gene expression (TGE) in various insect cell lines, including commonly used Spodoptera cell lines Sf9 and HighFive™ (H5) and the Diptera cell line Schneider S2 from Drosophila melanogaster, as a high-yield protein production platform. The cells were grown in suspension in orbitally shaken containers at working volumes of 5-300 mL. Rapid cell growth and high cell densities were obtained. Among the various transfection agents tested, polyethylenimine supported high transfection efficiencies in all three cell lines. Intensive optimizations of TGE processes for the three cell lines were executed. For example, various promoter and enhancer elements were compared. Using an optimal TGE process, transfection efficiencies (percentage of transfected cells) of over 85% were obtained for all three cell lines. Yields of the secreted protein tumor necrosis factor receptor-Fc fusion (TNFR-Fc) ranged from 100 – 200 mg/L for the three cell lines using a gene optimized for expression in insect cells. The molecular weight of the Sf9-derived dimeric TNFR-Fc was about 6 kDa less than the equivalent product synthesized by Chinese hamster ovary cells due to differences in glycosylation. In addition, several difficult-to-express proteins, that failed to be delivered at sufficient quantity using other expression systems, were successfully produced in S2 cells by TGE. A human serotonin receptor was expressed at 20-60 mg/L; empty and peptideloaded MHC II tetramer complexes were expressed at up to 150 mg/L; neutrophil serine proteases were expressed at levels over 50 mg/L; and protein tyrosine kinases were expressed at levels over 2 mg/L. These yields were obtained within 5 days of transfection at volumetric scales up to 300 mL. We also developed methods for the generation of stable polyclonal pools of recombinant S2 cells based on plasmid cotransfection in the context of the Piggybac transposon. After two weeks of genetic selection of recombinant cells, the recombinant pools remained stable for at least 100 days in the absence of selection with volumetric TNFR-Fc productivity over 40 mg/L in a 4-day batch culture. Our data highlight the use of plasmid-based expression systems in insect cells to meet the demand for rapid and sustained production of proteins in sufficient quantities for biomedical research and for the biotechnology industry.


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