1. School of Biomedical Sciences, The University of Hong Kong, 21 Sassoon Road, Pokfulam, Hong Kong
2. State Key Laboratory of Liver Research, The University of Hong Kong, 21 Sassoon Road, Pokfulam, Hong Kong
3. Department of Microbiology, The University of Hong Kong, 102 Pokfulam Road, Pokfulam, Hong Kong
#These authors contributed equally to this work.
Background: Expression of genes of interest from plasmids or lentiviral vectors is one of the most common tools in molecular and gene therapy. Aberrant splicing between the inserted gene of interest and downstream vector sequence has not been systematically analyzed.
Methods: Formation of aberrant fusion transcripts and proteins was detected by RT-PCR, sequencing, Western blotting and mass spectrometry. Bioinformatic analysis was performed to identify all human and mouse genes prone to vector-dependent aberrant splicing. Selected genes were experimentally validated.
Results: When we expressed human FACI in cultured cells, an aberrant splicing event was found to occur between FACI transcript and downstream plasmid sequence through one exon-exon junction in FACI that accidentally contributes a splice donor site. To explore whether this could be a general phenomenon, we searched the whole human and mouse genomes for protein-coding genes that harbor an exon-exon junction resembling a splice donor site. Almost all genes prone to this type of aberrant splicing were identified. A total of 17 genes among the hits were randomly selected for experimental validation. RT-PCR and sequencing results verified that 13 genes were aberrantly spliced on the identified exon-exon junctions. In addition, all 17 genes were aberrantly spliced on their V5 tag sequence. Aberrant fusion protein expression from all 17 genes was validated by immunoblotting. Aberrant splicing was prevented by recoding the V5 tag or the splice sites.
Conclusions: Our study revealed an unexpectedly high frequency of vector-dependent aberrant splicing events. Aberrant formation of the resulting fusion proteins could undermine the accuracy of gain-of-function studies and might cause potential side effects when the therapeutic gene is expressed in vivo. Our work has implications in improving vector construction and epitope tagging for gene expression and therapy.
Keywords: Aberrant RNA splicing, lentiviral vector, gene therapy, exon-exon junction, splice donor site, V5 tag