In Vitro Transcriptional Regulation via Nucleic-Acid-Based Transcription Factors


Cells execute complex transcriptional programs by deploying distinct protein regulatory assemblies that interact with cis-regulatory elements throughout the genome. Using concepts from DNA nanotechnology, we synthetically recapitulated this feature in in vitro gene networks actuated by T7 RNA polymerase (RNAP). Our approach involves engineering nucleic acid hybridization interactions between a T7 RNAP site-specifically functionalized with single-stranded DNA (ssDNA), templates displaying cis-regulatory ssDNA domains, and auxiliary nucleic acid assemblies acting as artificial transcription factors (TFs). By relying on nucleic acid hybridization, de novo regulatory assemblies can be computationally designed to emulate features of protein-based TFs, such as cooperativity and combinatorial binding, while offering unique advantages such as programmability, chemical stability, and scalability. We illustrate the use of nucleic acid TFs to implement transcriptional logic, cascading, feedback, and multiplexing. This framework will enable rapid prototyping of increasingly complex in vitro genetic devices for applications such as portable diagnostics, bioanalysis, and the design of adaptive materials.

ACS Synth. Biol.