An AND-Gated Drug and Photoactivatable Cre-loxP System for Spatiotemporal Control in Cell-Based Therapeutics.
Abstract: While engineered chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells have shown promise in detecting and eradicating cancer cells within patients, it remains difficult to identify a set of truly cancer-specific CAR-targeting cell surface antigens to prevent potentially fatal on-target off-tumor toxicity against other healthy tissues within the body. To help address this issue, we present a novel tamoxifen-gated photoactivatable split-Cre recombinase optogenetic system, called TamPA-Cre, that features high spatiotemporal control to limit CAR T cell activity to the tumor site. We created and optimized a novel genetic AND gate switch by integrating the features of tamoxifen-dependent nuclear localization and blue-light-inducible heterodimerization of Magnet protein domains (nMag, pMag) into split Cre recombinase. By fusing the cytosol-localizing mutant estrogen receptor ligand binding domain (ERT2) to the N-terminal half of split Cre(2-59aa)-nMag, the TamPA-Cre protein ERT2-CreN-nMag is physically separated from its nuclear-localized binding partner, NLS-pMag-CreC(60-343aa). Without tamoxifen to drive nuclear localization of ERT2-CreN-nMag, the typically high background of the photoactivation system was significantly suppressed. Upon blue light stimulation following tamoxifen treatment, the TamPA-Cre system exhibits sensitivity to low intensity, short durations of blue light exposure to induce robust Cre-loxP recombination efficiency. We finally demonstrate that this TamPA-Cre system can be applied to specifically control localized CAR expression and subsequently T cell activation. As such, we posit that CAR T cell activity can be confined to a solid tumor site by applying an external stimulus, with high precision of control in both space and time, such as light.