Which vector system should I use for my experiment?
One of the key factors underlying the design of any successful experiment is the choice of the vector system used for delivering the genes of interest into the target cells. Given that there are various viral and non-viral vector options available, several factors should be taken into consideration while selecting the ideal vector suitable for your experimental design. Some of the key considerations include: Are your target cells easy or difficult to transfect? Do you want transient expression or stable integration into the host genome? Do you need to use a customized promoter to drive your gene of interest? Will your vector be used in cell culture or in vivo? Do you need conditional or inducible gene expression? How big is your gene of interest?
The table below lists the commonly used vector systems and key considerations for selecting the right vector suitable for your experimental design.
|Regular plasmid vectors
|Transient expression or stable integration
|Transient or stable integration
|Small to medium
|Medium to large
|Cell culture & in vivo
|Cell culture & in vivo
|Depending on viral vector type
Regular plasmid vectors View more
Technical simplicity: Regular plasmid vectors rely on simple transfection-based methods for the delivery of target genes into host cells. Delivering plasmid vectors into cells by conventional transfection is technically straightforward, and far easier than virus-based vectors which require the packaging of live virus.
Large cargo capacity: Our regular plasmid vectors have a large cargo capacity of ~30 kb. This provides plenty of room to add variable vector components such as the user’s gene of interest, a promoter and a marker unlike viral vectors majority of which have a moderate to limited cargo capacity.Disadvantages
Non-integration of vector DNA: Conventional transfection of plasmid vectors is also referred to as transient transfection because the vector stays mostly as episomal DNA in cells without integration. However, plasmid DNA can integrate permanently into the host genome at a very low frequency (one per 102 to 106 cells depending on cell type). If a drug resistance or fluorescence marker is incorporated into the plasmid, cells stably integrating the plasmid can be derived by drug selection or cell sorting after extended culture.
Limited cell type range: The efficiency of plasmid transfection can vary greatly from cell type to cell type. Non-dividing cells are often more difficult to transfect than dividing cells, and primary cells are often harder to transfect than immortalized cell lines. Some important cell types, such as neurons and pancreatic β cells, are notoriously difficult to transfect. Additionally, plasmid transfection is largely limited to in vitro applications and rarely used in vivo.
Non-uniformity of gene delivery: Although a successful transfection can result in very high average copy number of the transfected plasmid vector per cell, this can be highly non-uniform. Some cells can carry many copies while others carry very few or none. This is unlike transduction by virus-based vectors which tends to result in relatively uniform gene delivery into cells.
Viral vectors View more
Suitable for difficult-to-transfect cells: Viral vectors are the preferred method of gene delivery for difficult-to-transfect cell lines. Most viral vectors can transduce a wide variety of mammalian cell lines due to the broad tropism conferred by the viral envelop proteins. Our lentivirus packaging system adds the VSV-G envelop protein to the viral surface which has a very broad tropism. As a result, cells from all commonly used mammalian species (and even some non-mammalian species) can be transduced. Furthermore, almost any mammalian cell type can be transduced (e.g. dividing cells and non-dividing cells, primary cells and established cell lines, stem cells and differentiated cells, adherent cells and non-adherent cells). Neurons, which are often impervious to conventional transfection, can be readily transduced by our lentiviral vector.
Similarly, when our AAV vectors are packaged into virus, different serotypes can be conferred to the virus by using different capsid proteins for the packaging. Different serotypes can render the virus with different tissue tropism (i.e. tissue specificity of infection). A wide range of cell and tissue types from commonly used mammalian species such as human, mouse and rat can be readily transduced with our AAV vector when it is packaged into the appropriate serotype.
Suitable for in vitro and in vivo applications: Viral vectors can be used for effective transduction of cultured cells as well as live animals unlike regular plasmids which are commonly used for in vitro applications.
Relative uniformity of gene delivery: Generally, viral transduction can deliver vectors into cells in a relatively uniform manner. In contrast, conventional transfection of plasmid vectors can be highly non-uniform, with some cells receiving a lot of copies while other cells receiving few copies or none.Disadvantages
Medium to small cargo capacity: Most viral vectors have a limited cargo capacity when compared to regular plasmid or transposon-based vectors. It is important to take the cargo capacity into consideration while designing a viral vector since exceeding the viral vector capacity often adversely affects the virus packaging process. The table below shows the upper limit of viral genome for different viral vectors.
|Upper Limit of Viral Genome
|Upper Limit of User’s DNA Fragment
|9.2 kb (from 5’ LTR-ΔU3 to 3’ LTR-ΔU3)
|38.7 kb (from 5’ ITR to 3’ ITR)
|4.7 kb (from 5’ ITR to 3’ ITR)
Technical complexity: The use of viral vectors requires the production of live virus in packaging cells followed by the measurement of viral titer. These procedures are technically demanding and time consuming relative to conventional plasmid transfection.Viral vector types
Common viral vectors used in biomedical research include lentivirus, adeno-associated virus (AAV), and adenovirus each with its advantages and disadvantages. The table below lists key factors that should be taken into consideration while selecting the right viral vector for your experiment.
|Depending on viral serotype
|Ineffective for some cells
|Can infect non-dividing cells?
|Stable integration or transient?
|Cell culture and in vivo
|Immune response in vivo
Transposon-based vectors View more
Permanent integration of vector DNA: Transposon-based vectors rely on conventional transfection for the delivery of target genes into host cells. Conventional transfection results in almost entirely transient delivery of DNA into host cells due to the loss of DNA over time. This problem is especially prominent in rapidly dividing cells. In contrast, transfection of mammalian cells with transposon-based vectors along with the corresponding helper plasmid can deliver genes carried on the transposon permanently into host cells due to the integration of the transposon into the host genome.
Technical simplicity: Delivering plasmid vectors into cells by conventional transfection is technically straightforward, and far easier than virus-based vectors which require the packaging of live virus.Disadvantages
Limited cell type range: The delivery of transposon-based vectors into cells relies on transfection. The efficiency of transfection can vary greatly from cell type to cell type. Non-dividing cells are often more difficult to transfect than dividing cells, and primary cells are often harder to transfect than immortalized cell lines. Some important cell types, such as neurons and pancreatic β cells, are notoriously difficult to transfect. Additionally, plasmid transfection is largely limited to in vitro applications and rarely used in vivo. These issues limit the use of transposon-based vector systems.