Degron-based bioPROTACs for controlling signaling in CAR T cells

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Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells have made a tremendous impact in the clinic, but potent signaling through the CAR can be detrimental to treatment safety and efficacy. The use of protein degradation to control CAR signaling can address these issues in pre-clinical models. Existing strategies for regulating CAR stability rely on small molecules to induce systemic degradation. In contrast to small molecule regulation, genetic circuits offer a more precise method to control CAR signaling in an autonomous, cell-by-cell fashion. Here, we describe a programmable protein degradation tool that adopts the framework of bioPROTACs, heterobifunctional proteins that contain a target recognition domain fused to a domain that recruits the endogenous ubiquitin proteasome system. We develop novel bioPROTACs that utilize a compact four residue degron and demonstrate degradation of cytosolic and membrane protein targets using either a nanobody or synthetic leucine zipper as a protein binder. Our bioPROTACs exhibit potent degradation of CARs and can inhibit CAR signaling in primary human T cells. We demonstrate the utility of our bioPROTACs by constructing a genetic circuit to degrade the tyrosine kinase ZAP70 in response to recognition of a specific membrane-bound antigen. This circuit is able to disrupt CAR T cell signaling only in the presence of a specific cell population. These results suggest that bioPROTACs are a powerful tool for expanding the cell engineering toolbox for CAR T cells.

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