Plasmids are circular or linear DNA molecules propagated extra-chromosomally in bacteria. Evolution shaped plasmids are inherently mosaic structures with individual functional units represented by distinct segments in the plasmid genome. The patchwork of plasmid genetic modules is a convenient template and a model for the generation of artificial plasmids used as vehicles for gene delivery into human cells. Plasmid gene vectors are an important tool in gene therapy and in basic biomedical research, where these vectors offer efficient transgene expression in many settings in vitro and in vivo. Plasmid vectors can be attached to nuclear directing ligands or transferred by electroporation as naked DNA to deliver the payload genes to the nuclei of the target cells. Transgene expression silencing by plasmid sequences of bacterial origin and immune stimulation by bacterial unmethylated CpG motifs can be avoided by the generation of plasmid-based minimized DNA vectors, such as minicircles. Systems of efficient site-specific integration into human chromosomes and stable episomal maintenance in human cells are being developed for further reduction of the chances for transgene silencing. The successful generation of plasmid vectors is governed by a number of vector design rules, some of which are common to all gene vectors, while others are specific to plasmid vectors. This review is focused both on the guiding principles and on the technical know-how of plasmid gene vector design.
Keywords: Gene expression vectors, gene delivery into human cells, non-viral gene therapy, plasmid gene vectors, DNA molecules, electroporation, transgene silencing, episomal, biomedical research, human cells