In vitro characterization of engineered red blood cells as viral traps against HIV-1 and SARS-CoV-2

Magnus A.G. Hoffmann, Collin Kieffer, Pamela J. Bjorkman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Engineered red blood cells (RBCs) expressing viral receptors could be used therapeutically as viral traps, as RBCs lack nuclei and other organelles required for viral replication. However, expression of viral receptors on RBCs is difficult to achieve since mature erythrocytes lack the cellular machinery to synthesize proteins. Herein, we show that the combination of a powerful erythroid-specific expression system and transgene codon optimization yields high expression levels of the HIV-1 receptors CD4 and CCR5, as well as a CD4-glycophorin A (CD4-GpA) fusion protein in erythroid progenitor cells, which efficiently differentiated into enucleated RBCs. HIV-1 efficiently entered RBCs that co-expressed CD4 and CCR5, but viral entry was not required for neutralization, as CD4 or CD4-GpA expression in the absence of CCR5 was sufficient to potently neutralize HIV-1 and prevent infection of CD4+ T cells in vitro due to the formation of high-avidity interactions with trimeric HIV-1 Env spikes on virions. To facilitate continuous large-scale production of RBC viral traps, we generated erythroblast cell lines stably expressing CD4-GpA or ACE2-GpA fusion proteins, which produced potent RBC viral traps against HIV-1 and SARS-CoV-2. Our in vitro results suggest that this approach warrants further investigation as a potential treatment against acute and chronic viral infections.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)161-170
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular Therapy Methods and Clinical Development
StatePublished - Jun 11 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Engineered red blood cells
  • HIV-1
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • anti-viral therapeutics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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