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What are the differences between transfection and transduction?

Transfection versus transduction
2 different letters and what else?

Everyone uses the word Transfection to designate the deliberate introduction of genetic material (DNA, RNA) into eukaryotic cells. The term is often used whatever the delivery tool but actually it should not!

Gene transfer using a chemical carrier is called transfection

Transfection of DNA or RNA into animal cells has to be restricted to non-viral systems that transiently open pores into the cell membrane to permit the entry of nucleic acids.

It non only includes chemical-based products such as calcium phosphate, cationic polymers (PEI) and liposomes, but also non-chemical methods such as electroporation.

Transduction means gene transfer using viral vector carriers

If DNA or RNA is introduced into cells by using viral vector carriers, then the technique is called Transduction, and the resulting cells are said to be transduced!

It includes virus-based vectors such as lentiviral vectors, adeno-associated viruses (AAV) and adenoviruses.

Transfection and transduction methods are optimal for different types of experiments

Both transfection and transduction can lead to a transient or stable expression of DNA into cells, depending on the method or the viral tool.

If a stable expression is required to maintain the foreign nucleic acid sequence in the genome of the cells and its daughter cells, then there are two options:

  • Co-transfect cells with a marker gene, which gives the cell some selectable advantage, such as resistance or labeling
  • Use a lentiviral vector to transduce target cells which naturally integrates its DNA into the host cell genome in a random manner.

On the other hand, transfection or transduction of RNA is always transient.

Transfection is efficient on adherent immortalized cells but primary and stem cells require transduction.

A limitation of the transfection approach lies in the toxicity of transfection for delicate cells, and its suspected effect on the expression of other genes or proteins.

For more information on the comparison between those two techniques and the bases necessary to know lentiviral vectors better, you can visit our Lentiviral vectors essentials page.

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