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Precise, analogue regulation of gene expression is critical for development, homeostasis and regeneration in mammals. In contrast, widely employed experimental and therapeutic approaches such as knock-in/out strategies are more suitable for binary control of gene activity, while RNA interference (RNAi) can lead to pervasive off-target effects and unpredictable levels of repression. Here we report on a method for the precise control of gene expression levels in mammalian cells based on engineered, synthetic microRNA response elements (MREs). To develop this system, we established a high-throughput sequencing approach for measuring the efficacy of thousands of miR-17 MRE variants. This allowed us to create a library of microRNA silencing-mediated fine-tuners (miSFITs) of varying strength that can be employed to control the expression of user specified genes. To demonstrate the value of this technology, we used a panel of miSFITs to tune the expression of a peptide antigen in a mouse melanoma model. This analysis revealed that antigen expression level is a key determinant of the anti-tumour immune response in vitro and in vivo. miSFITs are a powerful tool for modulating gene expression output levels with applications in research and cellular engineering.

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