Altering the solubility of recombinant proteins through modification of surface features

UoM administered thesis: Unknown

  • Authors:
  • Manuel Carballo Amador


Protein solubility plays an important role whether for biophysical and structural studies, or for production and delivery of therapeutic proteins. Poor solubility could lead to protein aggregation, which is an undesired physicochemical mechanism at any stage of recombinant proteins production. To date, more than half of all recombinant therapeutic proteins are produced in mammalian cells, mainly due to the high similarity of the final product to human protein structures. However, poor secretion can occur, due to misfolded proteins or aggregates leading to cellular stress and proteolysis. Another widely-used expression system is E. coli, which can offer a cost-efficient alternative. This system has an important limitation, since proteins tends to form insoluble protein aggregates in the cytoplasm upon heterologous overexpression. Several strategies are being implemented to improved soluble expression, ranging from culture conditions to solubility enhancing tags. However, there is no universal approach or technology that solves protein aggregation. In this thesis two recently published hypotheses from our group have been applied. One stated that soluble expression of proteins was inversely correlated with the size of the largest positively-charged patch on the protein surface. The second hypothesis (of protein solubility), arose from the finding that the relative content of lysine and arginine residues separated E. coli proteins by solubility. Both hypotheses arose from a study of an extensive dataset of experimental solubilities determined for cell-free expression of E. coli proteins. In combination with other widely used strategies, such as lowering expression temperature and inducer concentration, decreasing non-charged (hydrophobic) patches and addition of helical capping for increasing stability, a rational understanding for directed alteration of solubility in a variety of recombinant proteins has been explored. This includes three protein models to test: (i) recombinant human erythropoietin (rHuEPO) (one of the top selling therapeutics) (ii) recombinant 6-Phosphofructo-2-Kinase/fructose-2,6-bisphosphatase (rPFKFB3) (a product for which over-expression has been sought for characterisation and insight into possible cancer therapy) and (iii) a set of three selected E. coli proteins containing high ratios of lysines to arginines: thioredoxin-1 (TRX), cold shock-like protein cspB (cspB), and the histidine-containing phosphocarrier protein (HPr). It was found that single or multiple point mutations (changing amino acids from positive to negative charge or vice versa; or lysines to arginines) verified the predicted effect on rHuEPO, rPFKFB3, TRX, cspB, and HPr solubility (experimentally defined as the distribution between soluble and total fractions) for expression in E. coli. In addition, the redesigned set of rHuEPO transiently expressed in HEK 293-EBNA cells, suggesting that positively-charged patch size may also influence protein secretion. Further application of these computational and experimental approaches could provide a valuable tool in the design and engineering of proteins, with enhanced solubility, stability and secretion.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2015