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Open Access Research

Optimizing HIV-1 protease production in Escherichia coli as fusion protein

Federica Volontè12, Luciano Piubelli12 and Loredano Pollegioni12*

Author Affiliations

1 Dipartimento di Biotecnologie e Scienze Molecolari, Università degli Studi dell'Insubria, via J.H. Dunant 3, Varese, 21100, Italy

2 The Protein Factory, Centro Interuniversitario di Ricerca in Biotecnologie Proteiche, Politecnico di Milano and Università degli Studi dell'Insubria, via Mancinelli 7, Milano, 20131, Italy

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Microbial Cell Factories 2011, 10:53  doi:10.1186/1475-2859-10-53

Published: 30 June 2011

Abstract

Background

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the etiological agent in AIDS and related diseases. The aspartyl protease encoded by the 5' portion of the pol gene is responsible for proteolytic processing of the gag-pol polyprotein precursor to yield the mature capsid protein and the reverse transcriptase and integrase enzymes. The HIV protease (HIV-1Pr) is considered an attractive target for designing inhibitors which could be used to tackle AIDS and therefore it is still the object of a number of investigations.

Results

A recombinant human immunodeficiency virus type 1 protease (HIV-1Pr) was overexpressed in Escherichia coli cells as a fusion protein with bacterial periplasmic protein dithiol oxidase (DsbA) or glutathione S-transferase (GST), also containing a six-histidine tag sequence. Protein expression was optimized by designing a suitable HIV-1Pr cDNA (for E. coli expression and to avoid autoproteolysis) and by screening six different E. coli strains and five growth media. The best expression yields were achieved in E. coli BL21-Codon Plus(DE3)-RIL host and in TB or M9 medium to which 1% (w/v) glucose was added to minimize basal expression. Among the different parameters assayed, the presence of a buffer system (based on phosphate salts) and a growth temperature of 37°C after adding IPTG played the main role in enhancing protease expression (up to 10 mg of chimeric DsbA:HIV-1Pr/L fermentation broth). GST:HIVPr was in part (50%) produced as soluble protein while the overexpressed DsbA:HIV-1Pr chimeric protein largely accumulated in inclusion bodies as unprocessed fusion protein. A simple refolding procedure was developed on HiTrap Chelating column that yielded a refolded DsbA:HIV-1Pr with a > 80% recovery. Finally, enterokinase digestion of resolubilized DsbA:HIV-1Pr gave more than 2 mg of HIV-1Pr per liter of fermentation broth with a purity ≤ 80%, while PreScission protease cleavage of soluble GST:HIVPr yielded ~ 0.15 mg of pure HIV-1Pr per liter.

Conclusions

By using this optimized expression and purification procedure fairly large amounts of good-quality HIV-1Pr recombinant enzyme can be produced at the lab-scale and thus used for further biochemical studies.