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Functional expression of a penicillin acylase from the extreme thermophile Thermus thermophilus HB27 in Escherichia coli

Leticia L Torres, Eloy R Ferreras, Ángel Cantero, Aurelio Hidalgo* and José Berenguer*

Author Affiliations

Centro de Biología Molecular “Severo Ochoa” (UAM-CSIC), Nicolás Cabrera 1, 28049, Madrid, Spain

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Microbial Cell Factories 2012, 11:105  doi:10.1186/1475-2859-11-105

Published: 9 August 2012



Penicillin acylases (PACs) are enzymes of industrial relevance in the manufacture of β-lactam antibiotics. Development of a PAC with a longer half-life under the reaction conditions used is essential for the improvement of the operational stability of the process. A gene encoding a homologue to Escherichia coli PAC was found in the genome of the thermophilic bacterium Thermus thermophilus (Tth) HB27. Because of the nature of this PAC and its complex maturation that is crucial to reach its functional heterodimeric final conformation, the overexpression of this enzyme in a heterologous mesophilic host was a challenge. Here we describe the purification and characterization of the PAC protein from Tth HB27 overexpressed in Escherichia coli.


Fusions to a superfolder green fluorescent protein and differential membrane solubilization assays indicated that the native enzyme remains attached through its amino-terminal end to the outer side of the cytoplasmic membrane of Tth cells. In order to overexpress this PAC in E. coli cells, a variant of the protein devoid of its membrane anchoring segment was constructed. The effect of the co-expression of chaperones and calcium supplementation of the culture medium was investigated. The total production of PAC was enhanced by the presence of DnaK/J and GrpE and even more by trigger factor and GroEL/ES. In addition, 10 mM calcium markedly improved both PAC specific and volumetric activities. Recombinant PAC was affinity-purified and proper maturation of the protein was confirmed by SDS-PAGE and MALDI-TOF analysis of the subunits. The recombinant protein was tested for activity towards several penicillins, cephalosporins and homoserine lactones. Hydrophobic acyl-chain penicillins were preferred over the rest of the substrates. Penicillin K (octanoyl penicillin) was the best substrate, with the highest specificity constant value (16.12 mM-1.seg-1). The optimum pH was aprox. 4 and the optimum temperature was 75 °C. The half-life of the enzyme at this temperature was 9.2 h.


This is the first report concerning the heterologous expression of a pac gene from a thermophilic microorganism in the mesophilic host E. coli. The recombinant protein was identified as a penicillin K-deacylating thermozyme.

Penicillin acylase; Thermus thermophilus; Pre-pro-protein; Autoprocessing; Thermophile; Thermozyme