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The new pLAI (lux regulon based auto-inducible) expression system for recombinant protein production in Escherichia coli

Salvatore Nocadello* and Erwin Frans Swennen

Author Affiliations

Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics srl, 53100 Siena, Italy

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Microbial Cell Factories 2012, 11:3  doi:10.1186/1475-2859-11-3

Published: 5 January 2012



After many years of intensive research, it is generally assumed that no universal expression system can exist for high-level production of a given recombinant protein. Among the different expression systems, the inducible systems are the most popular for their tight regulation. However, induction is in many cases less favorable due to the high cost and/or toxicity of inducers, incompatibilities with industrial scale-up or detrimental growth conditions. Expression systems using autoinduction (or self-induction) prove to be extremely versatile allowing growth and induction of recombinant proteins without the need to monitor cell density or add inducer. Unfortunately, almost all the actual auto inducible expression systems need endogenous or induced metabolic changes during the growth to trigger induction, both frequently linked to detrimental condition to cell growth. In this context, we use a simple modular approach for a cell density-based genetic regulation in order to assemble an autoinducible recombinant protein expression system in E. coli.


The newly designed pLAI expression system places the expression of recombinant proteins in Escherichia coli under control of the regulatory genes of the lux regulon of Vibrio fischeri's Quorum Sensing (QS) system.

The pLAI system allows a tight regulation of the recombinant gene allowing a negligible basal expression and expression only at high cell density. Sequence optimization of regulative genes of QS of V. fischeri for expression in E. coli upgraded the system to high level expression. Moreover, partition of regulative genes between the plasmid and the host genome and introduction of a molecular safety lock permitted tighter control of gene expression.


Coupling gene expression to cell density using cell-to-cell communication provides a promising approach for recombinant protein production. The system allows the control of expression of the target recombinant gene independently from external inducers or drastic changes in metabolic conditions and enabling tight regulation of expression.

autoinduction; recombinant protein production; Quorum Sensing