Indexed on: 07 Dec '18Published on: 07 Dec '18Published in: Biological chemistry
Proteases are crucial for regulating biological processes in organisms through hydrolysis of peptide bonds. Recombinant proteases have moreover become important tools in biotechnological, and biomedical research and as therapeutics. We have developed a labelfree high-throughput method for quantitative assessment of proteolytic activity in Escherichia coli. The screening method is based on co-expression of a protease of interest and a reporter complex. This reporter consists of an aggregation-prone peptide fused to a fluorescent protein via a linker that contains the corresponding substrate sequence. Cleavage of the substrate rescues the fluorescent protein from aggregation, resulting in increased fluorescence that correlates to proteolytic activity, which can be monitored using flow cytometry. In one round of flow-cytometric cell sorting, we isolated an efficiently cleaved TEV substrate from a 1:100,000 background of non-cleavable sequences, with around 6000- fold enrichment. We then engineered the 3C protease from Coxsackievirus B3 (CVB3 3Cpro) towards improved proteolytic activity on the substrate LEVLFQ↓GP. We isolated highly proteolytic active variants from a randomly mutated CVB3 3Cpro library with up to 4-fold increase in activity. The method enables simultaneous measurement of proteolytic activity and protease expression levels and can therefore be applied for protease substrate profiling, as well as directed evolution of proteases.