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Microb Cell Fact. 2010 Oct 25;9:78. doi: 10.1186/1475-2859-9-78.

Quantification of the physiochemical constraints on the export of spider silk proteins by Salmonella type III secretion.

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  • 1University of California - San Francisco, 94158, USA.



The type III secretion system (T3SS) is a molecular machine in gram negative bacteria that exports proteins through both membranes to the extracellular environment. It has been previously demonstrated that the T3SS encoded in Salmonella Pathogenicity Island 1 (SPI-1) can be harnessed to export recombinant proteins. Here, we demonstrate the secretion of a variety of unfolded spider silk proteins and use these data to quantify the constraints of this system with respect to the export of recombinant protein.


To test how the timing and level of protein expression affects secretion, we designed a hybrid promoter that combines an IPTG-inducible system with a natural genetic circuit that controls effector expression in Salmonella (psicA). LacO operators are placed in various locations in the psicA promoter and the optimal induction occurs when a single operator is placed at the +5nt (234-fold) and a lower basal level of expression is achieved when a second operator is placed at -63nt to take advantage of DNA looping. Using this tool, we find that the secretion efficiency (protein secreted divided by total expressed) is constant as a function of total expressed. We also demonstrate that the secretion flux peaks at 8 hours. We then use whole gene DNA synthesis to construct codon optimized spider silk genes for full-length (3129 amino acids) Latrodectus hesperus dragline silk, Bombyx mori cocoon silk, and Nephila clavipes flagelliform silk and PCR is used to create eight truncations of these genes. These proteins are all unfolded polypeptides and they encompass a variety of length, charge, and amino acid compositions. We find those proteins fewer than 550 amino acids reliably secrete and the probability declines significantly after ~700 amino acids. There also is a charge optimum at -2.4, and secretion efficiency declines for very positively or negatively charged proteins. There is no significant correlation with hydrophobicity.


We show that the natural system encoded in SPI-1 only produces high titers of secreted protein for 4-8 hours when the natural psicA promoter is used to drive expression. Secretion efficiency can be high, but declines for charged or large sequences. A quantitative characterization of these constraints will facilitate the effective use and engineering of this system.

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