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PLoS One. 2011 Feb 22;6(2):e16261. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0016261.

CoESPRIT: a library-based construct screening method for identification and expression of soluble protein complexes.

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  • 1Grenoble Outstation, European Molecular Biology Laboratory, BP181 Grenoble, France.


Structural and biophysical studies of protein complexes require multi-milligram quantities of soluble material. Subunits are often unstable when expressed separately so co-expression strategies are commonly employed since in vivo complex formation can provide stabilising effects. Defining constructs for subunit co-expression experiments is difficult if the proteins are poorly understood. Even more problematic is when subunit polypeptide chains co-fold since individually they do not have predictable domains. We have developed CoESPRIT, a modified version of the ESPRIT random library construct screen used previously on single proteins, to express soluble protein complexes. A random library of target constructs is screened against a fixed bait protein to identify stable complexes. In a proof-of-principle study, C-terminal fragments of the influenza polymerase PB2 subunit containing folded domains were isolated using importin alpha as bait. Separately, a C-terminal fragment of the PB1 subunit was used as bait to trap N-terminal fragments of PB2 resulting in co-folded complexes. Subsequent expression of the target protein without the bait indicates whether the target is independently stable, or co-folds with its partner. This highly automated method provides an efficient strategy for obtaining recombinant protein complexes at yields compatible with structural, biophysical and functional studies.

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