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FEBS Open Bio. 2012 Aug 15;2:247-53. doi: 10.1016/j.fob.2012.08.002. Print 2012.

Bacterial biosensors for screening isoform-selective ligands for human thyroid receptors α-1 and β-1.

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  • 1Department of Chemical Engineering, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544,USA.


Subtype-selective thyromimetics have potential as new pharmaceuticals for the prevention or treatment of heart disease, high LDL cholesterol and obesity, but there are only a few methods that can detect agonistic behavior of TR-active compounds. Among these are the rat pituitary GH3 cell assay and transcriptional activation assays in engineered yeast and mammalian cells. We report the construction and validation of a newly designed TRα-1 bacterial biosensor, which indicates the presence of thyroid active compounds through their impacts on the growth of an engineered Escherichia coli strain in a simple defined medium. This biosensor couples the configuration of a hormone receptor ligand-binding domain to the activity of a thymidylate synthase reporter enzyme through an engineered allosteric fusion protein. The result is a hormone-dependent growth phenotype in the expressing E. coli cells. This sensor can be combined with our previously published TRβ-1 biosensor to detect potentially therapeutic subtype-selective compounds such as GC-1 and KB-141. To demonstrate this capability, we determined the half-maximal effective concentration (EC50) for the compounds T3, Triac, GC-1 and KB-141 using our biosensors, and determined their relative potency in each biosensor strain. Our results are similar to those reported by mammalian cell reporter gene assays, confirming the utility of our assay in identifying TR subtype-selective therapeutics. This biosensor thus provides a high-throughput, receptor-specific, and economical method (less than US$ 0.10 per well at laboratory scale) for identifying important therapeutics against these targets.


Bacterial biosensor; C-Mtu, the last 58 amino acid residues of the Mtu RecA intein; Drug screening; Inteins; MBP, maltose-binding protein; N-Mtu, the first 110 amino acid residues of the Mtu RecA intein; TS, T4 thymidylate synthase enzyme; Thyroid receptor; Thyroid receptor subtype-selectivity; pMIT::TR, plasmid Maltose Binding Protein-Intein-Thymidylate Synthase, with inserted TR LBD

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