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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1997 Mar 18;94(6):2278-83.

Coexpression of nuclear receptor partners increases their solubility and biological activities.

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  • 1The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Gene Expression Laboratory, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA.


The biological activities of the retinoids are mediated by two nuclear hormone receptors: the retinoic acid receptor (RAR) and the retinoid-X receptor (RXR). RXR (and its insect homologue ultraspiracle) is a common heterodimeric partner for many other nuclear receptors, including the insect ecdysone receptor. As part of a continuing analysis of nuclear receptor function, we noticed that, whereas RXR can be readily expressed in Escherichia coli to produce soluble protein, many of its heterodimeric partners cannot. For example, overexpression of RAR results mostly in inclusion bodies with the residual soluble component unable to interact with RXR or ligand efficiently. Similar results are seen with other RXR/ultraspiracle partners. To overcome these problems, we designed a novel double cistronic vector to coexpress RXR and its partner ligand-binding domains in the same bacterial cell. This resulted in a dramatic increase in production of soluble and apparently stable heterodimer. Hormone-binding studies using the purified RXR-RAR heterodimer reveal increased ligand-binding capacity of both components of 5- to 10-fold, resulting in virtually complete functionality. Based on these studies we find that bacterially expressed receptors can exist in one of three distinct states: insoluble, soluble but unable to bind ligand, or soluble with full ligand-binding capacity. These results suggest that coexpression may represent a general strategy for biophysical and structural analysis of receptor complexes.

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