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J Virol Methods. 2003 Aug;111(2):145-56.

Effects of codon-optimization on protein expression by the human herpesvirus 6 and 7 U51 open reading frame.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Rochester Medical Center, 601 Elmwood Avenue, Box 672, Rochester, NY 14642, USA.


Codon-optimization refers to the alteration of gene sequences, to make codon usage match the available tRNA pool within the cell/species of interest. Codon-optimization has emerged as a powerful tool to increase protein expression by genes from small RNA and DNA viruses, which commonly contain overlapping reading frames as well as structural elements that are embedded within coding regions; these features are not widespread among large DNA viruses. We therefore examined whether codon-optimization might influence protein expression from a herpesvirus gene. We focused on the U51 gene from human herpesviruses-6 and -7, which was cloned in both native and codon-optimized form, with an N-terminal HA epitope tag to allow protein detection. Codon-optimization was associated with a profound (10-100 fold) increase in U51 expression in human (293A, HSG, K562) or hamster (CHO) cell lines, suggesting this may represent a valuable tool to facilitate functional studies on recalcitrant herpesvirus genes. Finally, it is postulated that the suboptimal expression of native U51 may reflect a regulatory mechanism that controls viral gene expression.

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