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Biotechnol Bioeng. 1990 Jun 5;36(1):1-11.

Production of recombinant human growth hormone in Escherichia coli: expression of different precursors and physiological effects of glucose, acetate, and salts.

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Novo Nordisk a/s, Novo Alle, DK-2880 Bagsvaerd, Denmark.


The constitutive cytoplasmic expression in E. coli of human growth hormone (hGH) with different N-terminal extensions (3 or 4 amino acids) has been studied. These hGH precursors were used for in vitro cleavage to obtain the mature, authentic hormone. Small changes in the amino acid extensions of the hGH precursors led to three-fold differences in specific expression rates. The specific expression rate of the hGH precursors was inversely proportional to the ratios of the specific growth rates of plasmid containing and plasmid free cells (micro(+)/micro(-)) and also to the genetic stability. To ensure a satisfactory genetic stability in production fermentors, an hGH precursor with a moderate expression efficiency was chosen.The medium composition and growth conditions were studied, resulting in the choice of a glucose fed batch fermentation process using a complex medium. In this process a yield of 2000 mg/L of met-ala-glu-hGH (MAE-hGH) was obtained. The fermentation process comprised a glucose-limited growth phase followed by a second phase with increased glucose feed and exhaustion of phosphate from the medium. The second phase is characterized by an MAE-hGH production, whereas further biomass formation is blocked. High concentrations of glucose led to reduced specific expression of MAE-hGH--the specific and total yield in batch glucose fermentations is only about 30% of the yield in optimized fed batch fermentations. The physiological background for this was investigated. Chemostat experiments showed that the glucose concentration and the metabolic condition of the cells--i.e. with or without formation of acetate--was not critical per se in order to obtain a high specific yield of MAE-hGH. Therefore it is unlikely that formation of MAE-hGH is catabolite repressed by glucose. Furthermore it was shown that the specific production rate of MAE-hGH was independent of the specific growth rate and it was further demonstrated that the decrease in expression efficiency in glucose batch fermentation was a result of an inhibitory effect of acetic acid. In batch fermentations this inhibitory effect was enhanced by a salt effect caused by increased consumption of acid and base used to control pH. The identity of the acid and the base used are not important in this context. From studies of the expression of other proteins in E. coli. with constitutive as well as inducible promoters we conclude that glucose fed batch processes are often superior to batch processes in the production of heterologous proteins E. coli.


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