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Biotechnol Bioeng. 1997 Mar 20;53(6):547-59.

Overexpression of recombinant human antithrombin III in Chinese hamster ovary cells results in malformation and decreased secretion of recombinant protein.

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Technische Hochschule Darmstadt, Institut für Biochemie, D-64287 Darmstadt, Germany.


Overexpression of recombinant proteins in animal cells is commonly achieved by using gene amplification techniques. Gene amplified cells possess up to several thousand genes coding for the target protein. Constitutive expression of these genes leads to high levels of the corresponding mRNA species and the immature protein in the cell. Inefficient processing of these precursors may result from their great abundance in the cell. To study the influence of elevated intracellular levels of a recombinant protein on its maturation and secretion, we examined the maturation and secretion of human antithrombin III (hATIII) in Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells at different levels of gene amplification. No loss of vitality was caused by elevated secretion of hATIII. As the intracellular hATIII content increased, the efficiency of hATIII secretion decreased steadily. The state of intracellular hATIII from the different cell lines was studied by determining the specific heparin cofactor activity of hATIII. Intracellular hATIII from the highest amplified cell line displayed a lowered specific heparin cofactor activity indicating the presence of malfolded, only partially folded, or incompletely or incorrectly posttranslationally modified hATIII in this cell line. Thus, the ability of CHO cells to fold and/or introduce posttranslational modifications and subsequently to secrete the recombinant protein becomes saturated, and therefore these processes may become limiting for protein secretion at highly elevated expression levels. This limitation was not due to a general exhaustion of the secretory capacity of the cells because hATIII constituted only a minor fraction of the secreted proteins, even at high expression levels.

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