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J Biol Chem. 1990 Oct 5;265(28):16760-6.

Folding and aggregation of beta-lactamase in the periplasmic space of Escherichia coli.

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Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Texas, Austin 78712.


High level expression of TEM beta-lactamase results in the accumulation of precursor and mature protein in the insoluble fraction of Escherichia coli. The mature polypeptide is sequestered in protein aggregates (inclusion bodies) located within the periplasmic space whereas the insoluble precursor is present in the cytoplasm. With the native beta-lactamase, aggregation is observed when the rate of expression exceeds 2.5% of the total protein synthesis rate. Substitution of the native signal sequence with the outer membrane protein A (OmpA) leader peptide results in extensive aggregation of only the mature protein. Furthermore, for OmpA-beta-lactamase, the accumulation of mature insoluble protein is independent of the rate of protein synthesis. These observations cannot be accounted by the kinetics of export of the OmpA-beta-lactamase and the native precursor, therefore suggesting that the signal sequence affects the conformation of the newly secreted mature polypeptide and in turn, the folding pathway. Previously, we have shown that the aggregation of the mature protein secreted using its own signal sequence can be inhibited by growing the cells in the presence of non-metabolizable sugars such as sucrose (Bowden, G., and Georgiou, G. (1988) Biotechnol. Prog. 4, 97-101). We show here that this phenomenon is not related to osmotic effects, changes in beta-lactamase translation or precursor processing. It follows that the addition of sugars exerts a direct effect on the in vivo pathway of aggregation and folding, in analogy with the well characterized effect of sugars in vitro.

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