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J Pept Sci. 2017 Jul;23(7-8):624-630. doi: 10.1002/psc.2996. Epub 2017 Mar 23.

N-terminal chemical protein labeling using the naturally split GOS-TerL intein.

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Institute of Biochemistry, University of Muenster, Wilhelm-Klemm-Str. 2, 48149, Münster, Germany.


Chemoselective and regioselective chemical protein labeling is of great importance, yet no current technique is sufficiently general and simple to perform. Protein trans-splicing by split inteins can be used to ligate short tags with chemical labels to either the N or the C terminus of a protein. The CysTag approach exploits split intein fragments without a cysteine fused with such a short tag containing a single cysteine that is easily amenable to selective modification using classical cysteine bioconjugation. Labeling of the protein of interest is achieved through transfer of the pre-labeled tag by protein trans-splicing. This protocol keeps other cysteines unmodified. While split inteins for C-terminal CysTag labeling were previously reported, no high-yielding and naturally split intein for N-terminal labeling has been available. In this work, the recently discovered GOS-TerL intein was explored as the only known naturally split intein that both lacks a cysteine in its N-terminal fragment and is active under ambient conditions. Thioredoxin as a model protein and a camelid nanobody were labeled with a synthetic fluorophore by transferring the pre-labeling CysTag in the protein trans-splicing reaction with yields of about 50 to 90%. The short N-terminal intein fragment was also chemically synthesized with a tag to enable protein labeling by semi-synthetic protein trans-splicing. Our results expand the scope of the CysTag labeling strategy, which achieves selective chemical modification without the requirement for sophisticated biorthogonal functional groups and rather builds on the plethora of commercially available reagents directed at the thiol side chain of cysteine.


bioconjugation; cysteine; fluorophore; intein; ligation; nanobody; protein semi-synthesis; protein splicing

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