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Sci Rep. 2019 Oct 29;9(1):15449. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-51984-2.

Effects of codon optimization on coagulation factor IX translation and structure: Implications for protein and gene therapies.

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Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, Food and Drug Administration, Silver Spring, MD, USA.
Center for Gene Regulation in Health and Disease, Cleveland State University, Cleveland, OH, USA.
University of North Carolina at Chapel hill, Chapel hill, NC, USA.
Bioverativ, Cambridge, MA, USA.
SomaLogic, Inc, Boulder, CO, USA.
National Center of Biotechnology Information, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA.
Department of Statistics, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, USA.
Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, Food and Drug Administration, Silver Spring, MD, USA.


Synonymous codons occur with different frequencies in different organisms, a phenomenon termed codon usage bias. Codon optimization, a common term for a variety of approaches used widely by the biopharmaceutical industry, involves synonymous substitutions to increase protein expression. It had long been presumed that synonymous variants, which, by definition, do not alter the primary amino acid sequence, have no effect on protein structure and function. However, a critical mass of reports suggests that synonymous codon variations may impact protein conformation. To investigate the impact of synonymous codons usage on protein expression and function, we designed an optimized coagulation factor IX (FIX) variant and used multiple methods to compare its properties to the wild-type FIX upon expression in HEK293T cells. We found that the two variants differ in their conformation, even when controlling for the difference in expression levels. Using ribosome profiling, we identified robust changes in the translational kinetics of the two variants and were able to identify a region in the gene that may have a role in altering the conformation of the protein. Our data have direct implications for codon optimization strategies, for production of recombinant proteins and gene therapies.

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