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Fluorescence-detection size-exclusion chromatography utilizing nanobody technology for expression screening of membrane proteins

By Fei Jin, Yao Wang, Mengqi Wang, Minxuan Sun, Motoyuki Hattori

Posted 28 Sep 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.09.28.316307

Membrane proteins play numerous physiological roles and are thus of tremendous interest in pharmacology. Nevertheless, stable and homogeneous sample preparation is one of the bottlenecks in biophysical and pharmacological studies of membrane proteins because membrane proteins are typically unstable and poorly expressed. To overcome such obstacles, GFP fusion-based Fluorescence-detection Size-Exclusion Chromatography (FSEC) has been widely employed for membrane protein expression screening for over a decade. However, fused GFP itself may occasionally affect the expression and/or stability of the targeted membrane protein, leading to both false-positive and false-negative results in expression screening. Furthermore, GFP fusion technology is not well suited for some membrane proteins depending on their membrane topology. Here, we developed an FSEC assay utilizing nanobody (Nb) technology, named FSEC-Nb, in which targeted membrane proteins are fused to a small peptide tag and recombinantly expressed. The whole-cell extracts are solubilized, mixed with anti-peptide Nb fused to GFP and applied to a size-exclusion chromatography column attached to a fluorescence detector for FSEC analysis. FSEC-Nb enables one to evaluate the expression, monodispersity and thermostability of membrane proteins without the need of purification by utilizing the benefits of the GFP fusion-based FSEC method, but does not require direct GFP fusion to targeted proteins. We applied FSEC-Nb to screen zinc-activated ion channel (ZAC) family proteins in the Cys-loop superfamily and membrane proteins from SARS-CoV-2 as examples of the practical application of FSEC-Nb. We successfully identified a ZAC ortholog with high monodispersity but moderate expression levels that could not be identified with the previously developed GFP fusion-free FSEC method. Consistent with the results of FSEC-Nb screening, the purified ZAC ortholog showed monodispersed particles by both negative staining EM and cryo-EM. Furthermore, we identified two membrane proteins from SARS-CoV-2 with high monodispersity and expression level by FSEC-Nb, which may facilitate structural and functional studies of SARS-CoV-2. Overall, our results show FSEC-Nb as a powerful tool for membrane protein expression screening that can provide further opportunity to prepare well-behaved membrane proteins for structural and functional studies. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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