Expression screening of bacterial libraries of recombinant alpha-1 proteinase inhibitor variants for candidates with thrombin inhibitory capacity
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Exhaustive mutagenesis studies of the reactive centre loop (RCL), a key structural component of proteins belonging to the serpin superfamily of protease inhibitors, are complicated by the size of the RCL, serpin conformational complexity, and, for most serpins, the lack of a serpin-dependent phenotype of expressing cells. Here, we describe a thrombin capture assay that distinguished thrombin-inhibitory recombinant human alpha-1 proteinase inhibitor (API M358R) from non-inhibitory API variants in Escherichia coli lysates prepared from either single clones or pools. Binding of API proteins in the lysates to thrombin immobilized on microtiter plate wells was quantified via colour generated by a peroxidase-coupled anti-API antibody. Bacterial expression plasmids encoding inhibitory API M358R were mixed 1:99 with plasmids encoding non-inhibitory API T345R/M358R and the resulting library screened in pools of 10. All above-background signals arising from pools or subsequently re-probed single clones were linked to the presence of plasmids encoding API M358R. Screening of a portion of another expression library encoding hypervariable API with all possibilities at codons 352-358 also yielded only novel, thrombin-inhibitory variants. Probing a smaller library expressing all possible codons at Ala347 yielded the wild type, 6 different functional variants, one partially active variant, and two variants with no thrombin-inhibitory activity. API antigen levels varied considerably less among Ala347 variants than activity levels, and comparison of rate constants of inhibition of purified API variants to their corresponding thrombin capture assay lysate values was used to establish the sensitivity and specificity of the assay. The results indicate that the approach is sufficiently robust to correctly identify functional versus non-functional candidates in API expression libraries, and could be of value in systematically probing structure/function relationships not only in the API RCL, but also in that of other serpins.
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