Novel strategies to improve recombinant membrane protein production in yeast

  • Marvin Dilworth

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Approximately 60% of pharmaceuticals target membrane proteins; 30% of the human genome codes for membrane proteins yet they represent less than 1% of known unique crystal structures deposited in the Protein Data Bank (PDB), with 50% of structures derived from recombinant membrane proteins having been synthesized in yeasts. G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) are an important class of membrane proteins that are not naturally abundant in their native membranes. Unfortunately their recombinant synthesis often suffers from low yields; moreover, function may be lost during extraction and purification from cell membranes, impeding research aimed at structural and functional determination. We therefore devised two novel strategies to improve functional yields of recombinant membrane proteins in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. We used human adenosine A2A receptor (hA2AR) as a model GPRC since it is functionally and structurally well characterised.In the first strategy, we investigated whether it is possible to provide yeast cells with a selective advantage (SA) in producing the fusion protein hA2AR-Ura3p when grown in medium lacking uracil; Ura3p is a decarboxylase that catalyzes the sixth enzymatic step in the de novo biosynthesis of pyrimidines, generating uridine monophosphate. The first transformant (H1) selected using the SA strategy gave high total yields of hA2AR-Ura3p, but low functional yields as determined by radio-ligand binding, leading to the discovery that the majority of the hA2AR-Ura3p had been internalized to the vacuole. The yeast deletion strain spt3Δ is thought to have slower translation rates and improved folding capabilities compared to wild-type cells and was therefore utilised for the SA strategy to generate a second transformant, SU1, which gave higher functional yields than H1. Subsequently hA2AR-Ura3p from H1 was solubilised with n-dodecyl-β-D-maltoside and cholesteryl hemisuccinate, which yielded functional hA2AR-Ura3p at the highest yield of all approaches used.
The second strategy involved using knowledge of translational processes to improve recombinant protein synthesis to increase functional yield. Modification of existing expression vectors with an internal ribosome entry site (IRES) inserted into the 5ˊ untranslated region (UTR) of the gene encoding hA2AR was employed to circumvent regulatory controls on recombinant synthesis in the yeast host cell. The mechanisms involved were investigated through the use of yeast deletion strains and drugs that cause translation inhibition, which is known to improve protein folding and yield. The data highlight the potential to use deletion strains to increase IRES-mediated expression of recombinant hA2AR.
Overall, the data presented in this thesis provide mechanistic insights into two novel strategies that can increase functional membrane protein yields in the eukaryotic microbe, S. cerevisiae.
Date of Award2 Aug 2014
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorRoslyn Bill (Supervisor) & Stephane Gross (Supervisor)


  • yeast
  • s. cerevisiae
  • human adenosine A2A receptor
  • selective advantage
  • IRES
  • Ura3p

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