Dynamic transcriptional response of Escherichia coli to inclusion body formation


  • Lawrence P. Fernando and Mary Alice Salazar contributed equally to this work.
  • The authors have no conflict of interest to declare.


Escherichia coli is used intensively for recombinant protein production, but one key challenge with recombinant E. coli is the tendency of recombinant proteins to misfold and aggregate into insoluble inclusion bodies (IBs). IBs contain high concentrations of inactive recombinant protein that require recovery steps to salvage a functional recombinant protein. Currently, no universally effective method exists to prevent IB formation in recombinant E. coli. In this study, DNA microarrays were used to compare the E. coli gene expression response dynamics to soluble and insoluble recombinant protein production. As expected and previously reported, the classical heat-shock genes had increased expression due to IB formation, including protein folding chaperones and proteases. Gene expression levels for protein synthesis-related and energy-synthesis pathways were also increased. Many transmembrane transporter and corresponding catabolic pathways genes had decreased expression for substrates not present in the culture medium. Additionally, putative genes represented over one-third of the genes identified to have significant expression changes due to IB formation, indicating many important cellular responses to IB formation still need to be characterized. Interestingly, cells grown in 3% ethanol had significantly reduced gene expression responses due to IB formation. Taken together, these results indicate that IB formation is complex, stimulates the heat-shock response, increases protein and energy synthesis needs, and streamlines transport and catabolic processes, while ethanol diminished all of these responses. Biotechnol. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2014;111: 980–999. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.