Critique of the use of fluorescence-based reporters in Escherichia coli as a screening tool for the identification of peptide inhibitors of Aβ42 aggregation


Correspondence to: Alan Tunnacliffe, Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, University of Cambridge, New Museums Site, Pembroke Street, Cambridge CB2 3RA, UK. E-mail:


High-throughput screens that dispense with the need for expensive synthetic Aβ peptide would be invaluable for identifying novel anti-aggregants as potential treatments for Alzheimer's disease. A biosynthetic in vivo approach, using a recombinant fluorescent green fluorescent protein (GFP) reporter for the aggregation state of Aβ in Escherichia coli, has been reported by other workers. Here, inducible Aβ–GFP expression in E. coli was coupled to the concurrent constitutive production of a quasi-random peptide library to screen for anti-aggregant activity. To attempt to introduce greater robustness, mCherry was also co-expressed as an internal fluorescence standard to allow ratiometric comparison between samples. However, fluctuations in mCherry expression levels, as well as a low dynamic range of GFP output between positive and negative anti-aggregant peptides, highlighted limitations with the approach. Despite this, two novel peptides were identified that showed an equivalent in vitro anti-aggregant activity to that of epigallocatechin-3-gallate. Thus, although biosynthetic in vivo strategies show promise as screens for novel activities, unforeseen problems can arise because of the variability inherent in any biological system. Copyright © 2012 European Peptide Society and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.