The fusion of soluble partner to the N terminus of aggregation-prone polypeptide has been popularly used to overcome the formation of inclusion bodies in the E. coli cytosol.
The chaperone-like functions of the upstream fusion partner in the artificial multidomain proteins could occur in de novo folding of native multidomain proteins. Here, we show that the N-terminal domains of three E. coli multidomain proteins such as lysyl-tRNA synthetase, threonyl-tRNA synthetase, and aconitase are potent solubility enhancers for various C-terminal heterologous proteins. The results suggest that the N-terminal domains could act as solubility enhancers for the folding of their authentic C-terminal domains in vivo. Tandem repeat of N-terminal domain or insertion of aspartic residues at the C terminus of the N-terminal domain also increased the solubility of fusion proteins, suggesting that the solubilizing ability correlates with the size and charge of N-terminal domains. The solubilizing ability of N-terminal domains would contribute to the autonomous folding of multidomain proteins in vivo, and based on these results, we propose a model of how N-terminal domains solubilize their downstream domains.