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Engineering Intracellularly Retained Gaussia Luciferase Reporters for Improved Biosensing and Molecular Imaging Applications

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journal contribution
posted on 02.08.2017, 00:00 by Shuchi Gaur, Aarohi Bhargava-Shah, Sharon Hori, Rayhaneh Afjei, Thillai V. Sekar, Sanjiv S. Gambhir, Tarik F. Massoud, Ramasamy Paulmurugan
Gaussia luciferase (GLUC) is a bioluminescent reporter protein of increasing importance. As a secretory protein, it has increased sensitivity in vitro and in vivo (∼20 000-fold, and ∼1000-fold, respectively) over its competitor, secreted alkaline phosphatase. Unfortunately, this same advantageous secretory nature of GLUC limits its usefulness for many other possible intracellular applications, e.g., imaging signaling pathways in intact cells, in vivo imaging, and in developing molecular imaging biosensors to study protein–protein interactions and protein folding. Hence, to widen the research applications of GLUC, we developed engineered variants that increase its intracellular retention both by modifying the N-terminal secretory signal peptide and by tagging additional sequences to its C-terminal region. We found that when GLUC was expressed in mammalian cells, its N-terminal secretory signal peptide comprising amino acids 1–16 was essential for GLUC folding and functional activity in addition to its inherent secretory property. Modification of the C-terminus of GLUC by tagging a four amino acid (KDEL) endoplasmic reticulum targeting peptide in multiple repeats significantly improved its intracellular retention, with little impact on its folding and enzymatic activity. We used stable cells expressing this engineered GLUC with KDEL repeats to monitor chemically induced endoplasmic reticulum stress on cells. Additionally, we engineered an apoptotic sensor using modified variants of GLUC containing a four amino acid caspase substrate peptide (DEVD) between the GLUC protein and the KDEL repeats. Its use in cell culture resulted in increased GLUC secretion in the growth medium when cells were treated with the chemotherapeutic drugs doxorubicin, paclitaxel, and carboplatin. We thus successfully engineered a new variant GLUC protein that is retained inside cells rather than secreted extracellularly. We validated this novel reporter by incorporating it in biosensors for detection of cellular endoplasmic reticulum stress and caspase activation. This new molecularly engineered enzymatic reporter has the potential for widespread applications in biological research.

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