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The N-terminal proline-rich domain (Zera) of the maize storage protein γ-zein, is able to induce the formation of endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-derived protein bodies (PBs) when fused to proteins of interest. This encapsulation enables a recombinant fused protein to escape from degradation and facilitates its recovery from plant biomass by gradient purification. The aim of the present work was to evaluate if induced PBs encapsulate additional proteins jointly with the recombinant protein. The exhaustive analysis of protein composition of PBs is expected to facilitate a better understanding of PB formation and the optimization of recombinant protein purification approaches from these organelles.
We analysed the proteome of PBs induced in Nicotiana benthamiana leaves by transient transformation with Zera fused to a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). Intact PBs with their surrounding ER-membrane were isolated on iodixanol based density gradients and their integrity verified by confocal and electron microscopy. SDS-PAGE analysis of isolated PBs showed that Zera-DsRed accounted for around 85% of PB proteins in term of abundance. Differential extraction of PBs was performed for in-depth analysis of their proteome and structure. Besides Zera-DsRed, 195 additional proteins were identified including a broad range of proteins resident or trafficking through the ER and recruited within the Zera-DsRed polymer.
This study indicates that Zera-protein fusion is still the major protein component of the new formed organelle in tobacco leaves. The analysis also reveals the presence of an unexpected diversity of proteins in PBs derived from both the insoluble Zera-DsRed polymer formation, including ER-resident and secretory proteins, and a secretory stress response induced most likely by the recombinant protein overloading. Knowledge of PBs protein composition is likely to be useful to optimize downstream purification of recombinant proteins in molecular farming applications.