Development of a generic β-lactamase screening system for improved signal peptides for periplasmic targeting of recombinant proteins in Escherichia coli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Steven Williams
  • Antony Hitchcock
  • Daniel Smith

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations



Targeting of recombinant proteins to the Escherichia coli periplasm is a desirable industrial processing tool to allow formation of disulphide bonds, aid folding and simplify recovery. Proteins are targeted across the inner membrane to the periplasm by an N-terminal signal peptide. The sequence of the signal peptide determines its functionality, but there is no method to predict signal peptide function for specific recombinant proteins, so multiple signal peptides must be screened for their ability to translocate each recombinant protein, limiting throughput. We present a screening system for optimising signal peptides for translocation of a single chain variable (scFv) antibody fragment employing TEM1 β-lactamase (Bla) as a C-terminal reporter of periplasmic localisation. The Pectobacterium carotovorum PelB signal peptide was selected as the starting point for a mutagenic screen. β-lactamase was fused to the C-terminal of scFv and β-lactamase activity was correlated against scFv translocation. Signal peptide libraries were generated and screened for β-lactamase activity, which correlated well to scFv::Bla production, although only some high activity clones had improved periplasmic translocation of scFv::Bla. Selected signal peptides were investigated in fed-batch fermentations for production and translocation of scFv::Bla and scFv without the Bla fusion. Improved signal peptides increased periplasmic scFv activity by ~40%.


Original languageEnglish
Article number6986
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 3 May 2018


  • bacteriology , biologics , expression systems , industrial microbiology