Degron-Controlled Protein Degradation in Escherichia coli: New Approaches and Parameters

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Protein degron tags have proven to be uniquely useful for the characterization of gene function. Degrons can mediate quick depletion, usually within minutes, of a protein of interest, allowing researchers to characterize cellular responses to the loss of function. To develop a general-purpose degron tool in Escherichia coli, we sought to build upon a previously characterized system of SspB-dependent inducible protein degradation. For this, we created a family of expression vectors containing a destabilized allele of SspB, capable of a rapid and nearly perfect “off-to-on” induction response. Using this system, we demonstrated excellent control over several DNA metabolism enzymes. However, other substrates did not respond to degron tagging in such an ideal manner, indicating the apparent limitations of SspB-dependent systems. Several degron-tagged proteins were degraded too slowly to be completely depleted during active growth, whereas others appeared to be completely refractory to degron-promoted degradation. Thus, only a minority of our, admittedly biased, selection of degron substrates proved to be amenable to efficient SspB-catalyzed degradation. We also uncovered an apparent stalling and/or disengagement of ClpXP from a degron-tagged allele of beta-galactosidase (beta-gal). While a degron-containing fusion peptide attached to the carboxy-terminus of beta-gal was degraded quantitatively, no reductions in beta-gal activity or concentration were detected, demonstrating an apparently novel mechanism of protease resistance. We conclude that substrate-dependent effects of the SspB system present a continued challenge to the widespread adoption of this degron system. For substrates that prove to be degradable, we provide a series of titratable SspB-expression vehicles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)669-682
Number of pages14
JournalACS synthetic biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 16 2024


  • ClpXP protease
  • RecA
  • RuvB
  • SspB adaptor
  • degron

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (miscellaneous)
  • Biomedical Engineering


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