Mutant methionyl-tRNA synthetase from bacteria enables site-selective N-terminal labeling of proteins expressed in mammalian cells

Newly synthesized cellular proteins can be tagged with a variety of metabolic labels that distinguish them from preexisting proteins and allow them to be identified and tracked. Many such labels are incorporated into proteins via the endogenous cellular machinery and can be used in numerous cell types and organisms. Though broad applicability has advantages, we aimed to develop a strategy to restrict protein labeling to specified mammalian cells that express a transgene. Here we report that heterologous expression of a mutant methionyl-tRNA synthetase from Escherichia coli permits incorporation of azidonorleucine (Anl) into proteins made in mammalian (HEK293) cells. Anl is incorporated site-selectively at N-terminal positions (in competition with initiator methionines) and is not found at internal sites. Site selectivity is enabled by the fact that the bacterial synthetase aminoacylates mammalian initiator tRNA, but not elongator tRNA. N-terminally labeled proteins can be selectively conjugated to a variety of useful probes; here we demonstrate use of this system in enrichment and visualization of proteins made during various stages of the cell cycle. N-terminal incorporation of Anl may also be used to engineer modified proteins for therapeutic and other applications.

J. T. Ngo, E. M. Schuman, and D. A. Tirrell
Volume: 110
Number: 13
Pages: 4992-4997
Date: March, 2013
ICB Affiliated Authors: David A Tirrell