Enabling high-throughput ligation-independent cloning and protein expression for the family of ubiquitin specific proteases

Mark P.A. Luna-Vargas, Evangelos Christodoulou, Andrea Alfieri, Willem J. van Dijk, Magda Stadnik, Richard G. Hibbert, Danny D. Sahtoe, Marcello Clerici, Valeria De Marco, Dene Littler, Patrick H.N. Celie, Titia K. Sixma, Anastassis Perrakis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


High-throughput methods to produce a large number of soluble recombinant protein variants are particularly important in the process of determining the three-dimensional structure of proteins and their complexes. Here, we describe a collection of protein expression vectors for ligation-independent cloning, which allow co-expression strategies by implementing different affinity tags and antibiotic resistances. Since the same PCR product can be inserted in all but one of the vectors, this allows efficiency in versatility while screening for optimal expression strategies. We first demonstrate the use of these vectors for protein expression in Escherichia coli, on a set of proteins belonging to the ubiquitin specific protease (USP) Family. We have selected 35 USPs, created 145 different expression constructs into the pETNKI-His-3C-LIC-kan vector, and obtained 38 soluble recombinant proteins for 21 different USPs. Finally, we exemplify the use of our vectors for bacterial co-expression and for expression in insect cells, with USP4 and USP7 respectively. We conclude that our ligation-independent cloning strategy allows for high-throughput screening for the expression of soluble proteins in a variety of vectors in E. coli and in insect cells. In addition, the same vectors can be used for co-expression studies, at least for simple binary complexes. Application in the family of ubiquitin specific proteases led to a number of soluble USPs that are used for functional and crystallization studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-119
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Structural Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Escherichia coli
  • Insect cells
  • Ligation independent cloning
  • Protein expression


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