Construction of a constitutively active type III secretion system for heterologous protein secretion

Julie Ming Liang, Lisa Ann Burdette, Han Teng Wong*, Danielle Tullman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Abstract: Proteins comprise a multibillion-dollar industry in enzymes and therapeutics, but bacterial protein production can be costly and inefficient. Proteins of interest (POIs) must be extracted from lysed cells and inclusion bodies, purified, and resolubilized, which adds significant time and cost to the protein-manufacturing process. The Salmonella pathogenicity island 1 (SPI-1) type III secretion system (T3SS) has been engineered to address these problems by secreting soluble, active proteins directly into the culture media, reducing the number of purification steps. However, the current best practices method of T3SS pathway activation is not ideal for industrial scaleup. Previously, the T3SS was activated by plasmid-based overexpression of the T3SS transcriptional regulator, hilA, which requires the addition of a small molecule inducer (IPTG) to the culture media. IPTG adds significant cost to production and plasmid-based expression is subject to instability in large-scale fermentation. Here, we modulate the upstream transcriptional regulator, hilD, to activate the T3SS via three distinct methods. In doing so, we develop a toolbox of T3SS activation methods and construct constitutively active T3SS strains capable of secreting a range of heterologous proteins at titers comparable to plasmid-based hilA overexpression. We also explore how each activation method in our toolbox impacts the SPI-1 regulatory cascade and discover an epistatic relationship between T3SS regulators, hilE and the hilD 3′ untranslated region (hilD 3′UTR). Together, these findings further our goal of making an industrially competitive protein production strain that reduces the challenges associated with plasmid induction and maintenance. Key points: • Characterized 3 new type III secretion system (T3SS) activation methods for heterologous protein secretion, including 2 constitutive activation methods. • Eliminated the need for a second plasmid and a small molecule inducer to activate the system, making it more suitable for industrial production. • Discovered new regulatory insights into the SPI-1 T3SS, including an epistatic relationship between regulators hilE and the hilD 3′ untranslated region. Graphical abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.].

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1785-1800
Number of pages16
JournalApplied Microbiology and Biotechnology
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - Mar 2023


  • Protein secretion
  • Recombinant protein production
  • Salmonella
  • Strain engineering
  • Type III secretion system (T3SS)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Biotechnology


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