Background: The site-specific chemical modification of proteins has proved to be extremely powerful for generating tools for the investigation of biological processes. Although a few elegant methods exist for engineering a recombinant protein at a unique position, these techniques cannot be easily extended to allow several different chemical probes to be specifically introduced into a target sequence. As such multiply labeled proteins could be used to study many biological processes, and in particular biomolecular interactions, we decided to investigate whether such protein reagents could be generated using an extension of the semisynthesis technique known as expressed protein ligation.
Results: A solid-phase expressed protein ligation (SPPL) technology is described that enables large semisynthetic proteins to be assembled on a solid support by the controlled sequential ligation of a series of recombinant and synthetic polypeptide building blocks. This modular approach allows multiple, different chemical modifications to be introduced site-specifically into a target protein. This process, which is analogous to solid-phase peptide synthesis, was used to dual-label the amino and carboxyl termini of the Crk-II adapter protein with the fluorescence resonance energy transfer pair tetramethylrhodamine and fluorescein, respectively. The resulting construct reports (through a fluorescence change) the phosphorylation of Crk-II by the nonreceptor protein tyrosine kinase, c-Abl, and was used to probe the protein-protein interactions that regulate this important post-translational process.
Conclusions: SPPL provides a powerful method for specifically modifying proteins at multiple sites, as was demonstrated by generating a protein-based biosensor for Crk-II phosphorylation. Such protein derivatives are extremely useful for investigating protein function in vitro and potentially in vivo. This modular approach should be applicable to many different protein systems.