Codon optimization of Caenorhabditis elegans GluCl ion channel genes for mammalian cells dramatically improves expression levels

J Neurosci Methods. 2003 Mar 30;124(1):75-81. doi: 10.1016/s0165-0270(02)00362-x.


Organisms use synonymous codons in a highly non-random fashion. These codon usage biases sometimes frustrate attempts to express high levels of exogenous genes in hosts of widely divergent species. The Caenorhabditis elegans GluClalpha1 and GluClbeta genes form a functional glutamate and ivermectin-gated chloride channel when expressed in Xenopus oocytes, but expression is weak in mammalian cells. We have constructed synthetic genes that retain the amino acid sequence of the wild-type GluCl channel proteins, but use codons that are optimal for mammalian cell expression. We have tagged the native and codon-optimized GluCl cDNAs with enhanced yellow fluorescent protein (EYFP, GluClalpha1 subunit) and enhanced cyan fluorescent protein (EFCP, GluClbeta subunit), expressed the channels in E18 rat hippocampal neurons and measured the relative expression levels of the two genes with fluorescence microscopy as well as with electrophysiology. Codon optimization provides a 6- to 9-fold increase in expression, allowing the conclusions that the ivermectin-gated channel has an EC(50) of 1.2 nM and a Hill coefficient of 1.9. We also confirm that the Y182F mutation in the codon-optimized beta subunit results in a heteromeric channel that retains the response to ivermectin while reducing the response to 100 microM glutamate by 7-fold. The engineered GluCl channel is the first codon-optimized membrane protein expressed in mammalian cells and may be useful for selectively silencing specific neuronal populations in vivo.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / metabolism*
  • Cell Line
  • Chloride Channel Agonists
  • Chloride Channels / genetics*
  • Chloride Channels / metabolism*
  • Codon / genetics*
  • Electrophysiology / methods
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics*
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Ivermectin / administration & dosage
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed
  • Neurons / classification
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Protein Engineering / methods
  • Rats
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / metabolism
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Species Specificity
  • Transfection / methods


  • Chloride Channel Agonists
  • Chloride Channels
  • Codon
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • glutamate-gated chloride channels
  • Ivermectin