Efficient expression of tyrosine-sulfated proteins in E. coli using an expanded genetic code

Nat Protoc. 2009;4(12):1784-9. doi: 10.1038/nprot.2009.188.


Tyrosine sulfation is an important post-translational modification that occurs in higher eukaryotes and is involved in cell-cell communication, viral entry and adhesion. We describe a protocol for the heterologous expression of selectively tyrosine-sulfated proteins in Escherichia coli through the use of an expanded genetic code that co-translationally inserts sulfotyrosine in response to the amber nonsense codon, TAG. The components required for this process, an orthogonal aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase specific for sulfotyrosine and its cognate orthogonal tRNA that recognizes the amber codon, are encoded on the plasmid pSUPAR6-L3-3SY, and their use, along with a simple chemical synthesis of sulfotyrosine, are outlined in this protocol. Specifically, the gene for a protein of interest is mutated such that the codon corresponding to the desired location of tyrosine sulfate is TAG. Co-transformation of an expression vector containing this gene and pSUPAR6-L3-3SY into an appropriate E. coli strain allows the overexpression of the site-specifically sulfated protein with high efficiency and fidelity. The resulting protein contains tyrosine sulfate at any location specified by a TAG codon, making this method significantly simpler and more versatile than competing methods such as in vitro enzymatic sulfation, chemical sulfation and peptide synthesis. Once the proper expression vectors are cloned, our protocol should allow the production of the desired sulfated proteins in <1 week.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cloning, Molecular
  • Codon, Nonsense
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Plasmids / genetics
  • Protein Biosynthesis*
  • Protein Engineering / methods*
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational
  • Recombinant Proteins / chemistry
  • Recombinant Proteins / genetics*
  • Recombinant Proteins / metabolism
  • Tyrosine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Tyrosine / chemical synthesis
  • Tyrosine / chemistry
  • Tyrosine / metabolism


  • Codon, Nonsense
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • tyrosine O-sulfate
  • Tyrosine