Applying Unconventional Secretion in Ustilago maydis for the Export of Functional Nanobodies

Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Apr 29;18(5):937. doi: 10.3390/ijms18050937.


Exploiting secretory pathways for production of heterologous proteins is highly advantageous with respect to efficient downstream processing. In eukaryotic systems the vast majority of heterologous proteins for biotechnological application is exported via the canonical endoplasmic reticulum-Golgi pathway. In the endomembrane system target proteins are often glycosylated and may thus be modified with foreign glycan patterns. This can be destructive for their activity or cause immune reactions against therapeutic proteins. Hence, using unconventional secretion for protein expression is an attractive alternative. In the fungal model Ustilago maydis, chitinase Cts1 is secreted via an unconventional pathway connected to cell separation which can be used to co-export heterologous proteins. Here, we apply this mechanism for the production of nanobodies. First, we achieved expression and unconventional secretion of a functional nanobody directed against green fluorescent protein (Gfp). Second, we found that Cts1 binds to chitin and that this feature can be applied to generate a Gfp-trap. Thus, we demonstrated the dual use of Cts1 serving both as export vehicle and as purification tag. Finally, we established and optimized the production of a nanobody against botulinum toxin A and hence describe the first pharmaceutically relevant target exported by Cts1-mediated unconventional secretion.

Keywords: Ustilago maydis; botulinum toxin A; chitinase; nanobody; unconventional secretion.

MeSH terms

  • Botulinum Toxins, Type A / immunology
  • Chitin / metabolism
  • Chitinases / metabolism*
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • Fungal Proteins / metabolism*
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / immunology
  • Industrial Microbiology
  • Protein Transport
  • Recombinant Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Proteins / immunology
  • Recombinant Proteins / metabolism
  • Single-Domain Antibodies / genetics
  • Single-Domain Antibodies / immunology
  • Single-Domain Antibodies / metabolism*
  • Ustilago / genetics
  • Ustilago / metabolism*


  • Fungal Proteins
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Single-Domain Antibodies
  • Chitin
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Chitinases
  • Botulinum Toxins, Type A