Codon Optimization in the Production of Recombinant Biotherapeutics: Potential Risks and Considerations

BioDrugs. 2018 Feb;32(1):69-81. doi: 10.1007/s40259-018-0261-x.


Biotherapeutics are increasingly becoming the mainstay in the treatment of a variety of human conditions, particularly in oncology and hematology. The production of therapeutic antibodies, cytokines, and fusion proteins have markedly accelerated these fields over the past decade and are probably the major contributor to improved patient outcomes. Today, most protein therapeutics are expressed as recombinant proteins in mammalian cell lines. An expression technology commonly used to increase protein levels involves codon optimization. This approach is possible because degeneracy of the genetic code enables most amino acids to be encoded by more than one synonymous codon and because codon usage can have a pronounced influence on levels of protein expression. Indeed, codon optimization has been reported to increase protein expression by > 1000-fold. The primary tactic of codon optimization is to increase the rate of translation elongation by overcoming limitations associated with species-specific differences in codon usage and transfer RNA (tRNA) abundance. However, in mammalian cells, assumptions underlying codon optimization appear to be poorly supported or unfounded. Moreover, because not all synonymous codon mutations are neutral, codon optimization can lead to alterations in protein conformation and function. This review discusses codon optimization for therapeutic protein production in mammalian cells.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Products*
  • Biotechnology / methods*
  • Codon / genetics*
  • Gene Expression / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Recombinant Proteins / genetics*


  • Biological Products
  • Codon
  • Recombinant Proteins