Limiting the metabolic burden of recombinant protein expression during selection yields pools with higher expression levels

Biotechnol Prog. 2019 Sep;35(5):e2839. doi: 10.1002/btpr.2839. Epub 2019 May 24.


In order to avoid the metabolic burden of protein expression during cell growth, and to avoid potential toxicity of recombinant proteins, microbial expression systems typically utilize regulated expression vectors. In contrast, constitutive expression vectors have usually been utilized for isolation of protein expressing mammalian cell lines. In mammalian systems, inducible expression vectors are typically utilized for only those proteins that are toxic when overexpressed. We developed a tetracycline regulated expression system in CHO cells, and show that cell pools selected in the uninduced state recover faster than those selected in the induced state even though the proteins showed no apparent toxicity or expression instability. Furthermore, cell pools selected in the uninduced state had higher expression levels when protein expression was turned on only in production cultures compared to pools that were selected and maintained in the induced state through production. We show a titer improvement of greater than twofold for an Fc-fusion protein and greater than 50% improvement for a recombinant antibody. The improvement is primarily due to an increase in specific productivity. Recombinant protein mRNA levels correlate strongly with protein expression levels and are highest in those cultures selected in the uninduced state and only induced during production. These data are consistent with a model where CHO cell lines with constitutive expression select for subclones with lower expression levels.

Keywords: Chinese hamster ovary; cell line development; metabolic burden; recombinant protein expression; specific productivity.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / analysis
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / genetics
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / metabolism
  • CHO Cells
  • Cell Culture Techniques
  • Cricetinae
  • Cricetulus
  • Gene Expression Regulation* / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation* / genetics
  • Genetic Vectors / genetics*
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins* / analysis
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins* / genetics
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins* / metabolism
  • Tetracycline / pharmacology


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • Tetracycline