Engineered protein switches for exogenous control of gene expression

Biochem Soc Trans. 2020 Oct 30;48(5):2205-2212. doi: 10.1042/BST20200441.


There is an ongoing need in the synthetic biology community for novel ways to regulate gene expression. Protein switches, which sense biological inputs and respond with functional outputs, represent one way to meet this need. Despite the fact that there is already a large pool of transcription factors and signaling proteins available, the pool of existing switches lacks the substrate specificities and activities required for certain applications. Therefore, a large number of techniques have been applied to engineer switches with novel properties. Here we discuss some of these techniques by broadly organizing them into three approaches. We show how novel switches can be created through mutagenesis, domain swapping, or domain insertion. We then briefly discuss their use as biosensors and in complex genetic circuits.

Keywords: protein engineering; protein switches; transcription factors.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Allosteric Site
  • Animals
  • Biochemical Phenomena
  • Biosensing Techniques / methods
  • DNA / chemistry
  • Dimerization
  • Gene Expression
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Genetic Engineering
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mutagenesis
  • Mutation
  • Protein Domains
  • Protein Engineering / methods*
  • Proteins / genetics
  • Signal Transduction
  • Substrate Specificity
  • Synthetic Biology
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • DNA