Massive expression of cysteine-containing proteins causes abnormal elongation of yeast cells by perturbing the proteasome

G3 (Bethesda). 2022 May 30;12(6):jkac106. doi: 10.1093/g3journal/jkac106.


The enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) is considered to be a harmless protein because the critical expression level that causes growth defects is higher than that of other proteins. Here, we found that overexpression of EGFP, but not a glycolytic protein Gpm1, triggered the cell elongation phenotype in the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. By the morphological analysis of the cell overexpressing fluorescent protein and glycolytic enzyme variants, we revealed that cysteine content was associated with the cell elongation phenotype. The abnormal cell morphology triggered by overexpression of EGFP was also observed in the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe. Overexpression of cysteine-containing protein was toxic, especially at high-temperature, while the toxicity could be modulated by additional protein characteristics. Investigation of protein aggregate formation, morphological abnormalities in mutants, and transcriptomic changes that occur upon overexpression of EGFP variants suggested that perturbation of the proteasome by the exposed cysteine of the overexpressed protein causes cell elongation. Overexpression of proteins with relatively low folding properties, such as EGFP, was also found to promote the formation of SHOTA (Seventy kDa Heat shock protein-containing, Overexpression-Triggered Aggregates), an intracellular aggregate that incorporates Hsp70/Ssa1, which induces a heat shock response, while it was unrelated to cell elongation. Evolutionary analysis of duplicated genes showed that cysteine toxicity may be an evolutionary bias to exclude cysteine from highly expressed proteins. The overexpression of cysteine-less moxGFP, the least toxic protein revealed in this study, would be a good model system to understand the physiological state of protein burden triggered by ultimate overexpression of harmless proteins.

Keywords: cytotoxicity; fluorescent protein; heat shock response; morphology; proteasome; protein burden; yeast.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cysteine
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex / genetics
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex / metabolism
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae Proteins* / genetics
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae Proteins* / metabolism
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae* / cytology
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae* / genetics
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae* / metabolism
  • Schizosaccharomyces pombe Proteins* / genetics
  • Schizosaccharomyces pombe Proteins* / metabolism
  • Schizosaccharomyces* / cytology
  • Schizosaccharomyces* / genetics
  • Schizosaccharomyces* / metabolism


  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae Proteins
  • Schizosaccharomyces pombe Proteins
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex
  • Cysteine