Protein aggregation in recombinant bacteria: Biological role of inclusion bodies

Antonio Villaverde, M. Mar Carrió

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleResearchpeer-review

279 Citations (Scopus)


Protein aggregation is an ordinary consequence of thermal stress. In recombinant bacteria, the over-expression of plasmid-encoded genes triggers transcription of heat-shock genes and other stress responses and often results in the aggregation of the encoded protein as inclusion bodies. The formation of these deposits represents a major obstacle for the production of biologically active polypeptides and restricts the spectrum of protein products being available for the industrial-biomedical market. Inclusion body formation was formerly considered to occur passively by the irretrievable deposition of partially-folded intermediates. Increasing evidence, however, indicates that protein aggregation in bacteria occurs as a reversible process deeply integrated in the cell mechanisms for coping with thermal stress, and that inclusion bodies are structurally dynamic structures. Inclusion body formation might actually be supported by the cellular machinery that when operated under specific stress conditions, transiently stores misfolded polypeptides until they could be further processed: either refolded or proteolysed. A better understanding of protein aggregation in cell physiology could allow not only inclusion body formation to be minimized more efficiently for a higher soluble yield, but also to comprehend in detail the intricacy of cell mechanisms committed to handling the misfolding danger.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1385-1395
JournalBiotechnology Letters
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2003


  • Cellular stress
  • Chaperones
  • Escherichia coli
  • Inclusion bodies
  • Protein aggregation
  • Recombinant protein


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