Enzyme-activated growth: development of a nuclear receptor based genetic selection system for engineering biocatalysts
Rood, Michael K.
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Beyond their physiological roles, nuclear receptors have been exploited for their ability to act as intracellular sensors of small molecules. Accordingly, yeast two- and three-hybrid systems have been developed, exploiting them to control reporter gene expression. These systems may be used to identify nuclear receptor ligand interaction, or for protein engineering applications, particularly of the nuclear receptor ligand binding domain. In this work, the use of estrogen receptors as sensors for enzyme catalysis is explored, where expression of a reporter gene is induced in the presence of the product from an enzymatic reaction. This system, which we have called enzyme-activated growth, has applications for the engineering of biocatalysts. Biocatalytic routes are currently being explored in industrial applications since they often have financial and environmental benefits over traditional heterogeneous catalysis. Enzyme-activated growth is designed to serve as a system to select for engineered enzymes capable of catalyzing the desired reaction. For this work, a new yeast two-hybrid strain has been developed and characterized to allow for detection of both agonist and antagonist compounds. To increase the sensitivity of this assay, a variant of the estrogen receptor was created through random mutation, which responded to ligand concentrations an order of magnitude lower than the wild type receptor. The five mutations identified in the best variant were previously unknown in the literature and the roles of each of these are investigated, as is the mechanism by which they alter ligand sensitivity. As a proof-of-principle, the enzymatic production of genistein, an estrogenic metabolite from plants, using the enzyme isoflavone synthase, as well as the production of estrogen from testosterone, is explored. Synthesis of genistein from the starting material naringenin in vivo was detected in the yeast two-hybrid strain; however, attempts at pairing this with estrogen receptor activation and cell growth were met with limited success. Lastly, targeting the estrogen receptor with a series of novel anti-cancer therapeutics is explored. These compounds were designed to both bind and (in)activate the estrogen receptor while inhibiting histone deacetylase activity. The (anti-)estrogenic properties were analyzed as well as their potency as histone deacetylase inhibitors. These properties were compared to their anti-proliferative effects against various cancerous and healthy cell lines to determine their potential as selective anti-cancer therapeutics.