A two-plasmid system for stable, selective-pressure-independent expression of multiple extracellular proteins in mycobacteria
Recombinant mycobacteria expressing Mycobacterium tuberculosis extracellular proteins are leading candidates for new vaccines against tuberculosis and other mycobacterial diseases, and important tools both in anti mycobacterial drug development and basic research in mycobacterial pathogenesis. Recombinant mycobacteria that stably overexpress and secrete major extracellular proteins of M. tuberculosis in native form on plasmids pSMT3 and pNBV1 were previously constructed by the authors. To enhance the versatility of this plasmid-based approach for mycobacterial protein expression, the Escherichia coli/mycobacteria shuttle plasmid pGB9 was modified to accommodate mycobacterial genes expressed from their endogenous promoters. Previous studies showed that the modified plasmid, designated pGB9.2, derived from the cryptic Mycobacterium fortuitum plasmid pMF1, was present at a low copy number in both E. coli and mycobacteria, and expression of recombinant M. tuberculosis proteins was found to be at levels paralleling its copy number, that is, approximating their endogenous levels. Plasmid pGB9.2 was compatible with the shuttle vectors pSMT3 and pNBV1 and in combination with them it simultaneously expressed the M. tuberculosis 30 kDa extracellular protein FbpB. Plasmid pGB9.2 was stably maintained in the absence of selective pressure in three mycobacterial species: Mycobacterium bovis BCG, M. tuberculosis and M. smegmatis. Plasmid pGB9.2 was found to be self-transmissible between both fast- and slow-growing mycobacteria, but not from mycobacteria to E. coli or between E. coli strains. The combination of two compatible plasmids in one BCG strain allows expression of recombinant mycobacterial proteins at different levels, a potentially important factor in optimizing vaccine potency.