Subscribe to the World's Most Popular Newsletter (it's free!)
Bacterial lipoproteins play crucial roles in host-pathogen interactions and pathogenesis and are important targets for the immune system. A prominent example is the outer surface protein A (OspA) of Borrelia burgdorferi, which has been efficiently used as a vaccine for the prevention of
Lyme disease. In a previous study, OspA could be produced in tobacco chloroplasts in a lipidated and immunogenic form. To further explore the potential of chloroplasts for the production of bacterial lipoproteins, the role of the N-terminal leader sequence was investigated. The amount of recombinant OspA could be increased up to ten-fold by the variation of the insertion site in the chloroplast genome. Analysis of OspA mutants revealed that replacement of the invariant cysteine residue as well as deletion of the leader sequence abolishes palmitolyation of OspA. Also, decoration of OspA with an N-terminal eukaryotic lipidation motif does not lead to palmitoylation in chloroplasts. Strikingly, the bacterial signal peptide of OspA efficiently targets the protein to thylakoids, and causes a mutant phenotype. Plants accumulating OspA at 10% total soluble protein could not grow without exogenously supplied sugars and rapidly died after transfer to soil under greenhouse conditions. The plants were found to be strongly affected in photosystem II, as revealed by the analyses of temporal and spatial dynamics of photosynthetic activity by chlorophyll fluorescence imaging. Thus, overexpression of OspA in chloroplasts is limited by its concentration-dependent interference with essential functions of chloroplastic membranes required for primary metabolism.