Competition between functional signal peptides demonstrates variation in affinity for the secretion pathway

Huanfeng Chen, Jinoh Kim, Debra A. Kendall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


We have developed a system for examining the relative affinity of two different signal peptides for the protein secretion pathway in Escherichia coli. This system involves the expression of a modified alkaline phosphatase which possesses two signal peptides arranged in tandem. When both signal peptides have the wild-type sequence, cleavage after the first and cleavage after the second occur with nearly equal frequency. In both cases the remainder of the protein is transported to the periplasm. Thus both signal peptides effectively compete with each other fur entrance to the secretion pathway. When the hydrophobicity of the second signal peptide is altered by small increments, we find that the more hydrophobic signal peptide is preferentially utilized. Thus, a more hydrophobic signal peptide can outcompete even an efficient wild-type signal sequence. The crossover point, for utilization of the second to the first signal peptide, is marked and occurs over a very small change in hydrophobicity. Our results suggest that the small differences in the hydrophobicity of wild-type signal peptides may have critical consequences: preproteins with the more hydrophobic signals could dominate one pathway, leaving those with only slightly less hydrophobic signals to require additional factors such as chaperonins, SecB, and other binding proteins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6658-6664
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Bacteriology
Issue number23
StatePublished - 1996
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Immunology


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