The human gene encoding the mature form of bone morphogenetic protein-2 (hBMP-2), a dimeric disulfide-bonded protein of the cystine knot growth factor family, was expressed in recombinant Escherichia coli using a temperature-inducible expression system. The recombinant protein was produced in the form of cytoplasmic inclusion bodies and the effect of different variables on the renaturation of rhBMP-2 was investigated. In particular, variables such as pH, redox conditions, protein concentration, temperature, the presence of different types of aggregation suppressors, and host cell contaminants were studied with respect to their effect on aggregation during refolding and on the final renaturation yield of rhBMP-2. It is shown that the renaturation yield is particularly sensitive to pH, temperature, protein concentration, and the presence of aggregation suppressors. In contrast, little effect of the redox conditions and the ionic strength on the renaturation yield was observed, as equal yields were obtained in a broad range of reduced to oxidized glutathione ratios and concentrations of NaCl, respectively. The aggregation suppressor 2-(cyclohexylamino)ethanesulfonic acid (CHES) proved to be superior with respect to the final renaturation yield, although, in comparison to the more common arginine, it was less efficient in preventing aggregation of rhBMP-2 during refolding. Detergent washing of inclusion bodies was sufficient, as further purification of rhBMP-2 prior to refolding was without effect on the final renaturation yield. An increase in the concentration of renatured rhBMP-2 was achieved by a pulsed refolding procedure by which up to a total amount of 2.1 mg mL(-1) rhBMP-2 could be transferred in seven pulses into the renaturation buffer with an overall refolding yield of 38%, corresponding to 0.8 mg mL(-1) renatured dimeric rhBMP-2. Furthermore, a simplified purification procedure is presented that also includes freeze-drying for long-term storage of biologically active rhBMP-2. Finally, it is shown that the appearance of rhBMP-2 variants could be avoided by using a host strain overexpressing rare codon tRNAs.
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