Improved protein splicing through viral passaging

Adam J. Hume, Dylan J. Deeney, John S. Smetana, Jacquelyn Turcinovic, John H. Connor, Marlene Belfort, Elke Mühlberger, Christopher W. Lennon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Intervening proteins (inteins) are translated as subdomains within host proteins and removed through an intein-driven splicing reaction where the flanking sequences (exteins) are joined with a peptide bond. Previously, we developed a self-removing translation reporter for labeling Ebola virus (EBOV). In this reporter, an intein (RadA) containing the fluorescent protein ZsGreen (ZsG) is inserted within the EBOV protein VP30. Upon VP30-RadA-ZsG expression from the viral genome, RadA-ZsG is removed from VP30 through the protein splicing activity of RadA, generating functional, non-tagged VP30 and functional ZsGreen. While incorporation of our VP30-RadA-ZsG fusion reporter into recombinant EBOV (rEBOV-RadA-ZsG) resulted in an infectious virus that expresses ZsG upon infection of cells, this virus displayed a replication defect compared to wild-type EBOV, which might be the result of insufficient RadA splicing. Here, we demonstrate that the serial passaging of rEBOV-RadA-ZsG in human cells led to an increase in replication efficiency compared to unpassaged rEBOV-RadA-ZsG. Sequencing of passaged viruses revealed intein-specific mutations. These mutations improve intein activity in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic systems, as well as in multiple extein contexts. Taken together, our findings offer a novel means to select for inteins with enhanced catalytic properties that appear independent of extein context and expression system.IMPORTANCEIntervening proteins (inteins) are self-removing protein elements that have been utilized to develop a variety of innovative protein engineering technologies. Here, we report the isolation of inteins with improved catalytic activity through viral passaging. Specifically, we inserted a highly active intein within an essential protein of Ebola virus and serially passaged this recombinant virus, which led to intein-specific hyper-activity mutations. The identified mutations showed improved intein activity within both bacterial and eukaryotic expression systems and in multiple extein contexts. These results present a new strategy for developing inteins with improved splicing activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e0098424
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 12 2024


  • Ebola virus
  • intein
  • protein splicing
  • reporter virus
  • self-splicing fluorescent reporter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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