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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Methodology article

An improved genetic system for detection and analysis of protein nuclear import signals

Kris S Marshall1, Zhiying Zhang12, Jennifer Curran1, Stephanie Derbyshire1 and Joe S Mymryk1*

Author Affiliations

1 Departments of Microbiology & Immunology and Oncology, The University of Western Ontario, London Regional Cancer Program, London, Ontario, N6A 4L6, Canada

2 Gemin X Biotechnologies Inc. 3576 Avenue du Parc, suite 4310, Montreal, Quebec, H2X 2H7, Canada

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BMC Molecular Biology 2007, 8:6  doi:10.1186/1471-2199-8-6

Published: 25 January 2007



Nuclear import of proteins is typically mediated by their physical interaction with soluble cytosolic receptor proteins via a nuclear localization signal (NLS). A simple genetic assay to detect active NLSs based on their function in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae has been previously described. In that system, a chimera consisting of a modified bacterial LexA DNA binding domain and the transcriptional activation domain of the yeast Gal4 protein is fused to a candidate NLS. A functional NLS will redirect the chimeric fusion to the yeast cell nucleus and activate transcription of a reporter gene.


We have reengineered this nuclear import system to expand its utility and tested it using known NLS sequences from adenovirus E1A. Firstly, the vector has been reconstructed to reduce the level of chimera expression. Secondly, an irrelevant "stuffer" sequence from the E. coli maltose binding protein was used to increase the size of the chimera above the passive diffusion limit of the nuclear pore complex. The improved vector also contains an expanded multiple cloning site and a hemagglutinin epitope tag to allow confirmation of expression.


The alterations in expression level and composition of the fusions used in this nuclear import system greatly reduce background activity in β-galactosidase assays, improving sensitivity and allowing more quantitative analysis of NLS bearing sequences.