Bactericidal/permeability-increasing protein (BPI) is a potent antimicrobial agent produced by polymorphonuclear leucocytes that specifically interacts with and kills Gram-negative bacteria. An 825 bp gene determining the bactericidal N-terminal domain of human BPI was chemically synthesized and expressed as inclusion bodies in Escherichia coli. The recombinant polypeptide, BPI', was solubilized and conditions under which it folded to give the active protein were determined. Folding was critically dependent on the urea and salt concentrations as well as the pH. BPI' bound with high affinity to Salmonella typhimurium cells (apparent Kd = 36 nM), permeabilized their outer membranes to actinomycin D, specifically activated a synovial fluid phospholipase A2 and showed potent bactericidal activity. In contrast with the native protein, however, it could not be efficiently released from the cell surface by the addition of high concentrations of Mg2+ ions. Pre-incubation of the protein with lipopolysaccharide or trypsin prevented cytotoxicity. However, boiling BPI' immediately before its addition to cells did not block its bactericidal activity, suggesting that it may be able to function even when presented to cells in an unfolded form. A BPI' derivative, containing a 13-residue foreign antigenic determinant genetically inserted between Ala115 and Asp116, was also produced. The derivative was functional in the above assays and bound with high affinity to S. typhimurium (apparent Kd = 74 nM). These results imply that the region defined by these residues is not involved in the lipopolysaccharide-binding or bactericidal activities of BPI. The availability of functional, nonglycosylated recombinant derivatives of BPI should greatly aid detailed studies on its structure, interactions with lipopolysaccharide and mechanism of action.

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