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Escherichia coli expression vectors containing the trc promoter and the complete DNA sequence of either the precursor or the mature form of bovine adrenocortical cholesterol side chain cleavage cytochrome P450 (P450scc) were transformed into E. coli strain JM109 and transcription induced with isopropyl-beta-D-thiogalactopyranoside (IPTG). Immunoreactive cytochrome P450scc was produced using the plasmid containing the mature P450scc sequence but not with the plasmid containing the sequence of the precursor form of P450scc, even though P450scc RNA was detectable in both cases. The mature form of P450scc was detected spectrophotometrically in a reduced CO-difference spectrum in E. coli (40-60 nmol/liter culture). Cholesterol and hydroxylated derivatives (22-hydroxycholesterol and 25-hydroxycholesterol) produce a type 1 substrate-binding spectrum in IPTG-induced, transformed E. coli. The P450scc was found to be associated with the E. coli membrane fraction and the enzymatic activity of side chain cleavage of 25-hydroxycholesterol was reconstituted using solubilized membranes, in the presence of purified bovine adrenocortical adrenodoxin and NADPH-adrenodoxin reductase (turnover number; 15.4 nmol/min/nmol P450). This bacterial expression system provides functional P450scc, in the absence of other forms of P450, which can be used for evaluation of enzymatic and spectral properties of this mitochondrial P450 by site-directed mutagenesis.