An expression vector, otherwise known as an expression construct, is usually a plasmid or virus designed for protein expression in cells. The vector is used to introduce a specific gene into a target cell, and can commandeer the cell's mechanism for protein synthesis to produce the protein encoded by the gene. Expression vectors are the basic tools in biotechnology for the production of proteins.
The plasmid is engineered to contain regulatory sequences that act as enhancer and promoter regions and lead to efficient transcription of the gene carried on the expression vector. The goal of a well-designed expression vector is the efficient production of protein, and this may be achieved by the production of significant amount of stable messenger RNA, which can then be translated into protein. The expression of protein may be tightly controlled and protein is only produced in significant quantity when necessary through the use of an inducer, in some systems however the protein may be expressed constitutively. Escherichia coli is commonly used as the host for protein expression, but other cell types may also be used. An example of the use of expression vector is the production of insulin, which is used for medical treatments of diabetes.