Coiled-coil-mediated assembly of an icosahedral protein cage with extremely high thermal and chemical stability

Ajitha S. Cristie-David, Junjie Chen, Derek B. Nowak, Amy L. Bondy, Kai Sun, Sung I. Park, Mark M. Banaszak Holl, Min Su, E. Neil G. Marsh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


The organization of protein molecules into higher-order nanoscale architectures is ubiquitous in Nature and represents an important goal in synthetic biology. Furthermore, the stabilization of enzyme activity has many practical applications in biotechnology and medicine. Here we describe the symmetry-directed design of an extremely stable, enzymatically active, hollow protein cage of Mr ≈ 2.1 MDa with dimensions similar to those of a small icosahedral virus. The cage was constructed based on icosahedral symmetry by genetically fusing a trimeric protein (TriEst) to a small pentameric de novo-designed coiled coil domain, separated by a flexible oligo-glycine linker sequence. Screening a small library of designs in which the linker length varied from 2 to 12 residues identified a construct containing 8 glycine residues (Ico8) that formed well-defined cages. Characterization by dynamic light scattering, negative stain, and cryo-EM and by atomic force and IR-photoinduced force microscopy established that Ico8 assembles into a flexible hollow cage comprising 20 copies of the esterase trimer, 60 protein subunits in total, with overall icosahedral geometry. Notably, the cages formed by Ico8 proved to be extremely stable toward thermal and chemical denaturation: whereas TriEst was unfolded by heating (Tm ≈ 75 °C) or denatured by 1.5 M guanidine hydrochloride, the Ico8 cages remained folded even at 120 °C or in 8 M guanidine hydrochloride. The increased stability of the cages is a new property that emerges from the higher-order structure of the protein cage, rather than being intrinsic to the components from which it is constructed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9207-9216
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jun 2019
Externally publishedYes

Cite this