American Chemical Society
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Design of Ligand-Operable Protein-Cages That Open Upon Specific Protein Binding

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-12-22, 15:12 authored by Eric J. Lee, Nika Gladkov, Justin E. Miller, Todd O. Yeates
Protein nanocages have diverse applications in medicine and biotechnology, including molecular delivery. However, although numerous studies have demonstrated the ability of protein nanocages to encapsulate various molecular species, limited methods are available for subsequently opening a nanocage for cargo release under specific conditions. A modular platform with a specific protein-target-based mechanism of nanocage opening is notably lacking. To address this important technology gap, we present a new class of designed protein cages, the Ligand-Operable Cage (LOC). LOCs primarily comprise a protein nanocage core and a fused surface binding adaptor. The geometry of the LOC is designed so that binding of a target protein ligand (or multiple copies thereof) to the surface binder is sterically incompatible with retention of the assembled state of the cage. Therefore, the tight binding of a target ligand drives cage disassembly by mass action, subsequently exposing the encapsulated cargo. LOCs are modular; direct substitution of the surface binder sequence can reprogram the nanocage to open in response to any target protein ligand of interest. We demonstrate these design principles using both a natural and a designed protein cage as the core, with different proteins acting as the triggering ligand and with different reporter readoutsfluorescence unquenching and luminescencefor cage disassembly. These developments advance the critical problem of targeted molecular delivery and detection.