A Versatile Virus-Mimetic Engineering Approach for Concurrent Protein Nanocage Surface-Functionalization and Cargo Encapsulation

Yujie Sheng, Zilong Chen, Mickael V. Cherrier, Lydie Martin, Tam T.T. Bui, Wei Li, Steven Lynham, Yvain Nicolet, Kourosh H. Ebrahimi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Naturally occurring protein nanocages like ferritin are self-assembled from multiple subunits. Because of their unique cage-like structure and biocompatibility, there is a growing interest in their biomedical use. A multipurpose and straightforward engineering approach does not exist for using nanocages to make drug-delivery systems by encapsulating hydrophilic or hydrophobic drugs and developing vaccines by surface functionalization with a protein like an antigen. Here, a versatile engineering approach is described by mimicking the HIV-1 Gap polyprotein precursor. Various PREcursors of nanoCages (PREC) are designed and created by linking two ferritin subunits via a flexible linker peptide containing a protease cleavage site. These precursors can have additional proteins at their N-terminus, and their protease cleavage generates ferritin-like nanocages named protease-induced nanocages (PINCs). It is demonstrated that PINC formation allows concurrent surface decoration with a protein and hydrophilic or hydrophobic drug encapsulation up to fourfold more than the amount achieved using other methods. The PINCs/Drug complex is stable and efficiently kills cancer cells. This work provides insight into the precursors’ design rules and the mechanism of PINCs formation. The engineering approach and mechanistic insight described here will facilitate nanocages’ applications in drug delivery or as a platform for making multifunctional therapeutics like mosaic vaccines.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSmall
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2024

Keywords

  • drug encapsulation
  • ferritin
  • mosaic nanocage
  • PINC
  • precursor of nanocages
  • protein nanocages

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