Engineering Metastability into a Virus-like Particle to Enable Triggered Dissociation

Starr CA, Nair S, Huang SY, Hagan MF, Jacobson SC, Zlotnick A.

J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2023, 145, 4, 2322–2331
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For a virus-like particle (VLP) to serve as a delivery platform, the VLP must be able to release its cargo in response to a trigger. Here, we use a chemical biology approach to destabilize a self-assembling capsid for a subsequent triggered disassembly. We redesigned the dimeric hepatitis B virus (HBV) capsid protein (Cp) with two differentially addressable cysteines, C150 for reversibly crosslinking the capsid and C124 to react with a destabilizing moiety. The resulting construct, Cp150-V124C, assembles into icosahedral, 120-dimer VLPs that spontaneously crosslink via the C-terminal C150, leaving C124 buried at a dimer–dimer interface. The VLP is driven into a metastable state when C124 is reacted with the bulky fluorophore, maleimidyl BoDIPY-FL. The resulting VLP is stable until exposed to modest, physiologically relevant concentrations of reducing agent. We observe dissociation with FRET relaxation of polarization, size exclusion chromatography, and resistive-pulse sensing. Dissociation is slow, minutes to hours, with a characteristic lag phase. Mathematical modeling based on the presence of a nucleation step predicts disassembly dynamics that are consistent with experimental observations. VLPs transfected into hepatoma cells show similar dissociation behavior. These results suggest a generalizable strategy for designing a VLP that can release its contents in an environmentally responsive reaction.



J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2023, 145, 4, 2322–2331
Publication Date:January 18, 2023