Assembly of the small outer capsid protein, Soc, on bacteriophage T4: a novel system for high density display of multiple large anthrax toxins and foreign proteins on phage capsid

J Mol Biol. 2007 Jul 27;370(5):1006-19. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2007.05.008. Epub 2007 May 10.


Bacteriophage T4 capsid is a prolate icosahedron composed of the major capsid protein gp23*, the vertex protein gp24*, and the portal protein gp20. Assembled on its surface are 810 molecules of the non-essential small outer capsid protein, Soc (10 kDa), and 155 molecules of the highly antigenic outer capsid protein, Hoc (39 kDa). In this study Soc, a "triplex" protein that stabilizes T4 capsid, is targeted for molecular engineering of T4 particle surface. Using a defined in vitro assembly system, anthrax toxins, protective antigen, lethal factor and their domains, fused to Soc were efficiently displayed on the capsid. Both the N and C termini of the 80 amino acid Soc polypeptide can be simultaneously used to display antigens. Proteins as large as 93 kDa can be stably anchored on the capsid through Soc-capsid interactions. Using both Soc and Hoc, up to 1662 anthrax toxin molecules are assembled on the phage T4 capsid under controlled conditions. We infer from the binding data that a relatively high affinity capsid binding site is located in the middle of the rod-shaped Soc, with the N and C termini facing the 2- and 3-fold symmetry axes of the capsid, respectively. Soc subunits interact at these interfaces, gluing the adjacent capsid protein hexamers and generating a cage-like outer scaffold. Antigen fusion does interfere with the inter-subunit interactions, but these interactions are not essential for capsid binding and antigen display. These features make the T4-Soc platform the most robust phage display system reported to date. The study offers insights into the architectural design of bacteriophage T4 virion, one of the most stable viruses known, and how its capsid surface can be engineered for novel applications in basic molecular biology and biotechnology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Antigens, Bacterial / biosynthesis*
  • Antigens, Bacterial / genetics
  • Bacterial Toxins / biosynthesis*
  • Bacterial Toxins / genetics
  • Bacteriophage T4 / genetics
  • Bacteriophage T4 / metabolism*
  • Bacteriophage T4 / pathogenicity
  • Binding Sites
  • Capsid / metabolism*
  • Capsid Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Capsid Proteins / genetics
  • Models, Molecular*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Peptide Library*
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / genetics


  • Antigens, Bacterial
  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Capsid Proteins
  • Peptide Library
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • anthrax toxin
  • small outer capsid protein, bacteriophage T4