Coconfinement of fluorescent proteins: spatially enforced communication of GFP and mCherry encapsulated within the P22 capsid

Biomacromolecules. 2012 Dec 10;13(12):3902-7. doi: 10.1021/bm301347x. Epub 2012 Nov 9.


The precise architectures of viruses and virus-like particles are proving to be highly advantageous in synthetic materials applications. Not only can these nanocontainers be harnessed as active materials, but they can be exploited for examining the effects of in vivo "cell-like" crowding and confinement on the properties of the encapsulated cargo. Here we report the first example of intermolecular communication between two proteins coencapsulated within the capsid architecture of the bacteriophage P22. Using a genetically engineered three-protein fusion between the P22 scaffold protein, and the FRET pair, GFP, and a red fluorescent protein (mCherry), we were able to direct the encapsulation of the genetic fusion when coexpressed with P22 coat protein. These self-assembled P22 capsids are densely packaged, occupying more than 24% of the available volume, and the molecular design assures a 1:1 ratio of the interacting proteins. To probe the effect of crowding and confinement on the FRET communication in this nanoenvironment, we spaced the donor-acceptor pair with variable length flexible linkers and examined the effect on FRET inside the capsid compared to the same tethered FRET pairs free in solution. The P22 system is unique in that the capsid morphology can be altered, without losing the encapsulated cargo, resulting in a doubling of the capsid volume. Thus, we have additionally examined the encapsulated fusions at two different internal concentrations. Our results indicate that FRET is sensitive to the expansion of the capsid and encapsulation enforces significant intermolecular communication, increasing FRET by 5-fold. This P22 coencapsulation system is a promising platform for studying crowding, enforced proximity, and confinement effects on communication between active proteins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteriophage P22 / chemistry
  • Bacteriophage P22 / genetics*
  • Capsid / chemistry
  • Capsid Proteins / chemistry
  • Capsid Proteins / genetics*
  • Chromatography, Gel
  • DNA, Viral / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / chemistry
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics*
  • Immobilized Proteins / chemistry*
  • Luminescent Proteins / chemistry
  • Luminescent Proteins / genetics*
  • Protein Engineering
  • Protein Interaction Domains and Motifs
  • Red Fluorescent Protein
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • Capsid Proteins
  • DNA, Viral
  • Immobilized Proteins
  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins