SpyRings Declassified: A Blueprint for Using Isopeptide-Mediated Cyclization to Enhance Enzyme Thermal Resilience

Methods Enzymol. 2016:580:149-67. doi: 10.1016/bs.mie.2016.05.004. Epub 2016 Jun 16.


Enzymes often have marginal stability, with unfolding typically leading to irreversible denaturation. This sensitivity is a major barrier, both for de novo enzyme development and for expanding enzyme impact beyond the laboratory. Seeking an approach to enhance resilience to denaturation that could be applied to a range of different enzymes, we developed SpyRing cyclization. SpyRings contain genetically encoded SpyTag (13 amino acids) on the N-terminus and SpyCatcher (12kDa) on the C-terminus of the enzyme, so that the Spy partners spontaneously react together through an irreversible isopeptide bond. SpyRing cyclization gave major increases in thermal resilience, including on a model for enzyme evolution, β-lactamase, and an industrially important enzyme in agriculture and nutrition, phytase. We outline the SpyRing rationale, including comparison of SpyRing cyclization to other cyclization strategies. The cloning strategy is presented for the simple insertion of enzyme genes for recombinant expression. We discuss structure-based approaches to select suitable enzyme cyclization targets. Approaches to evaluate the cyclization reaction and its effect on enzyme resilience are described. We also highlight the use of differential scanning calorimetry to understand how SpyRing cyclization promotes enzyme refolding. Efficiently searching sequence space will continue to be important for enzyme improvement, but the SpyRing platform may be a valuable rational adjunct for conferring resilience.

Keywords: Aggregation; Biotechnology; Circular protein; Enzyme evolution; Evolvability; Food security; Protein engineering; Synthetic biology; Thermostability; Unfolding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 6-Phytase / chemistry*
  • 6-Phytase / genetics
  • Amino Acid Sequence / genetics
  • Calorimetry, Differential Scanning
  • Cyclization
  • Enzyme Stability
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Denaturation*
  • Protein Engineering / methods*
  • Protein Folding
  • Temperature
  • beta-Lactamases / chemistry*
  • beta-Lactamases / genetics


  • 6-Phytase
  • beta-Lactamases