Peptide backbone circularization enhances antifreeze protein thermostability

Protein Sci. 2017 Oct;26(10):1932-1941. doi: 10.1002/pro.3228. Epub 2017 Jul 25.


Antifreeze proteins (AFPs) are a class of ice-binding proteins that promote survival of a variety of cold-adapted organisms by decreasing the freezing temperature of bodily fluids. A growing number of biomedical, agricultural, and commercial products, such as organs, foods, and industrial fluids, have benefited from the ability of AFPs to control ice crystal growth and prevent ice recrystallization at subzero temperatures. One limitation of AFP use in these latter contexts is their tendency to denature and irreversibly lose activity at the elevated temperatures of certain industrial processing or large-scale AFP production. Using the small, thermolabile type III AFP as a model system, we demonstrate that AFP thermostability is dramatically enhanced via split intein-mediated N- and C-terminal end ligation. To engineer this circular protein, computational modeling and molecular dynamics simulations were applied to identify an extein sequence that would fill the 20-Å gap separating the free ends of the AFP, yet impose little impact on the structure and entropic properties of its ice-binding surface. The top candidate was then expressed in bacteria, and the circularized protein was isolated from the intein domains by ice-affinity purification. This circularized AFP induced bipyramidal ice crystals during ice growth in the hysteresis gap and retained 40% of this activity even after incubation at 100°C for 30 min. NMR analysis implicated enhanced thermostability or refolding capacity of this protein compared to the noncyclized wild-type AFP. These studies support protein backbone circularization as a means to expand the thermostability and practical applications of AFPs.

Keywords: antifreeze protein; backbone circularization; freezing hysteresis; protein stability; split intein; thermal stability.

MeSH terms

  • Antifreeze Proteins / chemistry*
  • Antifreeze Proteins / genetics
  • Antifreeze Proteins / metabolism*
  • Binding Sites / genetics
  • Hot Temperature
  • Ice
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Biomolecular
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Engineering
  • Protein Stability*


  • Antifreeze Proteins
  • Ice