Structural Characterization and Modeling of a Respiratory Syncytial Virus Fusion Glycoprotein Nanoparticle Vaccine in Solution

Mol Pharm. 2021 Jan 4;18(1):359-376. doi: 10.1021/acs.molpharmaceut.0c00986. Epub 2020 Dec 15.


The respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) fusion (F) protein/polysorbate 80 (PS80) nanoparticle vaccine is the most clinically advanced vaccine for maternal immunization and protection of newborns against RSV infection. It is composed of a near-full-length RSV F glycoprotein, with an intact membrane domain, formulated into a stable nanoparticle with PS80 detergent. To understand the structural basis for the efficacy of the vaccine, a comprehensive study of its structure and hydrodynamic properties in solution was performed. Small-angle neutron scattering experiments indicate that the nanoparticle contains an average of 350 PS80 molecules, which form a cylindrical micellar core structure and five RSV F trimers that are arranged around the long axis of the PS80 core. All-atom models of full-length RSV F trimers were built from crystal structures of the soluble ectodomain and arranged around the long axis of the PS80 core, allowing for the generation of an ensemble of conformations that agree with small-angle neutron and X-ray scattering data as well as transmission electron microscopy (TEM) images. Furthermore, the hydrodynamic size of the RSV F nanoparticle was found to be modulated by the molar ratio of PS80 to protein, suggesting a mechanism for nanoparticle assembly involving addition of RSV F trimers to and growth along the long axis of the PS80 core. This study provides structural details of antigen presentation and conformation in the RSV F nanoparticle vaccine, helping to explain the induction of broad immunity and observed clinical efficacy. Small-angle scattering methods provide a general strategy to visualize surface glycoproteins from other pathogens and to structurally characterize nanoparticle vaccines.

Keywords: fusion glycoprotein; nanoparticle vaccine; polysorbate micelle; respiratory syncytial virus; small-angle neutron scattering.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Neutralizing / chemistry
  • Antibodies, Neutralizing / immunology
  • Glycoproteins / chemistry*
  • Glycoproteins / immunology
  • Nanoparticles / chemistry*
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections / immunology
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus Vaccines / chemistry*
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus Vaccines / immunology
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus, Human / chemistry*
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus, Human / immunology
  • Vaccination / methods


  • Antibodies, Neutralizing
  • Glycoproteins
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus Vaccines