Programmable in vitro Co-Encapsidation of Guest Proteins Inside Protein Nanocages

Bioinspired self-sorting and self-assembling systems using engineered versions of natural protein cages have been developed for biocatalysis and therapeutic delivery. The packaging and intracellular delivery of guest proteins is of particular interest for both <i>in vitro</i> and <i>in vivo</i> cell engineering. However, there is a lack of platforms in bionanotechnology that combine programmable guest protein encapsidation with efficient intracellular uptake. We report a minimal peptide anchor for <i>in vivo</i> self-sorting of cargo-linked capsomeres of the Murine polyomavirus (MPyV) major coat protein that enables controlled encapsidation of guest proteins by <i>in vitro</i> self-assembly. Using Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) we demonstrate the flexibility in this system to support co-encapsidation of multiple proteins. Complementing these ensemble measurements with single particle analysis by super-resolution microscopy shows that the stochastic nature of co-encapsidation is an overriding principle. This has implications for the design and deployment of both native and engineered self-sorting encapsulation systems and for the assembly of infectious virions. Taking advantage of the encoded affinity for sialic acids ubiquitously displayed on the surface of mammalian cells, we demonstrate the ability of self-assembled MPyV virus-like particles to mediate efficient delivery of guest proteins to the cytosol of primary human cells. This platform for programmable co-encapsidation and efficient cytosolic delivery of complementary biomolecules therefore has enormous potential in cell engineering.