High stability of plant-expressed virus-like particles of an insect virus in artificial gastric and intestinal fluids.

The harsh conditions of the gastro-intestinal (GI) milieu pose a major barrier to the oral delivery of protein nanocages. Here we studied the stability of Nudaurelia capensis omega virus (N?V) virus-like particles (VLPs) in simulated GI fluids. N?V VLPs capsids and procapsids were transiently expressed in plants, the VLPs were incubated in various simulated GI fluids and their stability was determined by gel electrophoresis, density gradient ultracentrifugation and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). The results showed that the capsids were highly resistant to simulated gastric fluids at pH =3. Even under the harshest conditions, which consisted of a pepsin solution at pH 1.2, N?V capsids remained assembled as VLPs, though some digestion of the coat protein occurred. Moreover, 80.8% (±10.2%) stability was measured for N?V capsids upon 4 hours incubation in simulated intestinal fluids. The high resistance of this protein cage to digestion and denaturation can be attributed to its distinctively compact structure. The more porous form of the VLPs, the procapsid, was less stable under all conditions. Our results suggest that N?V VLPs capsids are likely to endure transit through the GI tract, designating them as promising candidate protein nanocages for oral drug delivery.