Structure-based design and experimental engineering of a plant virus nanoparticle for the presentation of immunogenic epitopes and as a drug carrier.

Biomaterials research for the discovery of new generation nanoparticles is one of the most active areas of nanotechnoloy. In the search of nature-made nanometer-sized objects, plant virus particles appear as symmetrically defined entities that can be formed by protein self-assembly. In particular, in the field of plant virology, there is plenty of literature available describing the exploitation of plant viral cages to produce safe vaccine vehicles and nanoparticles for drug delivery. In this context, we have investigated on the use of the artichoke mottled crinkle virus (AMCV) capsid both as a carrier of immunogenic epitopes and for the delivery of anticancer molecules. A dual approach that combines both in silico tools and experimental virology was applied for the rational design of immunologically active chimeric virus-like particles (VLPs) carrying immunogenic peptides. The atomic structures of wild type (wt) and chimeric VLPs were obtained by homology modeling. The effects of insertion of the HIV-1 2F5 neutralizing epitope on the structural stability of chimeric VLPs were predicted and assessed by detailed inspection of the nanoparticle intersubunit interactions at atomic level. Wt and chimeric VLPs, exposing on their surface the 2F5 epitope, were successfully produced in plants. In addition, we demonstrated that AMCV capsids could also function as drug delivery vehicles able to load the chemotherapeutic drug doxorubicin. To our knowledge, this is the first systematic predictive and empirical research addressing the question of how this icosahedral virus can be used for the production of both VLPs and viral nanoparticles for biomedical applications.