Stability of Protein Structure during Nanocarrier Encapsulation: Insights on Solvent Effects from Simulations and Spectroscopic Analysis

Chester E. Markwalter, Betul Uralcan, István Pelczer, Shlomo Zarzhitsky, Michael H. Hecht, Robert Krafft Prud'homme, Pablo G. Debenedetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The dosing of peptide and protein therapeutics is complicated by rapid clearance from the blood pool and poor cellular membrane permeability. Encapsulation into nanocarriers such as liposomes or polymersomes has long been explored to overcome these limitations, but manufacturing challenges have limited clinical translation by these approaches. Recently, inverse Flash NanoPrecipitation (iFNP) has been developed to produce highly loaded polymeric nanocarriers with the peptide or protein contained within a hydrophilic core, stabilized by a hydrophobic polymer shell. Encapsulation of proteins with higher-order structure requires understanding how processing may affect their conformational state. We demonstrate a combined experimental/simulation approach to characterize protein behavior during iFNP processing steps using the Trp-cage protein TC5b as a model. Explicit-solvent fully atomistic molecular dynamics simulations with enhanced sampling techniques are coupled with two-dimensional heteronuclear multiple-quantum coherence nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (2D-HMQC NMR) and circular dichroism to determine the structure of TC5b during mixed-solvent exposure encountered in iFNP processing. The simulations involve atomistic models of mixed solvents and protein to capture the complexity of the hydrogen bonding and hydrophobic interactions between water, dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO), and the protein. The combined analyses reveal structural unfolding of the protein in 11 M DMSO but confirm complete refolding after release from the polymeric nanocarrier back into an aqueous phase. These results highlight the insights that simulations and NMR provide for the formulation of proteins in nanocarriers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16962-16972
Number of pages11
JournalACS Nano
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 22 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering
  • General Materials Science
  • General Physics and Astronomy


  • molecular dynamics
  • nanocarrier
  • protein delivery
  • simulations
  • spectroscopy


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