Beyond icosahedral symmetry in packings of proteins in spherical shells

Majid Mosayebi*, Deborah K. Shoemark, Jordan M. Fletcher, Richard B. Sessions, Noah Linden, Derek N. Woolfson, Tanniemola B. Liverpool

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)
423 Downloads (Pure)


The formation of quasi-spherical cages from protein building blocks is a remarkable self-assembly process in many natural systems, where a small number of elementary building blocks are assembled to build a highly symmetric icosahedral cage. In turn, this has inspired synthetic biologists to design de novo protein cages. We use simple models, on multiple scales, to investigate the self-assembly of a spherical cage, focusing on the regularity of the packing of protein-like objects on the surface. Using building blocks, which are able to pack with icosahedral symmetry, we examine how stable these highly symmetric structures are to perturbations that may arise from the interplay between flexibility of the interacting blocks and entropic effects. We find that, in the presence of those perturbations, icosahedral packing is not the most stable arrangement for a wide range of parameters; rather disordered structures are found to be the most stable. Our results suggest that (i) many designed, or even natural, protein cages may not be regular in the presence of those perturbations and (ii) optimizing those flexibilities can be a possible design strategy to obtain regular synthetic cages with full control over their surface properties.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9014-9019
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number34
Early online date8 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - 22 Aug 2017

Structured keywords

  • Bristol BioDesign Institute
  • QITG
  • BrisSynBio


  • Coarse-grain modeling
  • Icosahedral symmetry
  • Protein cage
  • Self-assembly
  • Protein design


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