Re-structuring protein crystals porosity for biotemplating by chemical modification of lysine residues

Noa Cohen-Hadar, Shira Lagziel-Simis, Yariv Wine, Felix Frolow, Amihay Freeman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Protein crystals are routinely prepared for the elucidation of protein structure by X-ray crystallography. These crystals present an highly accurate periodical array of protein molecules with accompanying highly ordered porosity made of interconnected voids. The permeability of the porous protein crystals to a wide range of solutes has recently triggered attempts to explore their potential application as biotemplates by a controlled "filling" process for the fabrication of novel, nano-structured composite materials. Gaining control of the porosity of a given protein crystal may lead to the preparation of a series of "biotemplates" enabling different 'filler'/protein content ratios, resulting in different nanostructured composites. One way to gain such control is to produce a series of polymorphic forms of a given "parent-protein" crystal. As protein packing throughout crystallization is primarily dominated by the chemical composition of the surface of protein molecules and its impact on protein-protein interactions, modification of residues exposed on the surface will affect protein packing, leading to modified porosity. Here we propose to provide influence on the porosity of protein crystals for biotemplating by pre-crystallization chemical modification of lysine residues exposed on protein's surface. The feasibility of this approach was demonstrated by the serial application of chemical "modifiers" leading to protein derivatives exhibiting altered porosity by affecting protein "packing" throughout protein crystallization. Screening of a series of modifying agents for lysine modification of hen egg white lysozyme revealed that pre-crystallization modification preserving their positive charge did not affect crystal porosity, while modification resulting in their conversion to negatively charged groups induced dramatic change in protein crystal's packing and porosity. Furthermore, we demonstrate that chemical modification of lysine residues affecting modified protein packing may be simultaneously performed with the crystallization process: aldehydes generating Schiff base formation with protein's lysine residues readily affected modified protein packing, resulting in altered porosity. Our results demonstrate the feasibility of the use of site directed chemical modifications for the generation of a series of protein crystal exhibiting different porosities for biotemplating, all derived from one "parent" protein.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalBiotechnology and Bioengineering
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011


  • Biotemplating
  • Chemical modification
  • Crystal packing
  • Porosity
  • Protein crystal


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