Biomedical Sciences ETDs

Publication Date



Phage display is a powerful and versatile technology that enables the selection of novel binding functions from large populations of randomly generated peptide sequences. Random sequences are genetically fused to a viral structural protein to produce complex peptide libraries. From a sufficiently complex library, phage bearing peptides with practically any desired binding activity can be physically isolated by affinity selection, and, since each particle carries in its genome the genetic information for its own replication, the selectants can be amplified by infection of bacteria. For certain applications however, existing phage display platforms have limitations. One such area is in the field of vaccine development, where the goal is to identify relevant epitopes by affinity-selection against an antibody target, and then to utilize them as immunogens to elicit a desired antibody response. Today, affinity selection is usually conducted using display on filamentous phages like M13. This technology provides an efficient means for epitope identification, but, because filamentous phages do not display peptides in the high-density, multivalent arrays the immune system prefers to recognize, they generally make poor immunogens and are typically useless as vaccines. This makes it necessary to confer immunogenicity by conjugating synthetic versions of the peptides to more immunogenic carriers. Unfortunately, when introduced into these new structural environments, the epitopes often fail to elicit relevant antibody responses. Thus, it would be advantageous to combine the epitope selection and immunogen functions into a single platform where the structural constraints present during affinity selection can be preserved during immunization. This dissertation describes efforts to develop a peptide display system based on the virus-like particles (VLPs) of bacteriophage MS2. Phage display technologies rely on (1) the identification of a site in a viral structural protein that is present on the surface of the virus particle and can accept foreign sequence insertions without disruption of protein folding and viral particle assembly, and (2) on the encapsidation of nucleic acid sequences encoding both the VLP and the peptide it displays. The experiments described here are aimed at satisfying the first of these two requirements by engineering efficient peptide display at two different sites in MS2 coat protein. First, we evaluated the suitability of the N-terminus of MS2 coat for peptide insertions. It was observed that random N-terminal 10-mer fusions generally disrupted protein folding and VLP assembly, but by bracketing the foreign sequences with certain specific dipeptides, these defects could be suppressed. Next, the suitability of a coat protein surface loop for foreign sequence insertion was tested. Specifically, random sequence peptides were inserted into the N-terminal-most AB-loop of a coat protein single-chain dimer. Again we found that efficient display required the presence of appropriate dipeptides bracketing the peptide insertion. Finally, it was shown that an N-terminal fusion that tended to interfere specifically with capsid assembly could be efficiently incorporated into mosaic particles when co-expressed with wild-type coat protein.


bacteriophage MS2, virus-like particle, nanoscience, biomedical engineering, phage display, phage vaccine



Document Type




Degree Name

Biomedical Sciences

Level of Degree


Department Name

Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

First Advisor

Peabody, David S.

First Committee Member (Chair)

Bear, David G.

Second Committee Member

Timmins, Graham S.

Third Committee Member

Chackerian, Bryce