DNA hairpins promote temperature controlled cargo encapsulation in a truncated octahedral nanocage structure family†
In the present study we investigate the mechanism behind temperature controlled cargo uptake using a truncated octahedral DNA cage scaffold functionalized with one, two, three or four hairpin forming DNA strands inserted in one corner of the structure. This investigation was inspired by our previous demonstration of temperature controlled reversible encapsulation of the cargo enzyme, horseradish peroxidase, in the cage with four hairpin forming strands. However, in this previous study the mechanism of cargo uptake was not directly addressed (Juul, et al., Temperature-Controlled Encapsulation and Release of an Active Enzyme in the Cavity of a Self-Assembled DNA Nanocage, ACS Nano, 2013, 7, 9724–9734). In the present study we use a combination of molecular dynamics simulations and in vitro analyses to unravel the mechanism of cargo uptake in hairpin containing DNA cages. We find that two hairpin forming strands are necessary and sufficient to facilitate efficient cargo uptake, which argues against a full opening–closing of one corner of the structure being responsible for encapsulation. Molecular dynamics simulations were carried out to evaluate the atomistic motions responsible for encapsulation and showed that the two hairpin forming strands facilitated extension of at least one of the face surfaces of the cage scaffold, allowing entrance of the cargo protein into the cavity of the structure. Hence, the presented data demonstrate that cargo uptake does not involve a full opening of the structure. Rather, the uptake mechanism represents a feature of increased flexibility integrated in this nanocage structure upon the addition of at least two hairpin-forming strands.