We have produced a plasmid expression vector for the coat protein of RNA bacteriophage MS2. The vector has been modified to introduce a unique I restriction site within the coat protein gene at a site corresponding to the most radially distant feature of the bacteriophage capsid, namely the top of the N-terminal β-hairpin (between residues 15 and 16). Insertion of DNA oligonucleotides at this site allows the production of chimeric MS2 coat proteins having foreign peptide sequences expressed as the central part of the hairpin. We have produced chimeras with a number of different peptide sequences (up to 24 amino acids in length) chosen because of their known antigenic properties. The chimeric coat proteins self-assemble into largely RNA-free phage-like capsids in and can be easily disassembled and reassembled . Such peptide-presenting particles may have a number of biotechnological applications, including use as a cost-effective, synthetic vaccine. We have tested the anti-genicity of one such construct in mice and have shown that these particles are immunogenic and that antibody titres against the inserted peptide epitope can be obtained.


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