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Viruses are very attractive biomaterials owing to their capability as nanocarriers of genetic material. Efforts have been made to functionalize self-assembling viral protein capsids on their exterior or interior to selectively take up different payloads. PRD1 is a double-stranded DNA bacteriophage comprising an icosahedral protein outer capsid and an inner lipidic vesicle. Here, we report the three-dimensional structure of PRD1 in complex with the antipsychotic drug chlorpromazine (CPZ) by cryo-electron microscopy. We show that the jellyrolls of the viral major capsid protein P3, protruding outwards from the capsid shell, serve as scaffolds for loading heterocyclic CPZ molecules. Additional X-ray studies and molecular dynamics simulations show the binding modes and organization of CPZ molecules when complexed with P3 only and onto the virion surface. Collectively, we provide a proof of concept for the possible use of the lattice-like organisation and the quasi-symmetric morphology of virus capsomers for loading heterocyclic drugs with defined properties.

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Division of Structural Biology, University of Oxford, The Henry Wellcome Building for Genomic Medicine, Headington, Oxford, UK.