Computationally aided discovery of LysEFm5 variants with improved catalytic activity and stability

Tsvetelina H. Baryakova, Seth C. Ritter, Daniel T. Tresnak, Benjamin J. Hackel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bacteriophage-derived lysin proteins are potentially effective antimicrobials that would benefit from engineered improvements to their bioavailability and specific activity. Here, the catalytic domain of LysEFm5, a lysin with activity against vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium (VRE), was subjected to site-saturation mutagenesis at positions whose selection was guided by sequence and structural information from homologous proteins. A second-order Potts model with parameters inferred from large sets of homologous sequence information was used to predict the average change in the statistical fitness for mutant libraries with diversity at pairs of sites within the secondary catalytic shell. Guided by the statistical fitness, nine double mutant saturation libraries were created and plated on agar containing autoclaved VRE to quickly identify and segregate catalytically active (halo-forming) and inactive (non-halo-forming) variants. High-throughput DNA sequencing of 873 unique variants showed that the statistical fitness was predictive of the retention or loss of catalytic activity (area under the curve [AUC], 0.840 to 0.894), with the inclusion of more diverse sequences in the starting multiple-sequence alignment improving the classification accuracy when pairwise amino acid couplings (epistasis) were considered. Of eight random halo-forming variants selected for more sensitive testing, one showed a 1.8 (±0.4)-fold improvement in specific activity and an 11.5± 0.8°C increase in melting temperature compared to those of the wild type. Our results demonstrate that a computationally informed approach employing homologous protein information coupled with a mid-throughput screening assay allows for the expedited discovery of lysin variants with improved properties. IMPORTANCE Broad-spectrum antibiotics can indiscriminately kill most bacteria, including commensal species that are a part of the normal human flora. This can potentially lead to the proliferation of drug-resistant bacteria upon elimination of competing species and to unwanted autoimmune effects in patients. Bacteriophagederived lysin proteins are an alternative to conventional antibiotics that have coevolved alongside specific bacterial hosts. Lysins are capable of targeting conserved substrates in the bacterial cell wall essential for its viability. To engineer these proteins to exhibit improved therapeutically relevant properties, homology-guided statistical approaches can be used to identify compelling sites for mutation and to quantify the functional constraints acting on these sites to direct mutagenic library creation. The platform described herein couples this informed approach with a visual plate assay that can be used to simultaneously screen hundreds of mutants for catalytic activity, allowing for the streamlined identification of improved lysin variants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere02051
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 3 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Covariation
  • Epistasis
  • Homology
  • Lysin
  • Potts model
  • Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

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