Determinants of Developability and Evolvability of Synthetic Miniproteins as Ligand Scaffolds

Adam McConnell, Sun Li Batten, Benjamin J. Hackel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Binding ligands empower molecular therapeutics and diagnostics. Despite an array of protein scaffolds engineered for binding, the biophysical elements that drive developability and evolvability are not fully understood. In particular, engineering novel function while maintaining biophysical integrity within the context of small, single-domain proteins is challenged by integration of the structural framework and the evolved binding site. Miniproteins present a challenge to our limits of protein engineering capability and provide advantages in physiological targeting, modularity for multi-functional constructs, and unique binding modes. Herein, we evaluate the ability of hyperstable synthetic miniproteins, originally designed for foldedness, to function as binding scaffolds. We synthesized 45 combinatorial libraries, with 109 variants, systematically varied across two topologies, each with five starting frameworks and four or five diverse, structurally distinct paratopes, to elucidate their impact on evolvability and developability. We evaluated evolvability with yeast display binding selections against four targets. High-throughput assays –stability via yeast display and soluble expression via split-GFP in E. coli – measured developability. The comprehensive, robust dataset demonstrates how protein topology, parental framework, and paratope structure and location all impact scaffold performance. A hyperstable framework and localized diversity are not sufficient for an effective scaffold, but several designs of these elements within synthetic miniproteins designed solely for stability result in scaffold libraries with effective evolvability and developability. Engineered variants were well-folded, thermally stable, and bound target with single-digit nanomolar affinity. Thus, hyperstable synthetic miniproteins can serve as precursors to developable, evolvable mini-scaffolds with unique potential for physiological transport, modularity, and binding modes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number168339
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number24
StatePublished - Dec 15 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier Ltd


  • biophysical robustness
  • evolvability
  • molecular targeting
  • protein engineering
  • topology

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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