The SpyCatcher-SpyTag system was developed seven years ago as a method for protein ligation. It is based on a modified domain from a Streptococcus pyogenes surface protein (SpyCatcher), which recognizes a cognate 13-amino-acid peptide (SpyTag). Upon recognition, the two form a covalent isopeptide bond between the side chains of a lysine in SpyCatcher and an aspartate in SpyTag. This technology has been used, among other applications, to create covalently stabilized multi-protein complexes, for modular vaccine production, and to label proteins (e.g., for microscopy). The SpyTag system is versatile as the tag is a short, unfolded peptide that can be genetically fused to exposed positions in target proteins; similarly, SpyCatcher can be fused to reporter proteins such as GFP, and to epitope or purification tags. Additionally, an orthogonal system called SnoopTag-SnoopCatcher has been developed from an S. pneumoniae pilin that can be combined with SpyCatcher-SpyTag to produce protein fusions with multiple components. Furthermore, tripartite applications have been produced from both systems allowing the fusion of two peptides by a separate, catalytically active protein unit, SpyLigase or SnoopLigase. Here, we review the current state of the SpyCatcher-SpyTag and related technologies, with a particular emphasis on their use in vaccine development and in determining outer membrane protein localization and topology of surface proteins in bacteria.
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