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1.  Clustering of disulfide-rich peptides provides scaffolds for hit discovery by phage display: application to interleukin-23 
BMC Bioinformatics  2016;17:481.
Disulfide-rich peptides (DRPs) are found throughout nature. They are suitable scaffolds for drug development due to their small cores, whose disulfide bonds impart extraordinary chemical and biological stability. A challenge in developing a DRP therapeutic is to engineer binding to a specific target. This challenge can be overcome by (i) sampling the large sequence space of a given scaffold through a phage display library and by (ii) panning multiple libraries encoding structurally distinct scaffolds. Here, we implement a protocol for defining these diverse scaffolds, based on clustering structurally defined DRPs according to their conformational similarity.
We developed and applied a hierarchical clustering protocol based on DRP structural similarity, followed by two post-processing steps, to classify 806 unique DRP structures into 81 clusters. The 20 most populated clusters comprised 85% of all DRPs. Representative scaffolds were selected from each of these clusters; the representatives were structurally distinct from one another, but similar to other DRPs in their respective clusters. To demonstrate the utility of the clusters, phage libraries were constructed for three of the representative scaffolds and panned against interleukin-23. One library produced a peptide that bound to this target with an IC50 of 3.3 μM.
Most DRP clusters contained members that were diverse in sequence, host organism, and interacting proteins, indicating that cluster members were functionally diverse despite having similar structure. Only 20 peptide scaffolds accounted for most of the natural DRP structural diversity, providing suitable starting points for seeding phage display experiments. Through selection of the scaffold surface to vary in phage display, libraries can be designed that present sequence diversity in architecturally distinct, biologically relevant combinations of secondary structures. We supported this hypothesis with a proof-of-concept experiment in which three phage libraries were constructed and panned against the IL-23 target, resulting in a single-digit μM hit and suggesting that a collection of libraries based on the full set of 20 scaffolds increases the potential to identify efficiently peptide binders to a protein target in a drug discovery program.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12859-016-1350-9) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC5120537  PMID: 27881076
Disulfide-rich peptides; Drug discovery; Clustering; Phage display; Interleukin-23; Knottins; Structure conservation
2.  Synthesis and Screening of a Cyclic Peptide Library: Discovery of Small-Molecule Ligands against Human Prolactin Receptor 
Bioorganic & medicinal chemistry  2008;17(3):1026-1033.
Prolactin receptor is involved in normal lactation and reproduction; however, excessive prolactin levels can cause various reproductive disorders such as prolactinomas. Small-molecule antagonists against the human prolactin receptor (hPRLr) thus have potential clinical applications and may serve as useful molecular probes in biomedical research. In this work, we synthesized a large, support-bound cyclic peptide library (theoretical diversity of 1.2 x 107) on 90-μm TentaGel beads and screened it against the extracellular domain of hPRLr. To facilitate hit identification, each TentaGel bead was spatially segregated into outer and inner layers, with a cyclic peptide displayed on the bead surface while the bead interior contained the corresponding linear peptide. The identity of a positive bead was revealed by sequencing the linear encoding peptide within the bead by partial Edman degradation/mass spectrometry. Screening of the library resulted in 20 hits, two of which were selected for further analysis and shown to bind to hPRLr with dissociation constants of 2–3 μM.
PMCID: PMC2662701  PMID: 18234500
Cyclic peptides; combinatorial library; partial Edman degradation; prolactin; prolactin receptor
3.  Elongated Polyproline Motifs Facilitate Enamel Evolution through Matrix Subunit Compaction 
PLoS Biology  2009;7(12):e1000262.
How does proline-repeat motif length in the proteins of teeth and bones relate to the evolution of vertebrates? Counterintuitively, longer repeat stretches are associated with smaller aggregated subunits within a supramolecular matrix, resulting in enhanced crystal length in mammalian versus amphibian tooth enamel.
Vertebrate body designs rely on hydroxyapatite as the principal mineral component of relatively light-weight, articulated endoskeletons and sophisticated tooth-bearing jaws, facilitating rapid movement and efficient predation. Biological mineralization and skeletal growth are frequently accomplished through proteins containing polyproline repeat elements. Through their well-defined yet mobile and flexible structure polyproline-rich proteins control mineral shape and contribute many other biological functions including Alzheimer's amyloid aggregation and prolamine plant storage. In the present study we have hypothesized that polyproline repeat proteins exert their control over biological events such as mineral growth, plaque aggregation, or viscous adhesion by altering the length of their central repeat domain, resulting in dramatic changes in supramolecular assembly dimensions. In order to test our hypothesis, we have used the vertebrate mineralization protein amelogenin as an exemplar and determined the biological effect of the four-fold increased polyproline tandem repeat length in the amphibian/mammalian transition. To study the effect of polyproline repeat length on matrix assembly, protein structure, and apatite crystal growth, we have measured supramolecular assembly dimensions in various vertebrates using atomic force microscopy, tested the effect of protein assemblies on crystal growth by electron microscopy, generated a transgenic mouse model to examine the effect of an abbreviated polyproline sequence on crystal growth, and determined the structure of polyproline repeat elements using 3D NMR. Our study shows that an increase in PXX/PXQ tandem repeat motif length results (i) in a compaction of protein matrix subunit dimensions, (ii) reduced conformational variability, (iii) an increase in polyproline II helices, and (iv) promotion of apatite crystal length. Together, these findings establish a direct relationship between polyproline tandem repeat fragment assemblies and the evolution and the design of vertebrate mineralized tissue microstructures. Our findings reveal that in the greater context of chordate evolution, the biological control of apatite growth by polyproline-based matrix assemblies provides a molecular basis for the evolution of the vertebrate body plan.
Author Summary
The microstructure of vertebrate bones and teeth is controlled by polyproline-rich protein matrices (such as amelogenin) that serve as a scaffold to control the assembly of biological apatites. In tooth enamel, amphibians have large amelogenin subunits and thin enamel while mammals have smaller amelogenin subunits in tandem with elongated crystals and complex prismatic organization. Using specific peptides and frog amelogenin overexpressed in mice, we confirmed the effect of the length of the elongated polyproline repeat on reduced matrix subunit dimensions and enhanced apatite crystal length. Three-dimensional structures solved by NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) and surface modeling algorithms indicate that elongated polyproline repeat stretches in amelogenins affect the dimensions of the supramolecular matrix through an increase in polyproline II helices, resulting in a compaction of supramolecular subunit dimensions. We propose that the availability of readily shaped apatites and innovative mechanisms based on amelogenin-repeat motifsthat compartmentalize and shape biological minerals was essential for the rise of early vertebrates, enabling the manufacture of strong teeth and backbones that might have given vertebrates a decisive survival advantage in the competition for food and in the sophistication of locomotion.
PMCID: PMC2787623  PMID: 20027208
4.  RNAi screen of Salmonella invasion shows role of COPI in membrane targeting of cholesterol and Cdc42 
A genome wide RNAi screen identifies 72 host cell genes affecting S. Typhimurium entry, including actin regulators and COPI. This study implicates COPI-dependent cholesterol and sphingolipid localization as a common mechanism of infection by bacterial and viral pathogens.
Genome-scale RNAi screen identifies 72 host genes affecting S. Typhimurium host cell invasion.Step-specific follow-up assays assign the phenotypes to specific steps of the invasion process.COPI effects on host cell binding, ruffling and invasion were traced to a key role of COPI in membrane targeting of cholesterol, sphingolipids, Rac1 and Cdc42.This new role of COPI explains why COPI is required for host cell infection by numerous bacterial and viral pathogens.
Pathogens are not only a menace to public health, but they also provide excellent tools for probing host cell function. Thus, studying infection mechanisms has fueled progress in cell biology (Ridley et al, 1992; Welch et al, 1997). In the presented study, we have performed an RNAi screen to identify host cell genes required for Salmonella host cell invasion. This screen identified proteins known to contribute to Salmonella-induced actin rearrangements (e.g., Cdc42 and the Arp2/3 complex; reviewed in Schlumberger and Hardt, 2006) and vesicular traffic (e.g., Rab7) as well as unexpected hits, such as the COPI complex. COPI is a known organizer of Golgi-to-ER vesicle transport (Bethune et al, 2006; Beck et al, 2009). Here, we show that COPI is also involved in plasma membrane targeting of cholesterol, sphingolipids and the Rho GTPases Cdc42 and Rac1, essential host cell factors required for Salmonella invasion. This explains why COPI depletion inhibits infection by S. Typhimurium and illustrates how combining bacterial pathogenesis and systems approaches can promote cell biology.
Salmonella Typhimurium is a common food-borne pathogen and worldwide a major public health problem causing severe diarrhea. The pathogen uses the host's gut mucosa as a portal of entry and gut tissue invasion is a key event leading to the disease. This explains the intense interest from medicine and basic biology in the mechanism of Salmonella host cell invasion.
Tissue culture infection models have delineated a sequence of events leading host cell invasion (Figure 1; Schlumberger and Hardt, 2006): (i) pathogen binding to the host cell surface; (ii) activation of a syringe-like apparatus (‘Type III secretion system 1', T1) of the bacterium and injection of a bacterial toxin cocktail into the host cell. These toxins include SopE, a key virulence factor triggering invasion (Hardt et al, 1998), which was analyzed in our study; (iii) toxin-triggered membrane ruffling. To a significant extent, this is facilitated by SopE-triggered activation of Cdc42 and Rac1 and subsequent actin polymerization at the site of infection; (iv) engulfment of the pathogen within a vesicular compartment (SCV) and (v) maturation of the SCV, a process driven by a second Type III secretion system (T2), which is expressed by the pathogen upon bacterial entry (Figure 1). This sequence of events mediates Salmonella invasion into the gut epithelium and illustrates that this pathogen can be used for probing mechanisms of host cell actin control, membrane biogenesis, vesicle formation and vesicular trafficking.
SopE is a key virulence factor of invasion and triggers the activation of Cdc42 and Rac1 and subsequent actin polymerization at the site of infection. We have employed a SopE-expressing S. Typhimurium strain and RNAi screening technology to identify host cell factors affecting invasion. First, we developed an automated fluorescence microscopy assay to quantify S. Typhimurium entry in a high-throughput format (Figure 1C). This assay was based on a GFP reporter expressed by the pathogen after invasion and maturation of the SCV. Using this assay, we screened a ‘druggable genome' siRNA library (6978 genes, 3 oligos each, 1 oligo per well) and identified 72 invasion hits. These included established regulators of the actin cytoskeleton (Cdc42, Arp2/3, Nap1; Schlumberger and Hardt, 2006), some of which have not been implicated so far in Salmonella entry (Pfn1, Cap1), as well as proteins not previously thought to influence infection (Atp1a1, Rbx1, COPI complex). Potentially, these hits could affect any step of the invasion process (Figure 1A).
In the second stage of the study, we have assigned each ‘invasion hit' to particular steps of the invasion process. For this purpose, we developed step-specific assays for Salmonella binding, injection, ruffling and membrane engulfment and re-screened the genes found as hits in the first screen (four siRNAs per gene). As expected, a significant number of ‘hits' affected binding to the host cell, others affected binding and ruffling (e.g., Pfn1, Itgβ5, Cap1), a few were specific for the ruffling step (e.g., Cdc42) and some affected SCV maturation, namely Rab7a, the trafficking protein Vps39 and the vacuolar proton pump Atp6ap2. Thus, our experimental strategy allowed mechanistic interpretation and linked novel hits to particular phenotypes, thus providing a basis for further studies (Figure 1).
COPI depletion impaired effector injection and ruffling. This was surprising, as the COPI complex was known to regulate retrogade Golgi-to-ER transport, but was not expected to affect pathogen interactions at the plasma membrane. Therefore, we have investigated the underlying mechanism. We have observed that COPI depletion entailed dramatic changes in the plasma membrane composition (Figure 6). Cholesterol and sphingolipids, which form domains (‘lipid rafts') in the plasma membrane, were depleted from the cell surface and redirected into a large vesicular compartment. The same was true for the Rho GTPases Rac1 and Cdc42. This strong decrease in the amount of cholesterol-enriched microdomains and Rho GTPases in the plasma membrane explained the observed defects in S. Typhimurium host cell invasion and assigned a novel role for COPI in controlling mammalian plasma membrane composition. It should be noted that other viral and bacterial pathogens do show a similar dependency on host cellular COPI and plasma membrane lipids. This includes notorious pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus (Ramet et al, 2002; Potrich et al, 2009), Listeria monocytogenes (Seveau et al, 2004; Agaisse et al, 2005; Cheng et al, 2005; Gekara et al, 2005), Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Munoz et al, 2009), Chlamydia trachomatis (Elwell et al, 2008), influenza virus (Hao et al, 2008; Konig et al, 2010), hepatitis C virus (Tai et al, 2009; Popescu and Dubuisson, 2010) and the vesicular stomatitis virus (presented study) and suggests that COPI-mediated control of host cell plasma membrane composition might be of broad importance for pathogenesis. Future work will have to address whether this might offer starting points for developing anti-infective therapeutics with a very broad spectrum of activity.
The pathogen Salmonella Typhimurium is a common cause of diarrhea and invades the gut tissue by injecting a cocktail of virulence factors into epithelial cells, triggering actin rearrangements, membrane ruffling and pathogen entry. One of these factors is SopE, a G-nucleotide exchange factor for the host cellular Rho GTPases Rac1 and Cdc42. How SopE mediates cellular invasion is incompletely understood. Using genome-scale RNAi screening we identified 72 known and novel host cell proteins affecting SopE-mediated entry. Follow-up assays assigned these ‘hits' to particular steps of the invasion process; i.e., binding, effector injection, membrane ruffling, membrane closure and maturation of the Salmonella-containing vacuole. Depletion of the COPI complex revealed a unique effect on virulence factor injection and membrane ruffling. Both effects are attributable to mislocalization of cholesterol, sphingolipids, Rac1 and Cdc42 away from the plasma membrane into a large intracellular compartment. Equivalent results were obtained with the vesicular stomatitis virus. Therefore, COPI-facilitated maintenance of lipids may represent a novel, unifying mechanism essential for a wide range of pathogens, offering opportunities for designing new drugs.
PMCID: PMC3094068  PMID: 21407211
coatomer; HeLa; Salmonella; siRNA; systems biology
5.  A Combinatorial H4 Tail Library to Explore the Histone Code 
Biochemistry  2008;47(31):8094-8102.
Histone modifications modulate chromatin structure and function. A posttranslational modification-randomized, combinatorial library based on the first twenty-one residues of histone H4 was designed for systematic examination of proteins that interpret a histone code. The 800-member library represented all permutations of most known modifications within the N-terminal tail of histone H4. To determine its utility in a protein-binding assay, the on-bead library was screened with an antibody directed against phosphoserine 1 of H4. Among the hits, 59/60 sequences were phosphorylated at S1, while 30/30 of those selected from the non-hits were unphosphorylated. A 512-member version of the library was then used to determine the binding specificity of the double tudor domain of hJMJD2A, a histone demethylase involved in transcriptional repression. Global linear least squares fitting of modifications from the identified peptides (40 hits and 34 non-hits) indicated that methylation of K20 was the primary determinant for binding, but that phosphorylation/acetylation on neighboring sites attenuated the interaction. To validate the on-bead screen, isothermal titration calorimetry was performed with thirteen H4 peptides. Dissociation constants ranged from 1 mM - 1μM and corroborated the screening results. The general approach should be useful for probing the specificity of any histone-binding protein.
PMCID: PMC2614903  PMID: 18616348
histone code; chromatin; JMJD2A; tudor domain; posttranslational modifications; one-bead; one-compound; combinatorial peptide library
6.  A synthetic library of RNA control modules for predictable tuning of gene expression in yeast 
The authors describe a library of synthetic RNA control elements that provide programmable post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression in yeast. This toolkit is then used to study endogenous regulation of the ergosterol biosynthetic pathway.
Rnt1p hairpins can act as effective posttranscriptional gene regulatory elements in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae.Modification of the cleavage efficiency box (CEB) region of an Rnt1p hairpin can modulate Rnt1p cleavage rates, and thus the resulting gene regulatory activities of the hairpin control elements.A library of Rnt1p hairpins can act as a set of synthetic control modules that provide predictable tuning of gene expression over a wide range of expression levels.The Rnt1p-based control elements can be combined with any promoter to support titration of regulatory strategies encoded in transcriptional regulators, including feedback control around endogenous proteins.
The design of complex biological systems encoding desired functions require the development of genetic tools for the precise control of protein levels in cells (Elowitz and Leibler, 2000; Gardner et al, 2000; Basu et al, 2004). For example, in the design of engineered metabolic networks, the tuning of enzyme levels is often critical for overcoming metabolic burden (Jones et al, 2000; Jin et al, 2003), the accumulation of toxic intermediates (Zhu et al, 2001; Pfleger et al, 2006) and detrimental consequences associated with the redirection of cellular resources from native pathways (Alper et al, 2005b; Paradise et al, 2008). Various examples of libraries of genetic control modules have been described that have been generated through the randomization of well-characterized gene expression control elements (Basu et al, 2004; Pfleger et al, 2006; Anderson et al, 2007). However, most of these studies have been conducted in Escherichia coli such that there is a lack of similar tools for other cellular chassis.
The budding yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is a relevant organism in industrial processes, including biosynthesis and biomanufacturing strategies (Ostergaard et al, 2000; Szczebara et al, 2003; Nguyen et al, 2004; Veen and Lang, 2004; Ro et al, 2006; Hawkins and Smolke, 2008). The majority of existing methods for tuning gene expression in yeast are through transcriptional control mechanisms in the form of inducible and constitutive promoter systems (Hawkins and Smolke, 2006; Nevoigt et al, 2006; Nevoigt et al, 2007). RNA-based control modules based on posttranscriptional mechanisms may offer an advantage in that they can be coupled to any promoter of choice, providing for enhanced control strategies and finer resolution tuning of protein expression levels. Although posttranscriptional control elements, such as internal ribosome entry sites and AU-rich elements, have been applied to regulate heterologous gene expression in yeast (Vasudevan and Peltz, 2001; Zhou et al, 2001; Lautz et al, 2010), these control elements have exhibited substantial variability in activity and have not been engineered as synthetic libraries exhibiting a wide range of predictable gene regulatory activities.
RNase III enzymes are a class of enzymes that cleave double-stranded RNA. The S. cerevisiae RNase III enzyme, Rnt1p, exhibits a number of unique features that allow it to recognize very specific RNA hairpin substrates that harbor a consensus AGNN tetraloop sequence. Despite extensive characterization of this enzyme and its demonstrated role in processing non-coding RNA and mRNA, neither natural nor synthetic Rnt1p substrates have been used to control gene expression levels in yeast. Therefore, we developed a genetic control system based on directed Rnt1p processing of a target transcript. Specifically, Rnt1p hairpins were immediately flanked by a clamp sequence (that insulates the hairpin structure from surrounding sequences) and placed downstream of a gene of interest, where they direct cleavage and thus inactivate the transcript, resulting in rapid transcript degradation. We validated this Rnt1p-based control system with two Rnt1p hairpins based on previous in vitro studies and demonstrated that Rnt1p hairpins can act as gene control modules in yeast.
Previous in vitro studies had identified three key regions in Rnt1p hairpins: the cleavage efficiency box (CEB), the binding stability box and the initial binding and positioning box (Lamontagne et al, 2003). The CEB region affects the processing of the hairpin stem by Rnt1p, such that nucleotide (nt) modifications in this region are expected to specifically modulate the cleavage rate. We created an Rnt1p hairpin library by randomizing the CEB region (12 nt). This library was placed downstream of a fluorescent reporter protein and a cell-based screening assay was used to identify functional members of the library that resulted in lowered fluorescence levels. The functional Rnt1p hairpin library comprises 16 unique sequences that span a large gene regulatory range—from 8 to 85% (Figure 3A)—and are fairly evenly distributed across this range. The negative controls for each sequence (constructed by mutating the required consensus tetraloop sequence) demonstrated that the majority of gene knockdown observed from each hairpin is due to Rnt1p processing (Figure 3B). A correlation analysis on the transcript and protein levels for each library hairpin construct indicated a strong positive correlation and a strong preservation of rank order between the two in vivo regulatory measurements (Figure 3C). Characterization of the hairpin library in a different genetic context supported the broader utility of these control modules for providing predictable gene control.
We applied the Rnt1p control modules to titrating a key enzyme component of the endogenous ergosterol biosynthesis network—the ERG9 genetic target. Squalene synthase, encoded by the ERG9 gene, is responsible for catalyzing the conversion of two molecules of farnesyl pyrophosphate to squalene, the first precursor in the ergosterol biosynthetic pathway in S. cerevisiae (Poulter and Rilling, 1981; Figure 6A). We integrated several members of the Rnt1p hairpin library downstream of the native ERG9 gene to cover the regulatory range of the library (Figure 6B). A strong positive correlation and preservation of rank order was observed between the ERG9 transcript levels and their yEGFP3 counterparts (Figure 6C). However, ERG9 expression levels did not fall below ∼40%, regardless of the Rnt1p hairpin strength, indicating that a previously identified endogenous feedback mechanism associated with the native ERG9 promoter acts to maintain ERG9 expression levels at that threshold value. In addition, most strains exhibited high relative ergosterol levels and growth rates, except for two strains harboring synthetic Rnt1p hairpins that resulted in the lowest expression levels, which exhibited a significant reduction in the amount of ergosterol produced and growth rate (Figure 6D and E). Our studies indicate that the endogenous feedback mechanism can be acting to increase ERG9 expression levels to the desired set point in the slow-growing strains, but the perturbations introduced in these strains may result in other impacts on the pathway that inhibit the endogenous control systems from restoring cellular growth to wild-type rates. These studies support the unique ability of the synthetic Rnt1p hairpin library to systematically titrate pathway enzyme levels by introducing precise perturbations around major control points while maintaining native cellular control strategies acting through transcriptional mechanisms.
Advances in synthetic biology have resulted in the development of genetic tools that support the design of complex biological systems encoding desired functions. The majority of efforts have focused on the development of regulatory tools in bacteria, whereas fewer tools exist for the tuning of expression levels in eukaryotic organisms. Here, we describe a novel class of RNA-based control modules that provide predictable tuning of expression levels in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. A library of synthetic control modules that act through posttranscriptional RNase cleavage mechanisms was generated through an in vivo screen, in which structural engineering methods were applied to enhance the insulation and modularity of the resulting components. This new class of control elements can be combined with any promoter to support titration of regulatory strategies encoded in transcriptional regulators and thus more sophisticated control schemes. We applied these synthetic controllers to the systematic titration of flux through the ergosterol biosynthesis pathway, providing insight into endogenous control strategies and highlighting the utility of this control module library for manipulating and probing biological systems.
PMCID: PMC3094065  PMID: 21364573
gene expression control; metabolic flux control; RNA controller; Rnt1p hairpin; synthetic biology
7.  Accurate Prediction of Peptide Binding Sites on Protein Surfaces 
PLoS Computational Biology  2009;5(3):e1000335.
Many important protein–protein interactions are mediated by the binding of a short peptide stretch in one protein to a large globular segment in another. Recent efforts have provided hundreds of examples of new peptides binding to proteins for which a three-dimensional structure is available (either known experimentally or readily modeled) but where no structure of the protein–peptide complex is known. To address this gap, we present an approach that can accurately predict peptide binding sites on protein surfaces. For peptides known to bind a particular protein, the method predicts binding sites with great accuracy, and the specificity of the approach means that it can also be used to predict whether or not a putative or predicted peptide partner will bind. We used known protein–peptide complexes to derive preferences, in the form of spatial position specific scoring matrices, which describe the binding-site environment in globular proteins for each type of amino acid in bound peptides. We then scan the surface of a putative binding protein for sites for each of the amino acids present in a peptide partner and search for combinations of high-scoring amino acid sites that satisfy constraints deduced from the peptide sequence. The method performed well in a benchmark and largely agreed with experimental data mapping binding sites for several recently discovered interactions mediated by peptides, including RG-rich proteins with SMN domains, Epstein-Barr virus LMP1 with TRADD domains, DBC1 with Sir2, and the Ago hook with Argonaute PIWI domain. The method, and associated statistics, is an excellent tool for predicting and studying binding sites for newly discovered peptides mediating critical events in biology.
Author Summary
An important class of protein interactions in critical cellular processes, such as signaling pathways, involves a domain from one protein binding to a linear peptide stretch of another. Many methods identify peptides mediating such interactions but without details of how the interactions occur, even when excellent structural information is available for the unbound protein. Experimental studies are currently time consuming, while existing computational methods to predict protein–peptide structures mostly focus on interactions involving specific protein families. Here, we present a general approach for predicting protein–peptide interaction sites. We show that spatial atomic position specific scoring matrices of binding sites for each peptide residue can capture the properties important for binding and when used to scan the surface of target proteins can accurately identify candidate binding sites for interacting peptides. The resulting predictions are highly illuminating for several recently described protein–peptide complexes, including RG-rich peptides with SMN domains, the Epstein-Barr virus LMP1 with TRADD domains, DBC1 with Sir2, and the Ago hook with the Argonaute PIWI domain. The accurate prediction of protein–peptide binding without prior structural knowledge will ultimately enable better functional characterization of many protein interactions involved in vital biological processes and provide a better picture of cellular mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC2653190  PMID: 19325869
8.  High-Throughput Screening of One-Bead-One-Compound Libraries: Identification of Cyclic Peptidyl Inhibitors against Calcineurin/NFAT Interaction 
ACS combinatorial science  2011;13(5):537-546.
One-bead-one-compound (OBOC) libraries provide a powerful tool for drug discovery as well as biomedical research. However, screening a large number of beads/compounds (>1 million) and rank ordering the initial hits (which are covalently attached to a solid support) according to their potencies still post significant technical challenges. In this work, we have integrated some of the latest technical advances from our own as well as other laboratories to develop a general methodology for rapidly screening large OBOC libraries. The methodology has been applied to synthesize and screen a cyclic peptide library that features: (1) spatially segregated beads containing cyclic peptides on the surface layer and linear encoding peptides in their interior; (2) rapid on-bead screening of the library (>1 million) by a multi-stage procedure (magnetic bead sorting, enzyme-linked assay, and fluorescence based screening); (3) selective release of cyclic peptides from single positive beads for solution-phase determination of their binding affinities; and (4) hit identification by partial Edman degradation/mass spectrometry (PED/MS). Screening of the library against protein phosphatase calcineurin (Cn) identified a series of cyclic peptides that bind to the substrate-docking site for nuclear factor of activated T cells (NFAT) with KD values of ~1 μM. Further improvement of the affinity and specificity of these compounds may lead to a new class of immunosuppressive agents that are more selective and therefore less toxic than cyclosporine A and FK506.
PMCID: PMC3171643  PMID: 21848276
Calcineurin; combinatorial library; cyclic peptides; high-throughput screening; protein-protein interaction
9.  Targeted Nanoparticles for Imaging Incipient Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma  
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(4):e85.
Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) carries an extremely poor prognosis, typically presenting with metastasis at the time of diagnosis and exhibiting profound resistance to existing therapies. The development of molecular markers and imaging probes for incipient PDAC would enable earlier detection and guide the development of interventive therapies. Here we sought to identify novel molecular markers and to test their potential as targeted imaging agents.
Methods and Findings
Here, a phage display approach was used in a mouse model of PDAC to screen for peptides that specifically bind to cell surface antigens on PDAC cells. These screens yielded a motif that distinguishes PDAC cells from normal pancreatic duct cells in vitro, which, upon proteomics analysis, identified plectin-1 as a novel biomarker of PDAC. To assess their utility for in vivo imaging, the plectin-1 targeted peptides (PTP) were conjugated to magnetofluorescent nanoparticles. In conjunction with intravital confocal microscopy and MRI, these nanoparticles enabled detection of small PDAC and precursor lesions in engineered mouse models.
Our approach exploited a well-defined model of PDAC, enabling rapid identification and validation of PTP. The developed specific imaging probe, along with the discovery of plectin-1 as a novel biomarker, may have clinical utility in the diagnosis and management of PDAC in humans.
Kimberly Kelly and colleagues describe the discovery of plectin-1 as a novel biomarker for pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma and the subsequent development of a specific imaging probe using this marker.
Editors' Summary
Pancreatic cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related death in the US. Like all cancers, it occurs when cells begin to grow uncontrollably and to move around the body (metastasize) because of changes (mutations) in their genes. If pancreatic cancer is found early, surgical removal of the tumor can sometimes provide a cure. Unfortunately, this cancer rarely causes any symptoms in its early stages and the symptoms it does eventually cause—jaundice, abdominal and back pain, and weight loss—are also seen in other illnesses. In addition, even though magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or other noninvasive imaging techniques can be used to look at the pancreas, by the time tumors are large enough to show up on MRI scans, they have often already spread. Consequently, in most patients, pancreatic cancer is advanced by the time a diagnosis is made, hence surgery is no longer useful. These patients are given radiotherapy and chemotherapy but these treatments are rarely curative and most patients die within a year of diagnosis.
Why Was This Study Done?
If more pancreatic cancers could be found before they had metastasized, it should extend the life expectancy of patients with this type of cancer. An early detection method would be particularly useful for monitoring people at high risk of developing pancreatic cancer. These include people with certain inherited cancer syndromes, pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), and diabetes. Because cancer cells have many mutations, they express different proteins on their cell surface from normal cells. If these proteins could be identified, it might be possible to develop an “imaging probe”—a molecule that binds to a protein found only on cancer cells and that can be detected with MRI, for example—for early detection of pancreatic cancer. In this study, the researchers use a technique called “phage display” to identify several peptides (short sequences of amino acids, the constituent parts of proteins) that specifically bind to pancreatic cancer cells early in their development. They then investigate the possibility of developing an imaging probe from one of these peptides.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers isolated early pancreatic cancer cells from a mouse model of human pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC; the commonest type of pancreatic cancer). Then, by mixing together these cells and normal mouse pancreatic cells with a library of phage clones (phages are viruses that infect bacteria; a clone is a group of genetically identical organisms), each engineered in the laboratory to express a random seven amino-acid peptide, they identified one clone, clone 27, that bound to the mouse tumor cells but not to normal cells. Clone 27 also showed up in the cancer cells in samples of mouse pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasias (PanINs; precursors to pancreatic cancer), mouse PDACs, and human PDACs.
The peptide in clone 27, the researchers report, binds to plectin-1, a protein present both inside and on the membrane of human and mouse PDAC cells but only on the inside of normal pancreatic cells. Finally, the researchers attached this plectin-1–targeted peptide (PTP) to a nanoparticles that was both magnetic and fluorescent (PTP-NP) and used special microscopy (which detects the fluorescent part of this very small particle) and MRI (which detects its magnetic portion) to show that this potential imaging probe was found in areas of PDAC (but not in normal pancreatic tissue) in the mouse model of human PDAC.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings identify PTP as a peptide that can distinguish normal pancreatic cells from pancreatic cancer cells. The discovery that plectin-1 (a cytoskeletal component) is abnormally expressed on the cell surface of PDACs provides new information about the development of pancreatic cancer that could eventually lead to new ways to treat this disease. These findings also show that PTP can be used to generate a nanoparticle-based imaging agent that can detect PDAC within a normal pancreas. These results need to be confirmed in people—results obtained in mouse models do not always reflect what happens in people. Nevertheless, they suggest that PTP-NPs might allow the noninvasive detection of early tumors in people at high risk of developing pancreatic cancer, an advance that could extend their lives by identifying tumors earlier, when they can be removed surgically.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
• The Panreatic Cancer Action Network and the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research provide information, support, and advocacy for patients, families, and healthcare professionals
• The MedlinePlus Encyclopedia has a page on pancreatic cancer (in English and Spanish). Links to further information are provided by MedlinePlus
• The US National Cancer Institute has information about pancreatic cancer for patients and health professionals (in English and Spanish)
• The UK charity Cancerbackup also provides information for patients about pancreatic cancer
PMCID: PMC2292750  PMID: 18416599
10.  Bio-recognition and functional lipidomics by glycosphingolipid transfer technology 
Through glycosphingolipid biochemical research, we developed two types of transcription technologies. One is a biochemical transfer of glycosphingolipids to peptides. The other is a physicochemical transfer of glycosphingolipids in silica gel to the surface of a plastic membrane. Using the first technology, we could prepare peptides which mimic the shapes of glycosphingolipid molecules by biopanning with a phage-displayed peptide library and anti-glycosphingolipid antibodies as templates. The peptides thus obtained showed biological properties and functions similar to those of the original glycosphingolipids, such as lectin binding, glycosidase modulation, inhibition of tumor metastasis and immune response against the original antigen glycosphingolipid, and we named them glyco-replica peptides. The results showed that the newly prepared peptides could be used effectively as a bio-recognition system and suggest that the glyco-replica peptides can be widely applied to therapeutic fields. Using the second technology, we could establish a functional lipidomics with a thin-layer chromatography-blot/matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization-time of flight mass spectrometry (TLC-Blot/MALDI-TOF MS) system. By transferring glycosphingolipids on a plastic membrane surface from a TLC plate, innovative biochemical approaches such as simple purification of individual glycosphingolipids, binding studies, and enzyme reactions could be developed. The combinations of these biochemical approaches and MALDI-TOF MS on the plastic membrane could provide new strategies for glycosphingolipid science and the field of lipidomics. In this review, typical applications of these two transfer technologies are introduced.
PMCID: PMC3758962  PMID: 23883610
glycosphingolipid; gangliosides; TLC-Blot/MALDI-TOF MS; phage-displayed peptide library; glycolipidomics; molecular mimicry
11.  Flanking p10 contribution and sequence bias in matrix based epitope prediction: revisiting the assumption of independent binding pockets 
Eluted natural peptides from major histocompatibility molecules show patterns of conserved residues. Crystallographic structures show that the bound peptide in class II major histocompatibility complex adopts a near uniform polyproline II-like conformation. This way allele-specific favoured residues are able to anchor into pockets in the binding groove leaving other peptide side chains exposed for recognition by T cells. The anchor residues form a motif. This sequence pattern can be used to screen large sequences for potential epitopes. Quantitative matrices extend the motif idea to include the contribution of non-anchor peptide residues. This report examines two new matrices that extend the binding register to incorporate the polymorphic p10 pocket of human leukocyte antigen DR1. Their performance is quantified against experimental binding measurements and against the canonical nine-residue register matrix.
One new matrix shows significant improvement over the base matrix; the other does not. The new matrices differ in the sequence of the peptide library.
One of the extended quantitative matrices showed significant improvement in prediction over the original nine residue matrix and over the other extended matrix. Proline in the sequence of the peptide library of the better performing matrix presumably stabilizes the peptide conformation through neighbour interactions. Such interactions may influence epitope prediction in this test of quantitative matrices. This calls into question the assumption of the independent contribution of individual binding pockets.
PMCID: PMC2600787  PMID: 18925947
12.  Novel Synthetic Antimicrobial Peptides against Streptococcus mutans▿  
Streptococcus mutans, a common oral pathogen and the causative agent of dental caries, has persisted and even thrived on the tooth surface despite constant removal and eradication efforts. In this study, we generated a number of synthetic antimicrobial peptides against this bacterium via construction and screening of several structurally diverse peptide libraries where the hydrophobicity and charge within each library was varied incrementally in order to generate a collection of peptides with different biochemical characteristics. From these libraries, we identified multiple peptides with robust killing activity against S. mutans. To further improve their effectiveness, the most bactericidal peptides from each library were synthesized together as one molecule, in various combinations, with and without a flexible peptide linker between each antimicrobial region. Many of these “fusion” peptides had enhanced killing activities in comparison with those of the original nonconjoined molecules. The results presented here illustrate that small libraries of biochemically constrained peptides can be used to generate antimicrobial peptides against S. mutans, several of which may be likely candidates for the development of anticaries agents.
PMCID: PMC1855471  PMID: 17296741
13.  β-Sheet Pore-Forming Peptides Selected from a Rational Combinatorial Library: Mechanism of Pore Formation in Lipid Vesicles and Activity in Biological Membranes† 
Biochemistry  2007;46(43):12124-12139.
In a previous report we described the selection of potent, β-sheet pore-forming peptides from a combinatorial library designed to mimic membrane-spanning β-hairpins (Rausch JM, Marks JR and Wimley WC, (2005) PNAS, 102:10511-5). Here, we characterize their mechanism of action and compare the structure-function relationships in lipid vesicles to their activity in biological membranes. The pore-forming peptides bind to membrane interfaces and self-assemble into β-sheets that cause a transient burst of graded leakage across the bilayers. Despite the continued presence of the structured peptides in the bilayer, at most peptide concentrations leakage is incomplete and ceases quickly after peptide addition with a deactivation half-time of several minutes. Molecules up to 3,000 Da escape from the transient pores, but much larger molecules do not. Fluorescence spectroscopy and quenching showed that the peptides reside mainly on the bilayer surface and are partially exposed to water, rather than in a membrane-spanning state. The “carpet” or “sinking raft” model of peptide pore formation offers a viable explanation for our observations and suggests that the selected pore formers function with a mechanism that is similar to the natural pore-forming antimicrobial peptides. We therefore also characterized the antimicrobial and cytotoxic activity of these peptides. All peptides studied, including non pore-formers, had sterilizing antimicrobial activity against at least some microbes, and most have low activity against mammalian cell membranes. Thus, the structure-function relationships that were apparent in the vesicle systems are similar to, but do not correlate completely with the activity of the same peptides in biological membranes. However, of the peptides tested, only the pore-formers selected in the high throughput screen have potent, broad-spectrum sterilizing activity against Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria as well as against fungi, while having only small lytic effects on human cells.
PMCID: PMC2583027  PMID: 17918962
14.  A combination of in vitro techniques for efficient discovery of functional monoclonal antibodies against human CXC chemokine receptor-2 (CXCR2) 
mAbs  2014;6(6):1415-1424.
Background: Development of functional monoclonal antibodies against intractable GPCR targets.
Results: Identification of structured peptides mimicking the ligand binding site, their use in panning to enrich for a population of binders, and the subsequent challenge of this population with receptor overexpressing cells leads to functional monoclonal antibodies.
Conclusion: The combination of techniques provides a successful strategic approach for the development of functional monoclonal antibodies against CXCR2 in a relatively small campaign.
Significance: The presented combination of techniques might be applicable for other, notoriously difficult, GPCR targets.
Summary: The CXC chemokine receptor-2 (CXCR2) is a member of the large ‘family A’ of G-protein-coupled-receptors and is overexpressed in various types of cancer cells. CXCR2 is activated by binding of a number of ligands, including interleukin 8 (IL-8) and growth-related protein α (Gro-α). Monoclonal antibodies capable of blocking the ligand-receptor interaction are therefore of therapeutic interest; however, the development of biological active antibodies against highly structured GPCR proteins is challenging. Here we present a combination of techniques that improve the discovery of functional monoclonal antibodies against the native CXCR2 receptor.
The IL-8 binding site of CXCR2 was identified by screening peptide libraries with the IL-8 ligand, and then reconstructed as soluble synthetic peptides. These peptides were used as antigens to probe an antibody fragment phage display library to obtain subpopulations binding to the IL-8 binding site of CXCR2. Further enrichment of the phage population was achieved by an additional selection round with CXCR2 overexpressing cells as a different antigen source. The scFvs from the CXCR2 specific phage clones were sequenced and converted into monoclonal antibodies. The obtained antibodies bound specifically to CXCR2 expressing cells and inhibited the IL-8 and Gro-α induced ß-arrestin recruitment with IC50 values of 0.3 and 0.2 nM, respectively, and were significantly more potent than the murine monoclonal antibodies (18 and 19 nM, respectively) obtained by the classical hybridoma technique, elicited with the same peptide antigen. According to epitope mapping studies, the antibody efficacy is largely defined by N-terminal epitopes comprising the IL-8 and Gro-α binding sites. The presented strategic combination of in vitro techniques, including the use of different antigen sources, is a powerful alternative for the development of functional monoclonal antibodies by the classical hybridoma technique, and might be applicable to other GPCR targets.
PMCID: PMC4622621  PMID: 25484047
GPCR; CXCR2; monoclonal antibody; phage display library; ligand inhibition
15.  T cells that are naturally tolerant to cartilage-derived type II collagen are involved in the development of collagen-induced arthritis 
Arthritis Research  2000;2(4):315-326.
The immunodominant T-cell epitope that is involved in collagen-induced arthritis (CIA) is the glycosylated type II collagen (CII) peptide 256-270. In CII transgenic mice, which express the immunodominant CII 256-270 epitope in cartilage, the CII-specific T cells are characterized by a partially tolerant state with low proliferative activity in vitro, but with maintained effector functions, such as IFN-γ secretion and ability to provide B cell help. These mice were still susceptible to CIA. The response was mainly directed to the glycosylated form of the CII 256-270 peptide, rather than to the nonglycosylated peptide. Tolerance induction was rapid; transferred T cells encountered CII within a few days. CII immunization several weeks after thymectomy of the mice did not change their susceptibility to arthritis or the induction of partial T-cell tolerance, excluding a role for recent thymic emigrants. Thus, partially tolerant CII autoreactive T cells are maintained and are crucial for the development of CIA.
A discussion is ongoing regarding the possible role of cartilage-directed autoimmunity as a part of the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). One possibility is that the association of RA with shared epitope-expressing DR molecules reflects a role for major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II molecules as peptide receptors, and that the predilection of the inflammatory attack for the joint indicates a role for cartilage as a source of the antigenic peptides. A direct role for CII in the development of arthritis is apparent in the CIA model, in which a definite role for MHC class II molecules and a role for CII-derived peptides have been demonstrated [1,2,3]. Remarkably, it was found that the identified MHC class II molecule in the CIA model Aq has a structurally similar peptide binding pocket to that of the shared epitope, expressing DR4 molecules [4]. In fact, DR4 (DRB1*0401) and DR1 (DRB1*0101) transgenic mice are susceptible to CIA because of an immune response to a peptide that is almost identical to that which is involved in Aq-expressing mice [5,6]. They are both derived from position 260-273 of the CII molecule; the peptide binds to the Aqmolecule with isoleucine 260 in the P1 pocket, but with phenylalanine 263 in the P1 pocket of the DR4 and DR1 molecules.
Although these findings do not prove a role for CII in RA, they show that such recognition is possible and that there are structural similarities when comparing mouse with human. However, there are also strong arguments against such a possibility. First, arthritis can evolve without evidence for a cartilage-specific autoimmunity, as seen with various adjuvant-induced arthritis models [7,8] and in several observations using transgenic animals with aberrant immunity to ubiquitously expressed proteins [9,10,11]. Moreover, the MHC association in the adjuvant arthritis models correlates with severity of the disease rather than susceptibility [7,8], as has also been observed in RA [12]. Second, it has not been possible to identify the CII-reactive T cells from RA joints, or to achieve a strong and significant CII proliferative response from T cells derived from RA joints. Most recently these negative observations were corroborated using DR4+CII peptide tetramer reagents [13]. On the other hand, it has also been difficult to isolate autoreactive CII-specific T cells from CIA, and it can be anticipated that, even in the CIA model, T cells that are specific for CII will be hard to find in the joints [4].
We believe that the explanations for these observations in both experimental animals and humans are related to tolerance. The CIA model in the mouse is usually induced with heterologous CII, and is critically dependent on an immune response to the glycosylated CII peptide 256-270, which is bound to the MHC class II Aq molecule. In CII transgenic mice, expressing the heterologous (rat) form of the immunodominant CII 256-270 epitope in cartilage, we observed partial T-cell tolerance. This tolerance is characterized by a low proliferative activity, but with maintained effector functions such as production of IFN-γ and the ability to give help to B cells to produce anti-CII IgG antibodies [14]. Interestingly, these mice were susceptible to arthritis. However, a possibility was that T cells that had newly emerged from the thymus and that were not yet tolerized when the mice were immunized with CII led to the induction of arthritis. We have now addressed this possibility and found that induction of tolerance occurs within a few days, and that mice lacking recent thymic emigrants (ie thymectomized mice) display partially tolerant T cells and susceptibility to arthritis to the same extent as nonthymectomized mice. In addition we found that T cells that are reactive with the nonmodified peptides are relatively more affected by tolerance than T cells that are reactive with the more immunodominant glycosylated variants.
To investigate the possibility that T cells that are naturally tolerant to the cartilage protein CII are involved in the development of arthritis, and to exclude a role for nontolerized recent thymic T-cell emigrants in the development of arthritis.
Materials and methods:
A mutated mouse CII, expressing glutamic acid instead of aspartic acid at position 266, was expressed in a transgenic mouse called MMC (mutated mouse collagen) that has been described earlier [14]. The mice were thymectomized, or sham-operated, at 7 weeks of age and allowed to recover for 4 weeks before being immunized with rat CII in complete Freund's adjuvant. Arthritis development was recorded and sera analyzed for anti-CII IgG, IgG1 and IgG2a levels. To assay T-cell effector functions, other MMC and control mice were immunized in the hind footpads with rat CII in complete Freund's adjuvant, and the draining popliteal lymph nodes were taken 10 days later. The lymph node cells (LNCs) were used for proliferation assay, IFN-γ enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and B-cell enzyme-linked immunospot (ELISPOT). For the proliferation assay, 106 cells were put in triplicate cultures in microtitre wells together with antigen and incubated for 72h before thymidine-labelling and harvesting 15-18h later. For IFN-γ ELISA analysis, supernatant from the proliferation plates was removed before harvesting and used in an ELISA to quantify the amount of IFN-γ produced [15]. B-cell ELISPOT was performed to enumerate the number of cells producing anti-CII IgG [16].
T-cell lines that were reactive towards rat CII were established by immunization with rat CII. An established T-cell line that was reactive with CII and specific for the CII 256-270 peptide was restimulated with freshly collected, irradiated, syngenic spleen cells and rat CII for 3 days followed by 2 weeks of IL-2 containing medium. Immediately before transfer, the cells were labelled with the cytoplasmic dye 5 (and 6)-carboxyfluorescein diacetate succinimidyl ester (CFSE) [17]. Labelled cells (107) were injected intravenously into transgenic MMC mice and nontransgenic littermates. The mice were killed 4 days after cell transfer, and the concentration of CFSE-labelled cells was determined by flow cytometry.
Results and discussion:
To investigate whether and how quickly CII-reactive T cells will encounter CII in vivo, an established T-cell line that is reactive towards rat CII was labelled with the cytoplasmic dye CFSE and transferred into MMC-QD and control mice. Four days later the mice were killed, and it was found that MMC-transgenic mice had dramatically fewer CFSE-labelled cells in the spleen than did nontransgenic littermates (0.11% compared with 0.57%). Similarly, reduced numbers of CFSE-positive cells were observed in blood. This indicates that the T cells encountered the mutated CII that was present in the cartilage of MMC mice, but not in the nontransgenic littermates. Presumably, CII from cartilage is spread by antigen-presenting cells (APCs) to peripheral lymphoid organs. This observation also suggests that newly exported T cells from the thymus will be tolerized to CII in the periphery within less than 4 days.
To further investigate whether the MMC mice harbours naïve or tolerized T cells, the mice were immunized with CII at different time points after thymectomy that were well in excess of the times required for their encounter with CII. After 10 days, the response was analyzed in vitro towards both the nonglycosylated and the glycosylated CII 256-270 peptides as well as towards purified protein derivative. The galactosylated form of the peptide (Fig. 1) was used because this is the most immunodominant modification [18]. In contrast to control mice, LNCs from transgenic mice did not proliferate significantly towards the nonglycosylated peptide, indicating that these cells have been specifically tolerized, which is in accordance with earlier observations [14]. A reduced, but still significant proliferation was also observed toward the immunodominant glycosylated CII peptide. Most important, however, was that the proliferative response in the MMC mice did not decrease after thymectomy. Similarly, a significant IFN-γ production towards the glycosylated CII peptide was observed in the MMC mice. The response was somewhat reduced compared with that observed in nontransgenic littermates, and this was especially true for the response toward the nonglycosylated peptide. Again, no decrease in the MMC response by thymectomy was observed. Taken together, the T-cell response in transgenic mice was reduced in comparison with that in the nontransgenic littermates. Furthermore, the response in transgenic animals did not decrease by thymectomy (4 or 8 weeks before immunization), showing that autoreactive T cells are still maintained (and partially tolerized) with significant effector functions at least up to 8 weeks after thymectomy, excluding a exclusive role for recent thymic emigrants in the autoimmune response towards CII. To investigate whether thymectomized mice, lacking recent CII-specific thymic emigrants, were susceptible to CIA, mice were immunized with CII 4 weeks after thymectomy and were observed for arthritis development during the following 10 weeks. Clearly, the thymectomized MMC mice were susceptible to arthritis (five out of 18 developed arthritis; Fig. 2), and no significant differences in susceptibility between thymectomized and sham-operated mice, or between males and females, were seen. In accordance with earlier results [14], MMC transgenic mice had a significantly reduced susceptibility to arthritis as compared with the nontransgenic littermates (P < 0.0001 for arthritic scores, disease onset and incidence). All mice were bled at 35 days after immunization, and the total levels of anti-CII IgG were determined. Transgenic mice developed levels of anti-CII IgG significantly above background, but the antibody titres were lower than in nontransgenic littermates (P < 0.0001). No effect on the antibody levels by thymectomy was observed, nor did thethymectomy affect the distribution of IgG1 versus IgG2a titres,indicating that the observed tolerance is not associated with a shift from a T-helper-1- to a T-helper-2-like immune response. These findings show that T cells that are specific for a tissue-specific matrix protein, CII, are partially tolerized within a few days after thymus export and that these tolerized cells are maintained after thymectomy. Most important, mice that lack newly exported CII reactive T cells are still susceptible to CIA, suggesting that the partially tolerant T cells are involved in development of arthritis.
In the light of these data it is possible to explain some of the findings in RA. T-cell reactivity to CII has been shown in RA patients, but with a very weak proliferative activity [19,20]. This is fully compatible with observations in mouse and rat CIA when autologous CII, and not heterologous CII, are used for immunization. This is particularly true if the responses are recorded during the chronic phase of disease, in which the antigen-specific T-cell responses seem to be suppressed in both humans and experimental animals. These observations were confirmed in a recent report [21] in which it was shown that CII-reactive T-cell activity could be detected in RA patients if IFN-γ production but not proliferation was measured. In the present studies in mice the strongest response is seen towards post-translational modifications of the peptide. Because the T-cell contact points are the same whether the peptide is bound to DR4 or to Aq, it is fully possible that post-translational modifications of the peptide also plays a significant role in humans [22]. The fact that IgG antibodies specific for CII are found in many RA patients could be explained by maintained B-cell helper functions of CII-reactive T cells. In fact, it has been reported [23,24] that the occurrence of IgG antibodies to CII is associated with shared epitope DR4 molecules. These observations are thus compatible with a role for CII reactivity in RA. To avoid any confusion, it needs to be stressed that RA is a heterogeneous syndrome in which not only CII, but also other cartilage proteins and other mechanisms are of importance. Such a pathogenic heterogeneity is reflected by the multitude of experimental animal models that have demonstrated how many different pathways may lead to arthritis [25].
PMCID: PMC17814  PMID: 11056672
autoimmunity; rheumatoid arthritis; T lymphocytes; tolerance; transgenic
16.  Peptidic Tumor Targeting Agents: The Road from Phage Display Peptide Selections to Clinical Applications 
Current pharmaceutical design  2010;16(9):1040-1054.
Cancer has become the number one cause of death amongst Americans, killing approximately 1,600 people per day. Novel methods for early detection and the development of effective treatments are an eminent priority in medicine. For this reason, isolation of tumor-specific ligands is a growing area of research. Tumor-specific binding agents can be used to probe the tumor cell surface phenotype and customize treatment accordingly by conjugating the appropriate cell-targeting ligand to an anticancer drug. This refines the molecular diagnosis of the tumor and creates guided drugs that can target the tumor while sparing healthy tissues. Additionally, these targeting agents can be used as in vivo imaging agents that allow for earlier detection of tumors and micrometastasis. Phage display is a powerful technique for the isolation of peptides that bind to a particular target with high affinity and specificity. The biopanning of intact cancer cells or tumors in animals can be used to isolate peptides that bind to cancer-specific cell surface biomarkers. Over the past 10 years, unbiased biopanning of phage-displayed peptide libraries has generated a suite of cancer targeting peptidic ligands. This review discusses the recent advances in the isolation of cancer-targeting peptides by unbiased biopanning methods and highlights the use of the isolated peptides in clinical applications.
PMCID: PMC4126568  PMID: 20030617
Peptide; phage display; tumor targeting; cancer; drug delivery
17.  On-Bead Screening of Combinatorial Libraries: Reduction of Nonspecific Binding by Decreasing Surface Ligand Density 
On-bead screening of one-bead-one-compound (OBOC) libraries provides a powerful method for the rapid identification of active compounds against molecular or cellular targets. However, on-bead screening is susceptible to interference from nonspecific binding, which results in biased screening data and false positives. In this work, we have found that a major source of nonspecific binding is derived from the high ligand loading on the library beads, which permits a macromolecular target (e.g., a protein) to simultaneously interact with multiple ligands on the bead surface. To circumvent this problem, we have synthesized a phosphotyrosyl (pY)-containing peptide library on spatially segregated TentaGel microbeads, which feature a 10-fold reduced peptide loading on the bead surface but a normal peptide loading in the bead interior. The library was screened against a panel of 10 Src homology 2 (SH2) domains including those of Csk and Fyn kinases and adaptor protein SLAP, and the specific recognition motif(s) was successfully identified for each of the domains. In contrast, when the SH2 domains were screened against a control library that contained unaltered (high) ligand loading at the bead surface, six of them exhibited varying degrees of sequence biases, ranging from minor perturbation in the relative abundance of different sequences to the exclusive selection of false positive sequences that have no measurable affinity to the target protein. These results indicate that reduction of the ligand loading on the bead surface represents a simple, effective strategy to largely eliminate the interference from nonspecific binding, while preserving sufficient amounts of materials in the bead interior for compound identification. This finding should further expand the utility of OBOC libraries in biomedical research.
PMCID: PMC2765537  PMID: 19397369
Combinatorial library; nonspecific binding; one-bead-one-compound library; partial Edman degradation; reduced ligand loading; spatial segregation; Src homology 2 domain
18.  In Celiac Disease, a Subset of Autoantibodies against Transglutaminase Binds Toll-Like Receptor 4 and Induces Activation of Monocytes 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(9):e358.
Celiac disease is a small intestine inflammatory disorder with multiple organ involvement, sustained by an inappropriate immune response to dietary gluten. Anti-transglutaminase antibodies are a typical serological marker in patients with active disease, and may disappear during a gluten-free diet treatment. Involvement of infectious agents and innate immunity has been suggested but never proven. Molecular mimicry is one of the mechanisms that links infection and autoimmunity.
Methods and Findings
In our attempt to clarify the pathogenesis of celiac disease, we screened a random peptide library with pooled sera of patients affected by active disease after a pre-screening with the sera of the same patients on a gluten-free diet. We identified a peptide recognized by serum immunoglobulins of patients with active disease, but not by those of patients on a gluten-free diet. This peptide shares homology with the rotavirus major neutralizing protein VP-7 and with the self-antigens tissue transglutaminase, human heat shock protein 60, desmoglein 1, and Toll-like receptor 4. We show that antibodies against the peptide affinity-purified from the sera of patients with active disease recognize the viral product and self-antigens in ELISA and Western blot. These antibodies were able to induce increased epithelial cell permeability evaluated by transepithelial flux of [3H] mannitol in the T84 human intestinal epithelial cell line. Finally, the purified antibodies induced monocyte activation upon binding Toll-like receptor 4, evaluated both by surface expression of activation markers and by production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
Our findings show that in active celiac disease, a subset of anti-transglutaminase IgA antibodies recognize the viral protein VP-7, suggesting a possible involvement of rotavirus infection in the pathogenesis of the disease, through a mechanism of molecular mimicry. Moreover, such antibodies recognize self-antigens and are functionally active, able to increase intestinal permeability and induce monocyte activation. We therefore provide evidence for the involvement of innate immunity in the pathogenesis of celiac disease through a previously unknown mechanism of engagement of Toll-like receptor 4.
A subset of anti-transglutaminase IgA antibodies recognize the viral protein VP-7, suggesting a possible involvement of rotavirus infection in the pathogenesis of celiac disease through a mechanism of molecular mimicry.
Editors' Summary
Celiac disease is an autoimmune, digestive disorder in which the small intestine (the part of the gut that absorbs nutrients from food) is damaged. In autoimmune diseases, the immune system, which normally provides protection against foreign invaders, attacks a person's own tissues. In celiac disease, this attack is triggered by eating food containing gluten, a mixture of proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye. To avoid malnutrition, people with celiac disease—about one in 100 people of north European descent—must follow a strict, lifelong gluten-free diet, one that avoids baked products, wheat, pasta, and many other foods. If they fail to do this, their immune system may attack not only their gut but also their brain, skin, joints, and other tissues, in part through the production of antibodies (autoantibodies) that recognize a protein (self-antigen) called tissue transglutaminase. Celiac disease is diagnosed also by looking for these autoantibodies in patients' blood when they are on a gluten-containing diet; they rapidly disappear when a gluten-free diet is adopted.
Why Was This Study Done?
A gluten-free diet keeps celiac disease in check but does not cure it and is very difficult to follow. Even the minute amounts of gluten found in medicines, for example, can trigger the production of autoantibodies and active disease. But developing a cure is impossible without a better understanding of how celiac disease develops. Why, for example, do celiac disease patients make anti-transglutaminase antibodies? Were they made initially to ward off an infectious agent but unfortunately also recognized transglutaminase? In this study, the researchers asked whether “molecular mimicry”—cross-reactivity between self-molecules and foreign molecules on bacteria or viruses (pathogens)—might initiate celiac disease. They also asked whether innate immunity (the part of the immune system that responds quickly to general features on pathogens) as well as adaptive immunity (the production of antibodies and immune cells that recognize specific features on pathogens) is involved in the development of celiac disease.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers purified antibodies from blood provided by patients with celiac disease when they were eating food containing gluten and when they were on a gluten-free diet. They used these to identify celiac peptide, a synthetic protein fragment that was recognized only by the antibodies made by patients with active disease. By searching a database of pathogen proteins, the researchers discovered that rotavirus protein VP-7 contains a very similar peptide; a search of a database of human proteins indicated that celiac peptide also resembles peptides found in tissue transglutaminase, Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4; a protein involved in the innate immune response), and several other self-antigens. Patient antibodies purified through their ability to bind to celiac peptide also bound to VP-7 and to these self-antigens, and only patients with active disease made these antibodies. The researchers also investigated whether these anti-celiac peptide antibodies might affect the gut or the innate immune system. The antibodies increased the permeability of a layer of gut cells growing in a laboratory dish by interacting with the self-antigen desmoglein 1. This protein helps to make impermeable seals between the cells that line the gut so that food antigens in the gut cannot seep out into the tissues where the immune system might detect them. In addition, by binding to TLR4, the anti-celiac peptide antibodies activated monocytes—cells that function in both the innate and adaptive immune response.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The finding that some anti-transglutaminase antibodies recognize the viral protein VP-7 could mean that rotavirus infection, which causes gastroenteritis, helps to initiate celiac disease in susceptible individuals through molecular mimicry. Furthermore, the identification of other self-antigens that contain peptides recognized by the antibodies made during active disease starts to explain why damage occurs outside the gut in people with celiac disease. The ability of these antibodies to recognize all these peptides could be coincidental, but the observation that the antibodies have relevant functional effects—the ability to increase intestinal permeability and to activate monocytes—makes this less likely. More research is needed to reveal exactly how infections and the innate immune response affect the development of celiac disease, but every piece of new information brings the possibility of a cure a little closer.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
US National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, information for patients on celiac disease
MedlinePlus encyclopedia entries on celiac disease and on autoimmunity
Wikipedia pages on celiac disease and on autoimmunity (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
PMCID: PMC1569884  PMID: 16984219
19.  Immobilized OBOC combinatorial bead array to facilitate multiplicative screening 
One-bead-one-compound (OBOC) combinatorial library screening has been broadly utilized for the last two decades to identify small molecules, peptides or peptidomimetics targeting variable screening probes such as cell surface receptors, bacteria, protein kinases, phosphatases, proteases etc. In previous screening methods, library beads were suspended in solution and screened against one single probe. Only the positive beads were tracked and isolated for additional screens and finally selected for chemical decoding. During this process, the remaining negative beads were not tracked and discarded. Here we report a novel bead immobilization method such that a bead library array can be conveniently prepared and screened in its entirety, sequentially many times with a series of distinct probes. This method not only allows us to increase the screening efficiency but also permits us to determine the binding profile of each and every library bead against a large number of target receptors. As proof of concept, we serially screened a random OBOC disulfide containing cyclic heptapeptide library with three water soluble dyes as model probes: malachite green, bromocresol purple and indigo carmine. This multiplicative screening approach resulted in a rapid determination of the binding profile of each and every bead respective to each of the three dyes. Beads that interacted with malachite green only, bromocresol purple only, or both indigo carmine and bromocresol purple were isolated, and their peptide sequences were determined with microsequencer. Ultimately, the novel OBOC multiplicative screening approach could play a key role in the enhancement of existing on-bead assays such as whole cell binding, bacteria binding, protein binding, post-translational modifications etc. with increased efficiency, capacity, and specificity.
PMCID: PMC4560360  PMID: 23488896
One-bead-one-compound combinatorial chemistry; PDMS affixed bead array; High throughput screening; Multiplicative screening; Water soluble organic dye
20.  Porcine parvovirus removal using trimer and biased hexamer peptides 
Biotechnology journal  2011;7(4):558-565.
Assuring the microbiological safety of biological therapeutics remains an important concern. Our group has recently reported small trimeric peptides that have the ability to bind and remove a model non-enveloped virus, porcine parvovirus (PPV), from complex solutions containing human blood plasma. In an effort to improve the removal efficiency of these small peptides, we created a biased library of hexamer peptides that contain two previously reported trimeric peptides designated WRW and KYY. This library was screened and several hexamer peptides were discovered that also removed PPV from solution, but there was no marked improvement in removal efficiency when compared to the trimeric peptides. Based on simulated docking experiments, it appeared that hexamer peptide binding is dictated more by secondary structure, whereas the binding of trimeric peptides is dominated by charge and hydrophobicity. This study demonstrates that trimeric and hexameric peptides may have different, matrix-specific roles to play in virus removal applications. In general, the hexamer ligand may perform better for binding of specific viruses, whereas the trimer ligand may have more broadly reactive virus-binding properties.
PMCID: PMC4083586  PMID: 21751387
affinity adsorption; ligand; virus removal; bioseparations
21.  Engineered Cystine-Knot Peptides That Bind αvβ3 Integrin With Antibody-Like Affinities 
Journal of molecular biology  2008;385(4):1064-1075.
The αvβ3 integrin receptor is an important cancer target due to its overexpression on many solid tumors and the tumor neovasculature, and its role in metastasis and angiogenesis. We used a truncated form of the Agouti-related protein (AgRP), a 4 kDa cystine-knot peptide with four disulfide bonds and four solvent-exposed loops, as a scaffold for engineering peptides that bound to αvβ3 integrins with high affinity and specificity. A yeast-displayed cystine-knot peptide library was generated by substituting a 6-amino acid loop of AgRP with a 9-amino acid loop containing the Arg-Gly-Asp (RGD) integrin recognition motif and randomized flanking residues. Mutant cystine-knot peptides were screened in a high-throughput manner by fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) to identify clones with high affinity to detergent-solubilized αvβ3 integrin receptor. Select integrin-binding peptides were expressed recombinantly in Pichia pastoris and were tested for their ability to bind to human cancer cells expressing various integrin receptors. These studies showed that the engineered AgRP peptides bound to cells expressing αvβ3 integrins with affinities ranging from 15 nM to 780 pM. Furthermore, the engineered peptides were shown bind specifically to αvβ3 integrins, and had only minimal or no binding to αvβ5, α5β1, and αiibβ3 integrins. The engineered AgRP peptides were also shown to inhibit cell adhesion to the extracellular matrix protein vitronectin, which is a naturally-occurring ligand for αvβ3 and other integrins. Next, to evaluate whether the other three loops of AgRP could modulate integrin specificity, we made second generation libraries by individually randomizing these loops in one of the high affinity integrin-binding variants. Screening of these loop-randomized libraries against αvβ3 integrins resulted in peptides that retained high affinities for αvβ3 and had increased specificities for αvβ3 over αiibβ3 integrins. Collectively, these data validate AgRP as a scaffold for protein engineering and demonstrate that modification of a single loop can lead to AgRP-based peptides with antibody-like affinities for their target.
PMCID: PMC2925133  PMID: 19038268
protein engineering; yeast display; RGD; integrin; cystine-knot
22.  Biological response on a titanium implant-grade surface functionalized with modular peptides☆ 
Acta biomaterialia  2012;9(2):5341-5352.
Titanium (Ti) and its alloys are among the most successful implantable materials for dental and orthopedic applications. The combination of excellent mechanical and corrosion resistance properties makes them highly desirable as endosseous implants that can withstand a demanding biomechanical environment. Yet, the success of the implant depends on its osteointegration, which is modulated by the biological reactions occurring at the interface of the implant. A recent development for improving biological responses on the Ti-implant surface has been the realization that bifunctional peptides can impart material binding specificity not only because of their molecular recognition of the inorganic material surface, but also through their self-assembly and ease of biological conjugation properties. To assess peptide-based functionalization on bioactivity, the present authors generated a set of peptides for implant-grade Ti, using cell surface display methods. Out of 60 unique peptides selected by this method, two of the strongest titanium binding peptides, TiBP1 and TiBP2, were further characterized for molecular structure and adsorption properties. These two peptides demonstrated unique, but similar molecular conformations different from that of a weak binder peptide, TiBP60. Adsorption measurements on a Ti surface revealed that their disassociation constants were 15-fold less than TiBP60. Their flexible and modular use in biological surface functionalization were demonstrated by conjugating them with an integrin recognizing peptide motif, RGDS. The functionalization of the Ti surface by the selected peptides significantly enhanced the bioactivity of osteoblast and fibroblast cells on implant-grade materials.
PMCID: PMC4410049  PMID: 23159566
Implants; Titanium binding peptide; Molecular recognition; Biomaterial interface; Bioenabled surface modification
23.  Substrate- and Cofactor-independent Inhibition of Histone Demethylase KDM4C 
ACS Chemical Biology  2014;9(9):2131-2138.
Inhibition of histone demethylases has within recent years advanced into a new strategy for treating cancer and other diseases. Targeting specific histone demethylases can be challenging, as the active sites of KDM1A-B and KDM4A-D histone demethylases are highly conserved. Most inhibitors developed up-to-date target either the cofactor- or substrate-binding sites of these enzymes, resulting in a lack of selectivity and off-target effects. This study describes the discovery of the first peptide-based inhibitors of KDM4 histone demethylases that do not share the histone peptide sequence or inhibit through substrate competition. Through screening of DNA-encoded peptide libraries against KDM1 and -4 histone demethylases by phage display, two cyclic peptides targeting the histone demethylase KDM4C were identified and developed as inhibitors by amino acid replacement, truncation, and chemical modifications. Hydrogen/deuterium exchange mass spectrometry revealed that the peptide-based inhibitors target KDM4C through substrate-independent interactions located on the surface remote from the active site within less conserved regions of KDM4C. The sites discovered in this study provide a new approach of targeting KDM4C through substrate- and cofactor-independent interactions and may be further explored to develop potent selective inhibitors and biological probes for the KDM4 family.
PMCID: PMC4168794  PMID: 25014588
24.  Novel Zn2+-Chelating Peptides Selected from a Fimbria-Displayed Random Peptide Library 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2001;67(12):5467-5473.
The display of peptide sequences on the surface of bacteria is a technology that offers exciting applications in biotechnology and medical research. Type 1 fimbriae are surface organelles of Escherichia coli which mediate d-mannose-sensitive binding to different host surfaces by virtue of the FimH adhesin. FimH is a component of the fimbrial organelle that can accommodate and display a diverse range of peptide sequences on the E. coli cell surface. In this study we have constructed a random peptide library in FimH. The library, consisting of ∼40 million individual clones, was screened for peptide sequences that conferred on recombinant cells the ability to bind Zn2+. By serial selection, sequences that exhibited various degrees of binding affinity and specificity toward Zn2+ were enriched. None of the isolated sequences showed similarity to known Zn2+-binding proteins, indicating that completely novel Zn2+-binding peptide sequences had been isolated. By changing the protein scaffold system, we demonstrated that the Zn2+-binding seems to be uniquely mediated by the peptide insert and to be independent of the sequence of the carrier protein. These findings might be applied in the design of biomatrices for bioremediation purposes or in the development of sensors for detection of heavy metals.
PMCID: PMC93331  PMID: 11722894
25.  Binding Free Energy Landscape of Domain-Peptide Interactions 
PLoS Computational Biology  2011;7(8):e1002131.
Peptide recognition domains (PRDs) are ubiquitous protein domains which mediate large numbers of protein interactions in the cell. How these PRDs are able to recognize peptide sequences in a rapid and specific manner is incompletely understood. We explore the peptide binding process of PDZ domains, a large PRD family, from an equilibrium perspective using an all-atom Monte Carlo (MC) approach. Our focus is two different PDZ domains representing two major PDZ classes, I and II. For both domains, a binding free energy surface with a strong bias toward the native bound state is found. Moreover, both domains exhibit a binding process in which the peptides are mostly either bound at the PDZ binding pocket or else interact little with the domain surface. Consistent with this, various binding observables show a temperature dependence well described by a simple two-state model. We also find important differences in the details between the two domains. While both domains exhibit well-defined binding free energy barriers, the class I barrier is significantly weaker than the one for class II. To probe this issue further, we apply our method to a PDZ domain with dual specificity for class I and II peptides, and find an analogous difference in their binding free energy barriers. Lastly, we perform a large number of fixed-temperature MC kinetics trajectories under binding conditions. These trajectories reveal significantly slower binding dynamics for the class II domain relative to class I. Our combined results are consistent with a binding mechanism in which the peptide C terminal residue binds in an initial, rate-limiting step.
Author Summary
The complex biological processes occurring in living organisms are enabled by numerous networks of interacting proteins. It is therefore of great interest to understand the physical interplay between proteins and, in particular, how this process gives rise to highly specific network connectivities. For a long time, the dominant molecular view of protein-protein interactions was the docking of more or less static folded structures, with specificity obtained from a complementarity in shape and charge distributions. Lately it has been realized that many of the links in protein networks are mediated by interactions between folded domains, on the one hand, and disordered polypeptide segments, on the other. We use an all-atom Monte Carlo based approach which attempts to capture this domain-peptide binding process in full and apply it to representative members of a common domain family. This allows us to examine and compare detailed aspects of the binding free energy landscapes which underlie specificity and affinity. Being able to model domain-peptide binding in a physically sound, yet computationally tractable way is essential for identifying molecular binding mechanisms and opens up possibilities for modifying interaction networks in a controlled way.
PMCID: PMC3158039  PMID: 21876662

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