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1.  Quantitative Analysis of T Cell Receptor Complex Interaction Sites Using Genetically Encoded Photo-Cross-Linkers 
ACS Chemical Biology  2014;9(9):2165-2172.
The T cell receptor (TCR)-cluster of differentiation 3 (CD3) signaling complex plays an important role in initiation of adaptive immune responses, but weak interactions have obstructed delineation of the individual TCR-CD3 subunit interactions during T cell signaling. Here, we demonstrate that unnatural amino acids (UAA) can be used to photo-cross-link subunits of TCR-CD3 on the cell surface. Incorporating UAA in mammalian cells is usually a low efficiency process. In addition, TCR-CD3 is composed of eight subunits and both TCR and CD3 chains are required for expression on the cell surface. Photo-cross-linking of UAAs for studying protein complexes such as TCR-CD3 is challenging due to the difficulty of transfecting and expressing multisubunit protein complexes in cells combined with the low efficiency of UAA incorporation. Here, we demonstrate that by systematic optimization, we can incorporate UAA in TCR-CD3 with high efficiency. Accordingly, the incorporated UAA can be used for site-specific photo-cross-linking experiments to pinpoint protein interaction sites, as well as to confirm interaction sites identified by X-ray crystallography. We systemically compared two different photo-cross-linkers—p-azido-phenylalanine (pAzpa) and H-p-Bz-Phe-OH (pBpa)—for their ability to map protein subunit interactions in the 2B4 TCR. pAzpa was found to have higher cross-linking efficiency, indicating that optimization of the selection of the most optimal cross-linker is important for correct identification of protein–protein interactions. This method is therefore suitable for studying interaction sites of large, dynamic heteromeric protein complexes associated with various cellular membrane systems.
PMCID: PMC4168801  PMID: 25061810
2.  Identification and characterization of small molecules that inhibit nonsense mediated RNA decay and suppress nonsense p53 mutations 
Cancer research  2014;74(11):3104-3113.
Many of the gene mutations found in genetic disorders, including cancer, result in premature termination codons (PTCs) and the rapid degradation of their mRNAs by nonsense mediated RNA decay (NMD). We used virtual library screening (VLS) targeting a pocket in the SMG7 protein, a key component of the NMD mechanism, to identify compounds that disrupt the SMG7-UPF1 complex and inhibit NMD. Several of these compounds upregulated NMD targeted mRNAs at nanomolar concentrations with minimal toxicity in cell based assays. As expected, pharmacological NMD inhibition disrupted SMG7-UPF1 interactions. When used in cells with PTC mutated p53, pharmacological NMD inhibition combined with a PTC “read-through” drug led to restoration of full-length p53 protein, upregulation of p53 downstream transcripts, and cell death. These studies serve as proof-of-concept that pharmacological NMD inhibitors can restore mRNA integrity in the presence of PTC and be used as part of a strategy to restore full length protein in a variety of genetic diseases.
PMCID: PMC4040335  PMID: 24662918
nonsense mutations; nonsense mediated RNA decay; p53; tumor suppressor genes; gene expression
5.  Cryptic Determinant of α4β7 Binding in the V2 Loop of HIV-1 gp120 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e108446.
The peptide segment of the second variable loop of HIV-1 spanning positions 166–181 harbors two functionally important sites. The first, spanning positions 179–181, engages the human α4β7 integrin receptor which is involved in T-cell gut-homing and may play a role in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-host cell interactions. The second, at positions 166–178, is a major target of anti-V2 antibodies elicited by the ALVAC/AIDSVAX vaccine used in the RV144 clinical trial. Notably, these two sites are directly adjacent, but do not overlap. Here, we report the identity of a second determinant of α4β7 binding located at positions 170–172 of the V2 loop. This segment – tripeptide QRV170–172– is located within the second site, yet functionally affects the first site. The absence of this segment abrogates α4β7 binding in peptides bearing the same sequence from position 173–185 as the V2 loops of the RV144 vaccines. However, peptides exhibiting V2 loop sequences from heterologous HIV-1 strains that include this QRV170–172 motif bind the α4β7 receptor on cells. Therefore, the peptide segment at positions 166–178 of the V2 loop of HIV-1 viruses appears to harbor a cryptic determinant of α4β7 binding. Prior studies show that the anti-V2 antibody response elicited by the RV144 vaccine, along with immune pressure inferred from a sieve analysis, is directed to this same region of the V2 loop. Accordingly, the anti-V2 antibodies that apparently reduced the risk of infection in the RV144 trial may have functioned by blocking α4β7-mediated HIV-host cell interactions via this cryptic determinant.
PMCID: PMC4180765  PMID: 25265384
6.  Computational Prediction of Neutralization Epitopes Targeted by Human Anti-V3 HIV Monoclonal Antibodies 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e89987.
The extreme diversity of HIV-1 strains presents a formidable challenge for HIV-1 vaccine design. Although antibodies (Abs) can neutralize HIV-1 and potentially protect against infection, antibodies that target the immunogenic viral surface protein gp120 have widely variable and poorly predictable cross-strain reactivity. Here, we developed a novel computational approach, the Method of Dynamic Epitopes, for identification of neutralization epitopes targeted by anti-HIV-1 monoclonal antibodies (mAbs). Our data demonstrate that this approach, based purely on calculated energetics and 3D structural information, accurately predicts the presence of neutralization epitopes targeted by V3-specific mAbs 2219 and 447-52D in any HIV-1 strain. The method was used to calculate the range of conservation of these specific epitopes across all circulating HIV-1 viruses. Accurately identifying an Ab-targeted neutralization epitope in a virus by computational means enables easy prediction of the breadth of reactivity of specific mAbs across the diversity of thousands of different circulating HIV-1 variants and facilitates rational design and selection of immunogens mimicking specific mAb-targeted epitopes in a multivalent HIV-1 vaccine. The defined epitopes can also be used for the purpose of epitope-specific analyses of breakthrough sequences recorded in vaccine clinical trials. Thus, our study is a prototype for a valuable tool for rational HIV-1 vaccine design.
PMCID: PMC3934971  PMID: 24587168
7.  Specific Small Molecule Inhibitors of Skp2-Mediated p27 Degradation 
Chemistry & biology  2012;19(12):1515-1524.
In the ubiquitin proteasome system, the E3 ligase SCF-Skp2 and its accessory protein Cks1 promote proliferation largely by inducing the degradation of the CDK inhibitor p27. Overexpression of Skp2 in human cancers correlates with poor prognosis, and deregulation of SCF-Skp2-Cks1 promotes tumorigenesis in animal models. We identified small molecule inhibitors specific to SCF-Skp2 activity using in silico screens targeted to the binding interface for p27. These compounds selectively inhibited Skp2-mediated p27 degradation by reducing p27 binding through key compound-receptor contacts. In cancer cells, the compounds induced p27 accumulation in a Skp2-dependent manner and promoted cell-type specific blocks in the G1 or G2/M phases. Designing SCF-Skp2 specific inhibitors may be a novel strategy to treat cancers dependent on the Skp2-p27 axis.
PMCID: PMC3530153  PMID: 23261596
8.  The Thai Phase III HIV Type 1 Vaccine Trial (RV144) Regimen Induces Antibodies That Target Conserved Regions Within the V2 Loop of gp120 
AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses  2012;28(11):1444-1457.
The Thai Phase III clinical trial (RV144) showed modest efficacy in preventing HIV-1 acquisition. Plasma collected from HIV-1-uninfected trial participants completing all injections with ALVAC-HIV (vCP1521) prime and AIDSVAX B/E boost were tested for antibody responses against HIV-1 gp120 envelope (Env). Peptide microarray analysis from six HIV-1 subtypes and group M consensus showed that vaccination induced antibody responses to the second variable (V2) loop of gp120 of multiple subtypes. We further evaluated V2 responses by ELISA and surface plasmon resonance using cyclic (Cyc) and linear V2 loop peptides. Thirty-one of 32 vaccine recipients tested (97%) had antibody responses against Cyc V2 at 2 weeks postimmunization with a reciprocal geometric mean titer (GMT) of 1100 (range: 200–3200). The frequency of detecting plasma V2 antibodies declined to 19% at 28 weeks post-last injection (GMT: 110, range: 100–200). Antibody responses targeted the mid-region of the V2 loop that contains conserved epitopes and has the amino acid sequence KQKVHALFYKLDIVPI (HXB2 Numbering sequence 169–184). Valine at position 172 was critical for antibody binding. The frequency of V3 responses at 2 weeks postimmunization was modest (18/32, 56%) with a GMT of 185 (range: 100–800). In contrast, naturally infected HIV-1 individuals had a lower frequency of antibody responses to V2 (10/20, 50%; p=0.003) and a higher frequency of responses to V3 (19/20, 95%), with GMTs of 400 (range: 100–3200) and 3570 (range: 200–12,800), respectively. RV144 vaccination induced antibodies that targeted a region of the V2 loop that contains conserved epitopes. Early HIV-1 transmission events involve V2 loop interactions, raising the possibility that anti-V2 antibodies in RV144 may have contributed to viral inhibition.
PMCID: PMC3484815  PMID: 23035746
9.  HIV’s Nef Interacts with β-Catenin of the Wnt Signaling Pathway in HEK293 Cells 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e77865.
The Wnt signaling pathway is implicated in major physiologic cellular functions, such as proliferation, migration, cell fate specification, maintenance of pluripotency and induction of tumorigenicity. Proliferation and migration are important responses of T-cells, which are major cellular targets of HIV infection. Using an informatics screen, we identified a previously unsuspected interaction between HIV’s Nef protein and β-catenin, a key component of the Wnt pathway. A segment in Nef contains identical amino acids at key positions and structurally mimics the β-catenin binding sites on endogenous β-catenin ligands. The interaction between Nef and β-catenin was confirmed in vitro and in a co-immunoprecipitation from HEK293 cells. Moreover, the introduction of Nef into HEK293 cells specifically inhibited a Wnt pathway reporter.
PMCID: PMC3795062  PMID: 24130899
10.  Relapse specific mutations in NT5C2 in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia 
Nature genetics  2013;45(3):290-294.
Relapsed childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) carries a poor prognosis despite intensive retreatment, due to intrinsic drug resistance1-2. The biological pathways that mediate resistance are unknown. Here we report the transcriptome profiles of matched diagnosis and relapse bone marrow specimens from ten pediatric B lymphoblastic leukemia patients using RNA-sequencing. Transcriptome sequencing identified 20 newly acquired novel non-synonymous mutations not present at initial diagnosis, of which two patients harbored relapse specific mutations in the same gene, NT5C2, a 5′-nucleotidase. Full exon sequencing of NT5C2 was completed in 61 additional relapse specimens, identifying five additional cases. Enzymatic analysis of mutant proteins revealed that base substitutions conferred increased enzymatic activity and resistance to treatment with nucleoside analogue therapies. Clinically, all patients who harbored NT5C2 mutations relapsed early, or within 36 months of initial diagnosis (p=0.03). These results suggest that mutations in NT5C2 are associated with the outgrowth of drug resistant clones in ALL.
PMCID: PMC3681285  PMID: 23377183
11.  Analysis of V2 Antibody Responses Induced in Vaccinees in the ALVAC/AIDSVAX HIV-1 Vaccine Efficacy Trial 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e53629.
The RV144 clinical trial of a prime/boost immunizing regimen using recombinant canary pox (ALVAC-HIV) and two gp120 proteins (AIDSVAX B and E) was previously shown to have a 31.2% efficacy rate. Plasma specimens from vaccine and placebo recipients were used in an extensive set of assays to identify correlates of HIV-1 infection risk. Of six primary variables that were studied, only one displayed a significant inverse correlation with risk of infection: the antibody (Ab) response to a fusion protein containing the V1 and V2 regions of gp120 (gp70-V1V2). This finding prompted a thorough examination of the results generated with the complete panel of 13 assays measuring various V2 Abs in the stored plasma used in the initial pilot studies and those used in the subsequent case-control study. The studies revealed that the ALVAC-HIV/AIDSVAX vaccine induced V2-specific Abs that cross-react with multiple HIV-1 subgroups and recognize both conformational and linear epitopes. The conformational epitope was present on gp70-V1V2, while the predominant linear V2 epitope mapped to residues 165–178, immediately N-terminal to the putative α4β7 binding motif in the mid-loop region of V2. Odds ratios (ORs) were calculated to compare the risk of infection with data from 12 V2 assays, and in 11 of these, the ORs were ≤1, reaching statistical significance for two of the variables: Ab responses to gp70-V1V2 and to overlapping V2 linear peptides. It remains to be determined whether anti-V2 Ab responses were directly responsible for the reduced infection rate in RV144 and whether anti-V2 Abs will prove to be important with other candidate HIV vaccines that show efficacy, however, the results support continued dissection of Ab responses to the V2 region which may illuminate mechanisms of protection from HIV-1 infection and may facilitate the development of an effective HIV-1 vaccine.
PMCID: PMC3547933  PMID: 23349725
12.  Can the Energy Gap in the Protein-Ligand Binding Energy Landscape Be Used as a Descriptor in Virtual Ligand Screening? 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e46532.
The ranking of scores of individual chemicals within a large screening library is a crucial step in virtual screening (VS) for drug discovery. Previous studies showed that the quality of protein-ligand recognition can be improved using spectrum properties and the shape of the binding energy landscape. Here, we investigate whether the energy gap, defined as the difference between the lowest energy pose generated by a docking experiment and the average energy of all other generated poses and inferred to be a measure of the binding energy landscape sharpness, can improve the separation power between true binders and decoys with respect to the use of the best docking score. We performed retrospective single- and multiple-receptor conformation VS experiments in a diverse benchmark of 40 domains from 38 therapeutically relevant protein targets. Also, we tested the performance of the energy gap on 36 protein targets from the Directory of Useful Decoys (DUD). The results indicate that the energy gap outperforms the best docking score in its ability to discriminate between true binders and decoys, and true binders tend to have larger energy gaps than decoys. Furthermore, we used the energy gap as a descriptor to measure the height of the native binding phase and obtained a significant increase in the success rate of near native binding pose identification when the ligand binding conformations within the boundaries of the native binding phase were considered. The performance of the energy gap was also evaluated on an independent test case of VS-identified PKR-like ER-localized eIF2α kinase (PERK) inhibitors. We found that the energy gap was superior to the best docking score in its ability to more highly rank active compounds from inactive ones. These results suggest that the energy gap of the protein-ligand binding energy landscape is a valuable descriptor for use in VS.
PMCID: PMC3468575  PMID: 23071584
13.  Quantitative Assessment of Masking of Neutralization Epitopes in HIV-1 
Vaccine  2011;29(39):6736-6741.
Despite the frequent observation of masking of HIV-1 neutralization epitopes, its extent has not previously been systematically assessed either for multiple epitopes presented by individual viruses or for individual epitopes across multiple viral strains. Using a recently developed method to identify amino acid sequence motifs required for recognition by HIV-1-neutralizing monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), we visualized the patterns of masking of specific epitopes targeted by mAbs in a diverse panel of HIV-1 isolates. We also calculated a specific masking intensity score for each virus based on the observed neutralization activity of mAbs against the epitopes in the virus. Finally, we combined these data with estimates of the conservation of each mAb-targeted epitope in circulating HIV-1 strains to estimate the effective neutralization potential (EN) for each mAb. Focusing on the V3 loop of gp120 as a prototype neutralization domain, we found that the V3 loop epitope targeted by mAb 2219 is one of the least masked mAbs and it has the highest EN. Interestingly, although the V3 loop epitope targeted by mAb 3074 is present in over 87% of all viruses, it is 82.2% masked, so its EN is lower than that for mAb 2219. Notably, 50% of the viruses that mAb 3074 is able to neutralize are classified as subtype C viruses, while 70% or more of the viruses neutralized by mAbs 2219, 2557 or 447-52D are classified as subtype B. Thus, neutralization epitopes (in this case, in the V3 loop) have differential patterns of masking and also display distinct patterns of distribution among circulating HIV-1 viruses. Both factors combine to contribute to the practical vaccine value of any single epitope/mAb. Here we have developed a quantitative score for this value. These results have important implications for rational design of vaccines designed to induce neutralizing Abs by revealing epitopes that are minimally masked and maximally reactive with neutralizing Abs.
PMCID: PMC3135678  PMID: 21216319
HIV-1; V3; variable loop; masking; epitope; neutralization
14.  Resistance of Subtype C HIV-1 Strains to Anti-V3 Loop Antibodies 
Advances in Virology  2012;2012:803535.
HIV-1's subtype C V3 loop consensus sequence exhibits increased resistance to anti-V3 antibody-mediated neutralization as compared to the subtype B consensus sequence. The dynamic 3D structure of the consensus C V3 loop crown, visualized by ab initio folding, suggested that the resistance derives from structural rigidity and non-β-strand secondary protein structure in the N-terminal strand of the β-hairpin of the V3 loop crown, which is where most known anti-V3 loop antibodies bind. The observation of either rigidity or non-β-strand structure in this region correlated with observed resistance to antibody-mediated neutralization in a series of chimeric pseudovirus (psV) mutants. The results suggest the presence of an epitope-independent, neutralization-relevant structural difference in the antibody-targeted region of the V3 loop crown between subtype C and subtype B, a difference that we hypothesize may contribute to the divergent pattern of global spread between these subtypes. As antibodies to a variable loop were recently identified as an inverse correlate of risk for HIV infection, the structure-function relationships discussed in this study may have relevance to HIV vaccine research.
PMCID: PMC3323838  PMID: 22548061
15.  Cross-Clade HIV-1 Neutralizing Antibodies Induced with V3-Scaffold Protein Immunogens following Priming with gp120 DNA ▿  
Journal of Virology  2011;85(19):9887-9898.
The V3 epitope is a known target for HIV-1 neutralizing antibodies (NAbs), and V3-scaffold fusion proteins used as boosting immunogens after gp120 DNA priming were previously shown to induce NAbs in rabbits. Here, we evaluated whether the breadth and potency of the NAb response could be improved when boosted with rationally designed V3-scaffold immunogens. Rabbits were primed with codon-optimized clade C gp120 DNA and boosted with one of five V3-cholera toxin B fusion proteins (V3-CTBs) or with double combinations of these. The inserts in these immunogens were designed to display V3 epitopes shared by the majority of global HIV-1 isolates. Double combinations of V3-CTB immunogens generally induced more broad and potent NAbs than did boosts with single V3-CTB immunogens, with the most potent and broad NAbs elicited with the V3-CTB carrying the consensus V3 of clade C (V3C-CTB), or with double combinations of V3-CTB immunogens that included V3C-CTB. Neutralization of tier 1 and 2 pseudoviruses from clades AG, B, and C and of peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC)-grown primary viruses from clades A, AG, and B was achieved, demonstrating that priming with gp120 DNA followed by boosts with V3-scaffold immunogens effectively elicits cross-clade NAbs. Focusing on the V3 region is a first step in designing a vaccine targeting protective epitopes, a strategy with potential advantages over the use of Env, a molecule that evolved to protect the virus by poorly inducing NAbs and by shielding the epitopes that are most critical for infectivity.
PMCID: PMC3196418  PMID: 21795338
16.  Recovering Protein-Protein and Domain-Domain Interactions from Aggregation of IP-MS Proteomics of Coregulator Complexes 
PLoS Computational Biology  2011;7(12):e1002319.
Coregulator proteins (CoRegs) are part of multi-protein complexes that transiently assemble with transcription factors and chromatin modifiers to regulate gene expression. In this study we analyzed data from 3,290 immuno-precipitations (IP) followed by mass spectrometry (MS) applied to human cell lines aimed at identifying CoRegs complexes. Using the semi-quantitative spectral counts, we scored binary protein-protein and domain-domain associations with several equations. Unlike previous applications, our methods scored prey-prey protein-protein interactions regardless of the baits used. We also predicted domain-domain interactions underlying predicted protein-protein interactions. The quality of predicted protein-protein and domain-domain interactions was evaluated using known binary interactions from the literature, whereas one protein-protein interaction, between STRN and CTTNBP2NL, was validated experimentally; and one domain-domain interaction, between the HEAT domain of PPP2R1A and the Pkinase domain of STK25, was validated using molecular docking simulations. The scoring schemes presented here recovered known, and predicted many new, complexes, protein-protein, and domain-domain interactions. The networks that resulted from the predictions are provided as a web-based interactive application at
Author Summary
In response to various extracellular stimuli, protein complexes are transiently assembled within the nucleus of cells to regulate gene transcription in a context dependent manner. Here we analyzed data from 3,290 proteomics experiments that used as bait different member proteins from regulatory complexes with different antibodies. Such proteomics experiments attempt to characterize complex membership for other proteins that associate with bait proteins. However, the experiments are noisy and aggregation of the data from many pull-down experiments is computationally challenging. To this end we developed and evaluated several equations that score pair-wise interactions based on co-occurrence in different but related pull-down experiments. We compared and evaluated the scoring methods and combined them to recover known, and discover new, complexes and protein-protein interactions. We also applied the same equations to predict domain-domain interactions that might underlie the protein interactions and complex formation. As a proof of concept, we experimentally validated one predicted protein-protein interaction and one predicted domain-domain interaction using different methods. Such rich information about binary interactions between proteins and domains should advance our knowledge of transcriptional regulation by CoRegs in normal and diseased human cells.
PMCID: PMC3248428  PMID: 22219718
17.  Human Anti-V3 HIV-1 Monoclonal Antibodies Encoded by the VH5-51/VL Lambda Genes Define a Conserved Antigenic Structure 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(12):e27780.
Preferential usage of immunoglobulin (Ig) genes that encode antibodies (Abs) against various pathogens is rarely observed and the nature of their dominance is unclear in the context of stochastic recombination of Ig genes. The hypothesis that restricted usage of Ig genes predetermines the antibody specificity was tested in this study of 18 human anti-V3 monoclonal Abs (mAbs) generated from unrelated individuals infected with various subtypes of HIV-1, all of which preferentially used pairing of the VH5-51 and VL lambda genes. Crystallographic analysis of five VH5-51/VL lambda-encoded Fabs complexed with various V3 peptides revealed a common three dimensional (3D) shape of the antigen-binding sites primarily determined by the four complementarity determining regions (CDR) for the heavy (H) and light (L) chains: specifically, the H1, H2, L1 and L2 domains. The CDR H3 domain did not contribute to the shape of the binding pocket, as it had different lengths, sequences and conformations for each mAb. The same shape of the binding site was further confirmed by the identical backbone conformation exhibited by V3 peptides in complex with Fabs which fully adapted to the binding pocket and the same key contact residues, mainly germline-encoded in the heavy and light chains of five Fabs. Finally, the VH5-51 anti-V3 mAbs recognized an epitope with an identical 3D structure which is mimicked by a single mimotope recognized by the majority of VH5-51-derived mAbs but not by other V3 mAbs. These data suggest that the identification of preferentially used Ig genes by neutralizing mAbs may define conserved epitopes in the diverse virus envelopes. This will be useful information for designing vaccine immunogen inducing cross-neutralizing Abs.
PMCID: PMC3229485  PMID: 22164215
18.  Indirect Detection of an Epitope-Specific Response to HIV-1 gp120 Immunization in Human Subjects 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e27279.
A specific response of human serum neutralizing antibodies (nAb) to a conformational epitope as a result of vaccination of human subjects with the surface envelope glycoprotein (gp120) of HIV-1 has not previously been documented. Here, we used computational analysis to assess the epitope-specific responses of human subjects, which were immunized with recombinant gp120 immunogens in the VAX003 and VAX004 clinical trials. Our computational methodology—a variation of sieve analysis—compares the occurrence of specific nAb targeted conformational 3D epitopes on viruses from infected individuals who received vaccination to the occurrence of matched epitopes in the viruses infecting placebo subjects. We specifically studied seven crystallographically defined nAb targeted conformational epitopes in the V3 loop, an immunogenic region of gp120. Of the six epitopes present in the immunogens and targeted by known monoclonal neutralizing antibodies, only the one targeted by the anti-V3 nAb 2219 exhibited a significant reduction in occurrence in vaccinated subjects compared to the placebo group. This difference occurred only in the VAX003 Thailand cohort. No difference was seen between vaccinated and placebo groups for the occurrence of an epitope that was not present in the immunogen. Thus, it can be theorized that a specific 2219-like human neutralizing antibody immune response to AIDSVAX immunization occurred in the VAX003 cohort, and that this response protected subjects from a narrow subset of HIV-1 viruses circulating in Thailand in the 1990s and bearing the conformational epitope targeted by the neutralizing antibody 2219.
PMCID: PMC3208624  PMID: 22076145
19.  Nuclear receptor engineering based on novel structure activity relationships revealed by farnesyl pyrophosphate 
Nuclear receptors (NRs) comprise the second largest protein family targeted by currently available drugs, acting via specific ligand interactions within the ligand binding domain (LBD). Recently, farnesyl pyrophosphate (FPP) was shown to be a unique promiscuous NR ligand, activating a subset of NR family members and inhibiting wound healing in skin. The current study aimed at visualizing the unique basis of FPP interaction with multiple receptors in order to identify general structure–activity relationships that operate across the NR family. Docking of FPP to the 3D structures of the LBDs of a diverse set of NRs consistently revealed an electrostatic FPP pyrophosphate contact with an NR arginine conserved in the NR family, a hydrophobic farnesyl contact with NR helix-12 and a ligand binding pocket volume between 300 and 430 Å3 as the minimal requirements for FPP activation of any NR. Lack of any of these structural features appears to render a given NR resistant to FPP activation. We used these structure–activity relationships to rationally design and successfully engineer several mutant human estrogen receptors that retain responsiveness to estradiol but no longer respond to FPP.
PMCID: PMC2953956  PMID: 20817759
farnesyl pyrophosphate; nuclear receptors; protein engineering; rational design; structure–activity relationships
20.  Structure-guided design and immunological characterization of immunogens presenting the HIV-1 gp120 V3 loop on a CTB scaffold 
Virology  2010;405(2):513-523.
V3 loop is a major neutralizing determinant of the HIV-1 gp120. Using 3D structures of cholera toxin B subunit (CTB), complete V3 in the gp120 context and V3 bound to a monoclonal antibody (mAb) we designed two V3-scaffold immunogen constructs (V3-CTB). The full-length V3-CTB presenting the complete V3 in a structural context mimicking gp120, was recognized by the large majority of our panel of 24 mAbs. The short V3-CTB presenting a V3 fragment in the conformation observed in the complex with the 447-52D Fab, exhibited high affinity binding to this mAb. The immunogens were evaluated in rabbits using DNA-prime/protein-boost protocol. Boosting with the full-length V3-CTB induced high anti-V3 titers in sera that potently neutralize multiple HIV virus strains. The short V3-CTB was ineffective. The results suggest that very narrow antigenic profile of an immunogen is associated with poor Ab response. An immunogen with broader antigenic activity elicits robust Ab response.
PMCID: PMC2942080  PMID: 20663531
Immunogen design; HIV-1; gp120; v3 loop; cholera toxin B subunit; neutralizing antibody; 447-52D; HIV vaccine
Nature reviews. Immunology  2010;10(7):527-535.
One of the main challenges of developing an HIV-1 vaccine lies in eliciting immune responses that can overcome the antigenic variability exhibited by HIV. Most HIV vaccine development has focused on inducing immunity to conserved regions of the HIV envelope; however, new studies of the sequence-variable regions of the HIV-1 gp120 envelope glycoprotein have shown that there are conserved immunological and structural features in these regions. Recombinant immunogens that include these features may provide the means to address the antigenic diversity of HIV-1 and induce protective antibodies that can prevent infection with HIV-1.
PMCID: PMC3167078  PMID: 20577269
22.  Characterization of a dominant-active STAT that promotes tumorigenesis in Drosophila 
Developmental biology  2010;344(2):621-636.
Little is known about the molecular mechanisms by which STAT proteins promote tumorigenesis. Drosophila is an ideal system for investigating this issue, as there is a single STAT (Stat92E), and its hyperactivation causes overgrowths resembling human tumors. Here we report the first identification of a dominant-active Stat92E protein, Stat92EΔNΔC, which lacks both N- and C-termini. Mis-expression of Stat92EΔNΔC in vivo causes melanotic tumors, while in vitro it transactivates a Stat92E-luciferase reporter in the absence of stimulation. These gain-of-function phenotypes require phosphorylation of Y711 and dimer formation with full-length Stat92E. Furthermore, a single point mutation, an R442P substitution in the DNA-binding domain, abolishes Stat92E function. Recombinant Stat92ER442P translocates to the nucleus following activation but fails to function in all assays tested. Interestingly, R442 is conserved in most STATs in higher organisms, suggesting conservation of function. Modeling of Stat92E indicates that R442 may contact the minor groove of DNA via invariant TC bases in the consensus binding element bound by all STAT proteins. We conclude that the N- and C- termini function unexpectedly in negatively regulating Stat92E activity, possibly by decreasing dimer dephosphorylation or increasing stability of DNA interaction, and that Stat92ER442 has a nuclear function by altering dimer:DNA binding.
PMCID: PMC2914209  PMID: 20501334
STAT; JAK; Unpaired; Drosophila; constitutively active; in vitro reporter; in vivo reporter; structure function; signal transduction
23.  Structural Conservation Predominates Over Sequence Variability in the Crown of HIV Type 1's V3 Loop 
The diversity of HIV-1 is a confounding problem for vaccine design, as the human immune response appears to favor poor or strain-specific responses to any given HIV-1 virus strain. A significant portion of this diversity is manifested as sequence variability in the loops of HIV-1's surface envelope glycoprotein. Here we show that the most variable sequence positions in the third variable (V3) loop crown cluster to a small zone on the surface of one face of the V3 loop ß-hairpin conformation. These results provide a novel visualization of the gp120 V3 loop, specifically demonstrating a surprising preponderance of conserved three-dimensional structure in a highly sequence-variable region. From a structural point of view, there appears to be less diversity in this region of the HIV-1 “principle neutralizing domain” than previously appreciated.
PMCID: PMC2932551  PMID: 20560796
24.  Recombinant Derivatives of Botulinum Neurotoxin A Engineered for Trafficking Studies and Neuronal Delivery 
Work from multiple laboratories has clarified how the structural domains of botulinum neurotoxin A (BoNT/A) disable neuronal exocytosis, but important questions remain unanswered. Because BoNT/A intoxication disables its own uptake, light chain (LC) does not accumulate in neurons at detectable levels. We have therefore designed, expressed and purified a series of BoNT/A atoxic derivatives (ad) that retain the wild type features required for native trafficking. BoNT/A1adek and BoNT/A1adtev are full length derivatives rendered atoxic through double point mutations in the LC protease (E224>A; Y366>A). ΔLC-peptide-BoNT/Atev and ΔLC-GFP-BoNT/Atev are derivatives wherein the catalytic portion of the LC is replaced with a short peptide or with GFP plus the peptide. In all four derivatives, we have fused the S6 peptide sequence GDSLSWLLRLLN to the N-terminus of the proteins to enable site-specific attachment of cargo using Sfp phosphopantetheinyl transferase. Cargo can be attached in a manner that provides a homogeneous derivative population rather than a polydisperse mixture of singly and multiply-labeled molecular species. All four derivatives contain an introduced cleavage site for conversion into disulfide-bonded heterodimers. These constructs were expressed in a baculovirus system and the proteins were secreted into culture medium and purified to homogeneity in yields ranging from 1 to 30 mg per liter. These derivatives provide unique tools to study toxin trafficking in vivo, and to assess how the structure of cargo linked to the heavy chain (HC) influences delivery to the neuronal cytosol. Moreover, they create the potential to engineer BoNT-based molecular vehicles that can target therapeutic agents to the neuronal cytoplasm.
PMCID: PMC2830362  PMID: 20045734
Botulinum neurotoxin A; Clostridium botulinum; baculovirus; protease; Sfp phosphopantetheinyl transferase
25.  Comparative Magnitude of Cross-Strain Conservation of HIV Variable Loop Neutralization Epitopes 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(12):e15994.
Although the sequence variable loops of the human immunodeficiency virus' (HIV-1) surface envelope glycoprotein (gp120) can exhibit good immunogenicity, characterizing conserved (invariant) cross-strain neutralization epitopes within these loops has proven difficult. We recently developed a method to derive sensitive and specific signature motifs for the three-dimensional (3D) shapes of the HIV-1 neutralization epitopes in the third variable (V3) loop of gp120 that are recognized by human monoclonal antibodies (mAbs). We used the signature motif method to estimate the conservation of these epitopes across circulating worldwide HIV-1 strains. The epitope targeted by the anti-V3 loop neutralizing mAb 3074 is present in 87% of circulating strains, distributed nearly evenly among all subtypes. The results for other anti-V3 Abs are: 3791, present in 63% of primarily non-B subtypes; 2219, present in 56% of strains across all subtypes; 2557, present in 52% across all subtypes; 447-52D, present in 11% of primarily subtype B strains; 537-10D, present in 9% of primarily subtype B strains; and 268-D, present in 5% of primarily subtype B strains. The estimates correlate with in vitro tests of these mAbs against diverse viral panels. The mAb 3074 thus targets an epitope that is nearly completely conserved among circulating HIV-1 strains, demonstrating the presence of an invariant structure hidden in the dynamic and sequence-variable V3 loop in gp120. Since some variable loop regions are naturally immunogenic, designing immunogens to mimic their conserved epitopes may be a promising vaccine discovery approach. Our results suggest one way to quantify and compare the magnitude of the conservation.
PMCID: PMC3012121  PMID: 21209919

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