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Gain-of-Function Analogues of the Pore-Forming Peptide Melittin Selected by Orthogonal High-Throughput Screening

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journal contribution
posted on 01.08.2012 by Aram J. Krauson, Jing He, William C Wimley
We recently developed an orthogonal, high-throughput assay to identify peptides that self-assemble into potent, equilibrium pores in synthetic lipid bilayers. Here, we use this assay as a high-throughput screen to select highly potent pore-forming peptides from a 7776-member rational combinatorial peptide library based on the sequence of the natural pore-forming peptide toxin melittin. In the library we varied ten critical residues in the melittin sequence, chosen to test specific structural hypotheses about the mechanism of pore formation. Using the new high-throughput assay, we screened the library for gain-of-function sequences at a peptide to lipid ratio of 1:1000 where native melittin is not active. More than 99% of the library sequences were also inactive under these conditions. A small number of library members (0.1%) were highly active. From these we identified 14 potent, gain-of-function, pore-forming sequences. These sequences differed from melittin in only 2–6 amino acids out of 26. Some native residues were highly conserved and others were consistently changed. The two factors that were essential for gain-of-function were the preservation of melittin’s proline-dependent break in the middle of the helix and the improvement and extension the amphipathic nature of the α-helix. In particular the highly cationic carboxyl-terminal sequence of melittin, is consistently changed in the gain-of-function variants to a sequence that it is capable of participating in an extended amphipathic α-helix. The most potent variants reside in a membrane-spanning orientation, in contrast to the parent melittin, which is predominantly surface bound. This structural information, taken together with the high-throughput tools developed for this work, enable the identification, refinement and optimization of pore-forming peptides for many potential applications.

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