Infoscience

Thesis

Switch peptides: a new tool for the study of ß sheet aggregation and the design of novel ß breakers

Incorrect folding of proteins, leading to aggregation and amyloid formation, is associated with a group of degenerative diseases including Alzheimer's disease and late onset diabetes. Amyloid forming proteins are believed to be mainly α-helical in their native conformation, but undergo an α-helical to β-sheet conversion paralleled by fibril and plaque formation. As a most challenging experimental hurdle, the transition from helical / rc conformations to β-sheeted structures is followed by dramatic changes in the physicochemical properties, such as self association and insolubility, thus strongly limiting the experimental access of this molecular key process in neurodegenerative diseases. In 2000, M. Mutter and his group proposed a new concept for resolving some of these intrinsic problems of peptide self-assembly. As a basic idea, peptides with a high potential for β-sheet formation, considered as early event in fibrillogenesis, are prepared as 'folding precursors', in which the folding process is blocked by the insertion of a non native bond (see Figure). These modular switch peptides comprise three distinct elements: A conformational induction unit (σ), a switch element (S), and a target peptide (P). A central feature of the concept of switch-peptides, the switch element S dissects the native polyamide backbone of the peptide P by an ester and a flexible C-C bond, thereby preventing the peptide from folding and separating the conformational impact of σ. The triggering of the switch element by removing the protecting group Y reestablishes the native polyamide backbone via a spontaneous O to N acyl migration reaction, whereupon peptide folding can proceed. The present Ph.D. thesis aims to elaborate this concept in putting conformational transitions from helical or random coil to β-sheet structures in focus. This idea is developed using first potentially β-sheet forming model peptides, and is extended in a second step to amyloid-derived sequences. To this end, a series of model peptides exhibiting high β-sheet potential have been synthesized by SPPS synthesis and the critical chain length for β-sheet formation of oligopeptide (Leu-Ser)n was determined by CD studies. The insertion of a pH inducible S-element allowed for the delineation of the in situ transition from rc (Soff) to β-sheet structure (Son). The kinetic evaluation of these conformational transitions as a function of concentration, pH and temperature served as a base for the host-guest peptides according to the switch concept. Host-guest techniques allow to mimic the structural environment of the peptide segments 'excised' from their polypeptide. Typically, peptide segments (guest sequence) regarded as nucleation centers ('hot spots') for β-sheet and fibril formation are incorporated into a host oligopeptide of high β-sheet potential, e.g. (Leu-Ser)n. The incorporation of S-elements at the C- and N-terminal end of the guest segment results in a rc structure (Soff-state), as monitored by CD and TEM studies. By adjusting the pH to physiological conditions, O,N-acyl migration is triggered (Son) and a well defined rc to β-sheet transition is observed by CD, paralleled by the formation of amyloid-like fibrils. For example, after insertion into the β-sheet promoting host peptide (Leu-Ser)n, the amyloid β (14-24) and amylin derived peptide NFGAIL undergo upon pH induced acyl migration a conformational transition from rc to β-sheet , paralleled by the onset of fibril formation. For evaluating the impact of β-breaking compounds upon the kinetics of β-sheet formation, the potential of the developed host-guest switch peptides to serve as a diagnostic tool is elaborated. As the folding is set off in the moment of creating the bioactive molecule ("in statu nascendi", ISN), the present concept allows for the first time to investigate early steps of protein misfolding as relevant in neurodegenerative diseases, opening new perspectives for the rational design of compounds of therapeutic interest. This is demonstrated for the design and synthesis of a reference host-guest system ('molecular kit for screening amyloid β inhibitors'), in which the kinetics of rc to β-sheet transitions is determined under a variety of experimental conditions, including physiological pH. Finally, as a most challenging goal, the disruption or even reversion of β-sheet formation and aggregation is addressed by applying the concept of switch peptides. To accomplish this formidable task, a series of switch-peptides containing various induction systems are investigated. Preliminary results by CD and TEM studies confirm the potential of host-guest switch-peptides for obtaining quantitative data on the impact of β-breaking compounds. A critical evaluation of known β-breaking peptides point to the need for a reliable screening system as developed in the present thesis. The results obtained firmly establish the capability of employing the concept of switch peptides as a tool to study folding/misfolding events during the dynamic process of structure onset and evolution. Keywords: Switch peptides ; host-guest switch peptides ; screening ; inhibitors ; Aβ ; amylin.

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