Conformational Fine-Tuning of Pore-Forming Peptide Potency and Selectivity

July 28, 2017


Conformational Fine-Tuning of Pore-Forming Peptide Potency and Selectivity


Aram J. Krauson, O. Morgan Hall, Taylor Fuselier, Charles G. Starr, W. Berkeley Kauffman, William C. Wimley






To better understand the sequence–structure–function relationships that control the activity and selectivity of membrane-permeabilizing peptides, we screened a peptide library, based on the archetypal pore-former melittin, for loss-of-function variants. This was accomplished by assaying library members for failure to cause leakage of entrapped contents from synthetic lipid vesicles at a peptide-to-lipid ratio of 1:20, 10-fold higher than the concentration at which melittin efficiently permeabilizes the same vesicles. Surprisingly, about one-third of the library members are inactive under these conditions. In the negative peptides, two changes of hydrophobic residues to glycine were especially abundant. We show that loss-of-function activity can be completely recapitulated by a single-residue change of the leucine at position 16 to glycine. Unlike the potently cytolytic melittin, the loss-of-function peptides, including the single-site variant, are essentially inactive against phosphatidylcholine vesicles and multiple types of eukaryotic cells. Loss of function is shown to result from a shift in the binding–folding equilibrium away from the active, bound, α-helical state toward the inactive, unbound, random-coil state. Accordingly, the addition of anionic lipids to synthetic lipid vesicles restored binding, α-helical secondary structure, and potent activity of the “negative” peptides. While nontoxic to mammalian cells, the single-site variant has potent bactericidal activity, consistent with the anionic nature of bacterial membranes. The results show that conformational fine-tuning of helical pore-forming peptides is a powerful way to modulate their activity and selectivity.




Circular dichroism, Secondary structure, Vesicle interactions, Protein folding, Biochemistry