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Biochemistry. 2004 May 25;43(20):5965-75.

Thermal, chemical, and enzymatic stability of the cyclotide kalata B1: the importance of the cyclic cystine knot.

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  • 1Institute for Molecular Bioscience, University of Queensland, Brisbane 4072, Australia.


The cyclotides constitute a recently discovered family of plant-derived peptides that have the unusual features of a head-to-tail cyclized backbone and a cystine knot core. These features are thought to contribute to their exceptional stability, as qualitatively observed during experiments aimed at sequencing and characterizing early members of the family. However, to date there has been no quantitative study of the thermal, chemical, or enzymatic stability of the cyclotides. In this study, we demonstrate the stability of the prototypic cyclotide kalata B1 to the chaotropic agents 6 M guanidine hydrochloride (GdHCl) and 8 M urea, to temperatures approaching boiling, to acid, and following incubation with a range of proteases, conditions under which most proteins readily unfold. NMR spectroscopy was used to demonstrate the thermal stability, while fluorescence and circular dichroism were used to monitor the chemical stability. Several variants of kalata B1 were also examined, including kalata B2, which has five amino acid substitutions from B1, two acyclic permutants in which the backbone was broken but the cystine knot was retained, and a two-disulfide bond mutant. Together, these allowed determinations of the relative roles of the cystine knot and the circular backbone on the stability of the cyclotides. Addition of a denaturant to kalata B1 or an acyclic permutant did not cause unfolding, but the two-disulfide derivative was less stable, despite having a similar three-dimensional structure. It appears that the cystine knot is more important than the circular backbone in the chemical stability of the cyclotides. Furthermore, the cystine knot of the cyclotides is more stable than those in similar-sized molecules, judging by a comparison with the conotoxin PVIIA. There was no evidence for enzymatic digestion of native kalata B1 as monitored by LC-MS, but the reduced form was susceptible to proteolysis by trypsin, endoproteinase Glu-C, and thermolysin. Fluorescence spectra of kalata B1 in the presence of dithiothreitol, a reducing agent, showed a marked increase in intensity thought to be due to removal of the quenching effect on the Trp residue by the neighboring Cys5-Cys17 disulfide bond. In general, the reduced peptides were significantly more susceptible to chemical or enzymatic breakdown than the oxidized species.

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