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J Biol Chem. 2008 Jan 11;283(2):988-97. Epub 2007 Nov 5.

The D-diastereomer of ShK toxin selectively blocks voltage-gated K+ channels and inhibits T lymphocyte proliferation.

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  • 1Department of Physiology & Biophysics, University of California, California, Irvine, 92697-4560, USA.


The polypeptide toxin ShK is a potent blocker of Kv1.3 potassium channels, which are crucial in the activation of human effector memory T cells (T(EM)); selective blockers constitute valuable therapeutic leads for the treatment of autoimmune diseases mediated by T(EM) cells, such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and type-1 diabetes. The critical motif on the toxin for potassium channel blockade consists of neighboring lysine and tyrosine residues. Because this motif is sufficient for activity, an ShK analogue was designed based on D-amino acids. D-allo-ShK has a structure essentially identical with that of ShK and is resistant to proteolysis. It blocked Kv1.3 with K(d) 36 nm (2,800-fold lower affinity than ShK), was 2-fold selective for Kv1.3 over Kv1.1, and was inactive against other K(+) channels tested. D-allo-ShK inhibited human T(EM) cell proliferation at 100-fold higher concentration than ShK. Its circulating half-life was only slightly longer than that of ShK, implying that renal clearance is the major determinant of its plasma levels. D-allo-ShK did not bind to the closed state of the channel, unlike ShK. Models of D-allo-ShK bound to Kv1.3 show that it can block the pore as effectively as ShK but makes different interactions with the vestibule, some of which are less favorable than for native ShK. The finding that an all-D analogue of a polypeptide toxin retains biological activity and selectivity is highly unusual. Being resistant to proteolysis and nonantigenic, this analogue should be useful in K(+) channel studies; all-d analogues with improved Kv1.3 potency and specificity may have therapeutic advantages.

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