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Mol Immunol. 2009 Feb;46(5):784-92. doi: 10.1016/j.molimm.2008.09.014. Epub 2008 Oct 30.

Prothymosin alpha immunoactive carboxyl-terminal peptide TKKQKTDEDD stimulates lymphocyte reactions, induces dendritic cell maturation and adopts a beta-sheet conformation in a sequence-specific manner.

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Department of Animal and Human Physiology, Faculty of Biology, University of Athens, Athens, Greece.


Prothymosin alpha (ProTalpha) is a small acidic polypeptide with important immunostimulatory properties, which we have previously shown to be exerted by its carboxyl (C)-terminus. It exerts immunoenhancing effects through stimulation of monocytes via toll-like receptor (TLR) triggering. Here, we assayed the activity of synthetic peptides homologous to ProTalpha's C-terminus to stimulate lymphocyte functions, in particular natural killer cell cytotoxicity of peripheral blood mononuclear cells isolated from healthy donors. A synthetic decapeptide TKKQKTDEDD was identified as the most potent lymphocyte stimulator. The activity of this peptide was sequence-specific and comparable to that of the intact molecule, suggesting that ProTalpha's immunoactive segment encompasses the nuclear localization signal sequence of the polypeptide. Because ProTalpha stimulates immune responses in a monocyte-dependent manner, we further investigated whether the entire molecule and its peptide TKKQKTDEDD specifically act on monocytes and show that both can promote maturation of monocyte-derived dendritic cells (DC). Finally, knowing that, under specific conditions, ProTalpha forms amyloid fibrils, we studied the amyloidogenic properties of its C-terminal peptide segments, utilizing ATR FT-IR spectroscopy and transmission electron microscopy (negative staining). Although the peptide TKKQKTDEDD adopts an antiparallel beta-sheet conformation under various conditions, it does not form amyloid fibrils; rather it aggregates in globular particles. These data, in conjunction with reports showing that the peptide TKKQKTDEDD is generated in vivo upon caspase-cleavage of ProTalpha during apoptosis, strengthen our hypothesis that immune response stimulation by ProTalpha is in principle exerted via its bioactive C-terminal decapaptide, which can acquire a sequence-specific beta-sheet conformation and induce DC maturation.

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