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J Am Chem Soc. 2009 Apr 8;131(13):4622-7. doi: 10.1021/ja805037p.

All-atom model for stabilization of alpha-helical structure in peptides by hydrocarbon staples.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Harvard University, 12 Oxford Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.


Recent work has shown that the incorporation of an all-hydrocarbon "staple" into peptides can greatly increase their alpha-helix propensity, leading to an improvement in pharmaceutical properties such as proteolytic stability, receptor affinity, and cell permeability. Stapled peptides thus show promise as a new class of drugs capable of accessing intractable targets such as those that engage in intracellular protein-protein interactions. The extent of alpha-helix stabilization provided by stapling has proven to be substantially context dependent, requiring cumbersome screening to identify the optimal site for staple incorporation. In certain cases, a staple encompassing one turn of the helix (attached at residues i and i+4) furnishes greater helix stabilization than one encompassing two turns (i,i+7 staple), which runs counter to expectation based on polymer theory. These findings highlight the need for a more thorough understanding of the forces that underlie helix stabilization by hydrocarbon staples. Here we report all-atom Monte Carlo folding simulations comparing unmodified peptides derived from RNase A and BID BH3 with various i,i+4 and i,i+7 stapled versions thereof. The results of these simulations were found to be in quantitative agreement with experimentally determined helix propensities. We also discovered that staples can stabilize quasi-stable decoy conformations, and that the removal of these states plays a major role in determining the helix stability of stapled peptides. Finally, we critically investigate why our method works, exposing the underlying physical forces that stabilize stapled peptides.

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