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J Am Chem Soc. 2015 Jan 14;137(1):26-9. doi: 10.1021/ja5100417. Epub 2014 Dec 26.

Ligand-receptor interaction catalyzes the aggregation of small molecules to induce cell necroptosis.

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Department of Chemistry, Brandeis University , 415 South Street, MS 015, Waltham, Massachusetts 02453, United States.


Because they exhibit important biological functions, from unfolding proteins to activating enzymes to controlling cell fates, aggregates of small molecules are able to serve as functional molecular entities in cellular environments. However, the inability to precisely control their production has hampered the understanding and exploration of their biological functions. Here we show that the well-established ligand-receptor interaction between vancomycin and d-Ala-d-Ala catalyzes the aggregation of a d-Ala-d-Ala-containing small peptide derivative in water. The resulting aggregates largely adhere to the cell surface to induce cell necroptosis. Mutation of d-Ala-d-Ala to l-Ala-l-Ala or removal of the aromatic group in the derivative results in innocuous compounds, confirming that the aromatic-aromatic and ligand-receptor interactions are responsible for the formation and corresponding cytotoxicity of the aggregates. In addition to being the first example of ligand-receptor interaction-catalyzed aggregation of small molecules on the surface of mammalian cells, this work provides useful insights for understanding the cytotoxicity of molecular aggregates of small molecules.

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