Rational design of serine protease inhibitors

Swedberg, Joakim Erik (2011) Rational design of serine protease inhibitors. PhD by Publication, Queensland University of Technology.


Proteases regulate a spectrum of diverse physiological processes, and dysregulation of proteolytic activity drives a plethora of pathological conditions. Understanding protease function is essential to appreciating many aspects of normal physiology and progression of disease. Consequently, development of potent and specific inhibitors of proteolytic enzymes is vital to provide tools for the dissection of protease function in biological systems and for the treatment of diseases linked to aberrant proteolytic activity. The studies in this thesis describe the rational design of potent inhibitors of three proteases that are implicated in disease development. Additionally, key features of the interaction of proteases and their cognate inhibitors or substrates are analysed and a series of rational inhibitor design principles are expounded and tested. Rational design of protease inhibitors relies on a comprehensive understanding of protease structure and biochemistry. Analysis of known protease cleavage sites in proteins and peptides is a commonly used source of such information. However, model peptide substrate and protein sequences have widely differing levels of backbone constraint and hence can adopt highly divergent structures when binding to a protease’s active site. This may result in identical sequences in peptides and proteins having different conformations and diverse spatial distribution of amino acid functionalities. Regardless of this, protein and peptide cleavage sites are often regarded as being equivalent. One of the key findings in the following studies is a definitive demonstration of the lack of equivalence between these two classes of substrate and invalidation of the common practice of using the sequences of model peptide substrates to predict cleavage of proteins in vivo. Another important feature for protease substrate recognition is subsite cooperativity. This type of cooperativity is commonly referred to as protease or substrate binding subsite cooperativity and is distinct from allosteric cooperativity, where binding of a molecule distant from the protease active site affects the binding affinity of a substrate. Subsite cooperativity may be intramolecular where neighbouring residues in substrates are interacting, affecting the scissile bond’s susceptibility to protease cleavage. Subsite cooperativity can also be intermolecular where a particular residue’s contribution to binding affinity changes depending on the identity of neighbouring amino acids. Although numerous studies have identified subsite cooperativity effects, these findings are frequently ignored in investigations probing subsite selectivity by screening against diverse combinatorial libraries of peptides (positional scanning synthetic combinatorial library; PS-SCL). This strategy for determining cleavage specificity relies on the averaged rates of hydrolysis for an uncharacterised ensemble of peptide sequences, as opposed to the defined rate of hydrolysis of a known specific substrate. Further, since PS-SCL screens probe the preference of the various protease subsites independently, this method is inherently unable to detect subsite cooperativity. However, mean hydrolysis rates from PS-SCL screens are often interpreted as being comparable to those produced by single peptide cleavages. Before this study no large systematic evaluation had been made to determine the level of correlation between protease selectivity as predicted by screening against a library of combinatorial peptides and cleavage of individual peptides. This subject is specifically explored in the studies described here. In order to establish whether PS-SCL screens could accurately determine the substrate preferences of proteases, a systematic comparison of data from PS-SCLs with libraries containing individually synthesised peptides (sparse matrix library; SML) was carried out. These SML libraries were designed to include all possible sequence combinations of the residues that were suggested to be preferred by a protease using the PS-SCL method. SML screening against the three serine proteases kallikrein 4 (KLK4), kallikrein 14 (KLK14) and plasmin revealed highly preferred peptide substrates that could not have been deduced by PS-SCL screening alone. Comparing protease subsite preference profiles from screens of the two types of peptide libraries showed that the most preferred substrates were not detected by PS SCL screening as a consequence of intermolecular cooperativity being negated by the very nature of PS SCL screening. Sequences that are highly favoured as result of intermolecular cooperativity achieve optimal protease subsite occupancy, and thereby interact with very specific determinants of the protease. Identifying these substrate sequences is important since they may be used to produce potent and selective inhibitors of protolytic enzymes. This study found that highly favoured substrate sequences that relied on intermolecular cooperativity allowed for the production of potent inhibitors of KLK4, KLK14 and plasmin. Peptide aldehydes based on preferred plasmin sequences produced high affinity transition state analogue inhibitors for this protease. The most potent of these maintained specificity over plasma kallikrein (known to have a very similar substrate preference to plasmin). Furthermore, the efficiency of this inhibitor in blocking fibrinolysis in vitro was comparable to aprotinin, which previously saw clinical use to reduce perioperative bleeding. One substrate sequence particularly favoured by KLK4 was substituted into the 14 amino acid, circular sunflower trypsin inhibitor (SFTI). This resulted in a highly potent and selective inhibitor (SFTI-FCQR) which attenuated protease activated receptor signalling by KLK4 in vitro. Moreover, SFTI-FCQR and paclitaxel synergistically reduced growth of ovarian cancer cells in vitro, making this inhibitor a lead compound for further therapeutic development. Similar incorporation of a preferred KLK14 amino acid sequence into the SFTI scaffold produced a potent inhibitor for this protease. However, the conformationally constrained SFTI backbone enforced a different intramolecular cooperativity, which masked a KLK14 specific determinant. As a consequence, the level of selectivity achievable was lower than that found for the KLK4 inhibitor. Standard mechanism inhibitors such as SFTI rely on a stable acyl-enzyme intermediate for high affinity binding. This is achieved by a conformationally constrained canonical binding loop that allows for reformation of the scissile peptide bond after cleavage. Amino acid substitutions within the inhibitor to target a particular protease may compromise structural determinants that support the rigidity of the binding loop and thereby prevent the engineered inhibitor reaching its full potential. An in silico analysis was carried out to examine the potential for further improvements to the potency and selectivity of the SFTI-based KLK4 and KLK14 inhibitors. Molecular dynamics simulations suggested that the substitutions within SFTI required to target KLK4 and KLK14 had compromised the intramolecular hydrogen bond network of the inhibitor and caused a concomitant loss of binding loop stability. Furthermore in silico amino acid substitution revealed a consistent correlation between a higher frequency of formation and the number of internal hydrogen bonds of SFTI-variants and lower inhibition constants. These predictions allowed for the production of second generation inhibitors with enhanced binding affinity toward both targets and highlight the importance of considering intramolecular cooperativity effects when engineering proteins or circular peptides to target proteases. The findings from this study show that although PS-SCLs are a useful tool for high throughput screening of approximate protease preference, later refinement by SML screening is needed to reveal optimal subsite occupancy due to cooperativity in substrate recognition. This investigation has also demonstrated the importance of maintaining structural determinants of backbone constraint and conformation when engineering standard mechanism inhibitors for new targets. Combined these results show that backbone conformation and amino acid cooperativity have more prominent roles than previously appreciated in determining substrate/inhibitor specificity and binding affinity. The three key inhibitors designed during this investigation are now being developed as lead compounds for cancer chemotherapy, control of fibrinolysis and cosmeceutical applications. These compounds form the basis of a portfolio of intellectual property which will be further developed in the coming years.

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ID Code: 48131
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD by Publication)
Supervisor: Harris, Jonathan & Chopin, Lisa
Additional Information: Thesis embargoed until 16th January 2014. Recipient of 2011 Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award.
Keywords: serine protease, kallikrein, kallikrein-related peptidase, KLK4, KLK14, plasmin, sunflower trypsin inhibitor, SFTI, inhibitor, transition state analogue, sparse matrix library, positional scanning, PS-SCL, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, fibrinolysis, desquamation molecular dynamics, computer aided drug design, ODTA
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 18 Jan 2012 05:09
Last Modified: 15 Jan 2014 14:10

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