Evaluation of Efficient Non-reducing Enzymatic and Chemical Ligation Strategies for Complex Disulfide-Rich Peptides
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Double-knotted peptides identified in venoms and synthetic bivalent peptide constructs targeting ion channels are emerging tools for the study of ion channel pharmacology and physiology. These highly complex and disulfide-rich peptides contain two individual cystine knots, each comprising six cysteines and three disulfide bonds. Until now, native double-knotted peptides, such as Hi1a and DkTx, have only been isolated from venom or produced recombinantly, whereas engineered double-knotted peptides have successfully been produced through enzymatic ligation using sortase A to form a seamless amide bond at the ligation site between two knotted toxins, and by alkyne/azide click chemistry, joining two peptide knots via a triazole linkage. To further pursue these double-knotted peptides as pharmacological tools or probes for therapeutically relevant ion channels, we sought to identify a robust methodology resulting in a high yield product that lends itself to rapid production and facile mutational studies. In this study, we evaluated the ligation efficiency of enzymatic (sortase A5°, butelase 1, wild-type OaAEP 1, C247A-OaAEP 1, and peptiligase) and mild chemical approaches (α-ketoacid-hydroxylamine, KAHA) for forming a native amide bond linking the toxins while maintaining the native disulfide connectivity of each pre-folded peptide. We used two Nav1.7 inhibitors: PaurTx3, a spider-derived gating modifier peptide, and KIIIA, a small cone snail-derived pore blocker peptide, which has previously been shown to increase affinity and inhibitory potency on hNav1.7 when ligated together. Correctly folded peptides were successfully ligated in varying yields, without disulfide bond shuffling or reduction, with sortase A5° being the most efficient, resulting in 60% ligation conversion within 15 min. In addition, electrophysiology studies demonstrated that for these two peptides, the amino acid composition of the linker did not affect the activity of the double-knotted peptides. This study demonstrates the powerful application of enzymes in efficiently ligating complex disulfide-rich peptides, paving the way for facile production of double-knotted peptides.