Structural Transitions of Papain-like Cysteine Proteases: Implications for Sensor Development

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The significant role of papain-like cysteine proteases, including papain, cathepsin L and SARS-CoV-2 PLpro, in biomedicine and biotechnology makes them interesting model systems for sensor development. These enzymes have a free thiol group that is suitable for many sensor designs including strong binding to gold nanoparticles or low-molecular-weight inhibitors. Focusing on the importance of the preservation of native protein structure for inhibitor-binding and molecular-imprinting, which has been applied in some efficient examples of sensor development, the aim of this work was to examine the effects of the free-thiol-group’s reversible blocking on papain denaturation that is the basis of its activity loss and aggregation. To utilize biophysical methods common in protein structural transitions characterization, such as fluorimetry and high-resolution infrared spectroscopy, low-molecular-weight electrophilic thiol blocking reagent S-Methyl methanethiosulfonate (MMTS) was used in solution. MMTS binding led to a two-fold increase in 8-Anilinonaphthalene-1-sulfonic acid fluorescence, indicating increased hydrophobic residue exposure. A more in-depth analysis showed significant transitions on the secondary structure level upon MMTS binding, mostly characterized by the lowered content of α-helices and unordered structures (either for approximately one third), and the increase in aggregation-specific β-sheets (from 25 to 52%) in a dose-dependant manner. The recovery of this inhibited protein showed that reversibility of inhibition is accompanied by reversibility of protein denaturation. Nevertheless, a 100-fold molar excess of the inhibitor led to the incomplete recovery of proteolytic activity, which can be explained by irreversible denaturation. The structural stability of the C-terminal β-sheet rich domain of the papain-like cysteine protease family opens up an interesting possibility to use its foldamers as a strategy for sensor development and other multiple potential applications that rely on the great commercial value of papain-like cysteine proteases.




Marković, S., Andrejević, N. S., Milošević, J., & Polović, N. n. (2023). Structural Transitions of Papain-like Cysteine Proteases: Implications for Sensor Development. Biomimetics, 8(3).

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