Cystine-knot miniproteins define a class of bioactive molecules with several thousand natural members. Their eponymous motif comprises a rigid structured core formed by six disulfide-connected cysteine residues, which accounts for its exceptional stability towards thermic or proteolytic degradation. Since they display a remarkable sequence tolerance within their disulfide-connected loops, these molecules are considered promising frameworks for peptide-based pharmaceuticals. Natural open-chain cystine-knot trypsin inhibitors of the MCoTI (Momordica cochinchinensis trypsin inhibitor) and SOTI (Spinacia oleracea trypsin inhibitor) families served as starting points for the generation of inhibitors of matriptase-1, a type II transmembrane serine protease with possible clinical relevance in cancer and arthritic therapy. Yeast surface-displayed libraries of miniproteins were used to select unique and potent matriptase-1 inhibitors. To this end, a knowledge-based library design was applied that makes use of detailed information on binding and folding behavior of cystine-knot peptides. Five inhibitor variants, four of the MCoTI family and one of the SOTI family, were identified, chemically synthesized and oxidatively folded towards the bioactive conformation. Enzyme assays revealed inhibition constants in the low nanomolar range for all candidates. One subnanomolar binder (Ki = 0.83 nM) with an inverted selectivity towards trypsin and matriptase-1 was identified.
Glotzbach, B., Reinwarth, M., Weber, N., Fabritz, S., Tomaszowski, M., Fittler, H., … Kolmar, H. (2013). Combinatorial Optimization of Cystine-Knot Peptides towards High-Affinity Inhibitors of Human Matriptase-1. PLoS ONE, 8(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0076956