Computational Design of Extraordinarily Stable Peptide Structures through Side-Chain-Locked Knots

HQ Zhu and FJ Tian and L Sun and YJ Zhu and QY Qiu and L Dai, JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL CHEMISTRY LETTERS (2022).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpclett.2c02385

Extraordinarily stable protein and peptide structures are critically demanded in many applications. Typical approaches to enhance protein and peptide stability are strengthening certain interactions. Here, we develop a very different approach: stabilizing peptide structures through side-chain-locked knots. More specifically, a peptide core consists of a knot, which is prevented from unknotting and unfolding by large side chains of amino acids at knot boundaries. These side chains impose free energy barriers for unknotting. The free energy barriers are quantified using all-atom and coarse-grained simulations. The barriers become infinitely high for large side chains and tight knot cores, resulting in stable peptide structures, which never unfold unless one chemical bond is broken. The extraordinary stability is essentially kinetic stability. Our new approach lifts the thermodynamic restriction in designing peptide structures, provides extra freedom in selecting sequence and structural motifs that are thermodynamically unstable, and should expand the functionality of peptides. This work also provides a bottom-up understanding of how knotting enhances protein stability.

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