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A novel class of protein misfolding characterized by either the formation of non-native noncovalent lasso entanglements in the misfolded structure or loss of native entanglements has been predicted to exist and found circumstantial support through biochemical assays and limited-proteolysis mass spectrometry data. Here, we examine whether it is possible to design small molecule compounds that can bind to specific folding intermediates and thereby avoid these misfolded states in computer simulations under idealized conditions (perfect drug-binding specificity, zero promiscuity, and a smooth energy landscape). Studying two proteins, type III chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT-III) and D-alanyl-D-alanine ligase B (DDLB), that were previously suggested to form soluble misfolded states through a mechanism involving a failure-to-form of native entanglements, we explore two different drug design strategies using coarse-grained structure-based models. The first strategy, in which the native entanglement is stabilized by drug binding, failed to decrease misfolding because it formed an alternative entanglement at a nearby region. The second strategy, in which a small molecule was designed to bind to a non-native tertiary structure and thereby destabilize the native entanglement, succeeded in decreasing misfolding and increasing the native state population. This strategy worked because destabilizing the entanglement loop provided more time for the threading segment to position itself correctly to be wrapped by the loop to form the native entanglement. Further, we computationally identified several FDA-approved drugs with the potential to bind these intermediate states and rescue misfolding in these proteins. This study suggests it is possible for small molecule drugs to prevent protein misfolding of this type.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS Comput Biol

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