γ-AApeptides: Design, Structure, and Applications

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The development of sequence-specific peptidomimetics has led to a variety of fascinating discoveries in chemical biology. Many peptidomimetics can mimic primary, secondary, and even tertiary structure of peptides and proteins, and because of their unnatural backbones, they also possess significantly enhanced resistance to enzymatic hydrolysis, improved bioavailability, and chemodiversity. It is known that peptide nucleic acids (PNAs) are peptidic sequences developed for the mimicry of nucleic acids; however, their unique backbone as the molecular scaffold of peptidomimetics to mimic structure and function of bioactive peptides has not been investigated systematically. As such, we recently developed a new class of peptidomimetics, “γ-AApeptides”, based on the chiral γ-PNA backbone. They are termed γ-AApeptides because they are the oligomers of γ-substituted-N-acylated-N-aminoethyl amino acids. Similar to other classes of peptidomimetics, γ-AApeptides are also resistant to proteolytic degradation and possess the potential to enhance chemodiversity. Moreover, in our scientific journey on the exploration of this class of peptidomimetics, we have discovered some intriguing structures and functions of γ-AApeptides. In this Account, we summarize the current development and application of γ-AApeptides with biological potential. Briefly, both linear and cyclic (either through head-to-tail or head-to-side-chain cyclization) γ-AApeptides with diverse functional groups can be synthesized easily on the solid phase using the synthetic protocol we developed. γ-AApeptides could mimic the primary structure of peptides, as they project the same number of side chains as peptides of the same lengths. For instance, they could mimic the Tat peptide to permeate cell membranes and bind to HIV RNA with high specificity and affinity. Certain γ-AApeptides show similar activity to the RGD peptide and target integrin specifically on the cell surface. γ-AApeptides with function akin to fMLF peptides are also identified. More importantly, we found that γ-AApeptides can fold into discrete secondary structures, such as helical and β-turn-like structures. Therefore, they could be rationally designed for a range of biological applications. For instance, γ-AApeptides can mimic host-defense peptides and display potent and broad-spectrum activity toward a panel of drug-resistant bacterial pathogens. Meanwhile, because of their stability against proteolysis and their chemodiversity, γ-AApeptides are also amenable for combinatorial screening. We demonstrate that, through combinatorial selection, certain γ-AApeptides are identified to inhibit Aβ40 peptide aggregation, suggesting their potential use as a molecular probe to intervene in Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, a few γ-AApeptides identified from the γ-AApeptide library have been shown to bind to the DNA-binding domain of STAT3 and antagonize STAT3/DNA interactions. Our studies suggest that, with further studies and exploration on both structures and functions, γ-AApeptides may emerge to be a new class of peptidomimetics that play an important role in chemical biology and biomedical sciences.

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Accounts of Chemical Research, v. 49, issue 3, p. 428-441