Macrocyclic polypeptides from plants
Abstract: The aim of this work was to explore the structural and functional diversity of polypeptides that are found in plants. Expanding knowledge of simililarities between plant use of these compound and animal use promises exceptional opportunities for finding, from plant research, new structures with biomedical and biotechnological potential.A fractionation protocol was developed and applied to many plant species, providing fractions enriched in polypeptides, amenable to chemical and biological evaluation. From one species, the common field pansy (Viola arvensis), a 29-amino-acid residue polypeptide was isolated, named varv A, which revealed a remarkable macrocyclic structure (i.e., N- and C-termini are joined) stabilised by three knotted disulfides. Varv A, together with an increasing number of homologous peptides, form the currently known peptide family of cyclotides. Their stable structure makes them an attractive scaffold for protein engineering. In addition, they display a wide range of biological activities (e.g., antimicrobial, cytotoxic, and insecticidal). As a part of this work, the cytotoxic effects of varv A and two other isolated cyclotides were evaluated in a human cell-line panel: all were active in the low µM range. Most likely, these effects involve pore formation through cell membranes.Cyclotides were found to be common in the plant family Violaceae; with eleven cyclotides isolated and sequenced from V. arvensis, V. cotyledon, and Hybanthus parviflorus. For six members of the genus Viola, cyclotide expression profiles were examined by liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS): all expressed notably complex mixtures, with single species containing more than 50 cyclotides. These profiles reflect the evolution of the genus.To assess these mixtures, a rational strategy for MS based amino acid sequencing of cyclotides was developed, circumventing inherent structural problems, such as low content of positively charged amino acids and the macrocyclic structure. This was achieved by aminoethylation of cysteines, which, following tryptic digestion, produced fragments of size and charge amenable to MS analysis. This method was also modified and used for mapping of disulfide bonds. Methods for isolation and characterisation developed in this work may prove useful not only for further studies on macrocyclic polypeptides from plants, but also for other plant peptides and disulfide-rich peptides from animals.
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