Structure and function of relaxins

Abstract: The relaxin/insulin superfamily is a group of peptide hormones that consists of ten members in human, namely relaxins 1-3, insulin-like peptides (INSL) 3-6, insulin and insulin-like growth factors (IGF) I-II. These peptides have various functions in the body, such as regulating growth, blood glucose levels,  collagen metabolism, germ cell maturation and appetite. Misregulation of these mechanisms is associated with disease and accordingly they are of interest as potential pharmaceutical targets. Structurally the hormones are characterised by two peptide chains, A and B, which are held together by one intra A-chain and two inter chain disulfide bonds. Four different G-protein coupled receptors (GPCR) called relaxin family peptide receptor (RXFP) 1-4 have been found to respond to stimuli by different relaxin peptides. RXFP3 and RXFP4 are classic peptide ligand GPCRs, whereas RXFP1 and RXFP2 are characterised by a large extracellular leucine rich-repeat domain. Relaxin-3, which is the relaxin family ancestor, is the only relaxin peptide known to be able to bind and activate both subtypes of GPCRs, namely RXFP1, RXFP3 and RXFP4.The aim of this thesis was to analyse the structure-function relationship of the relaxin ligands and receptors, and to use this information to develop selective ligands for the relaxin receptors, which can be used as drug leads or pharmacological tools for investigating the physiological roles of the RXFPs.The 3D structures of native INSL5 and relaxin-2 were determined by solution NMR spectroscopy. The peptides showed an insulin/relaxin-like overall fold. A relaxin chimera peptide, consisting of the A-chain from INSL5 and the B-chain from relaxin-3, R3/I5, which has been shown to be selective for RXFP3 and RXFP4 over RXFP1, was also subjected to NMR studies. The R3/I5 peptide maintained an insulin/relaxin-like overall fold, and the relaxin-3 B-chain adopted a conformation identical to that in native relaxin-3, confirming that the activity of R3/I5 can be directly related to its primary sequence. Furthermore, a truncation study was undertaken to ascertain the importance of the termini for structure and function. By using the knowledge generated from the structure-function relationship, a single-chain high affinity RXFP3 selective antagonist was developed.In conclusion, this thesis has contributed to broaden the knowledge of the structure-function relationship of the relaxin ligands and the development of a selective RXFP3 antagonist, which is currently a drug lead for treatment of neurological disorders including stress and obesity.

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