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Publications (19)

  • Antony J. Burton · Andrew R. Thomson · William M. Dawson · [...] · Derek N. Woolfson
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The design of enzyme-like catalysts tests our understanding of sequence-to-structure/function relationships in proteins. Here we install hydrolytic activity predictably into a completely de novo and thermostable α-helical barrel, which comprises seven helices arranged around an accessible channel. We show that the lumen of the barrel accepts 21 mutations to functional polar residues. The resulting variant, which has cysteine-histidine-glutamic acid triads on each helix, hydrolyses p-nitrophenyl acetate with catalytic efficiencies that match the most-efficient redesigned hydrolases based on natural protein scaffolds. This is the first report of a functional catalytic triad engineered into a de novo protein framework. The flexibility of our system also allows the facile incorporation of unnatural side chains to improve activity and probe the catalytic mechanism. Such a predictable and robust construction of truly de novo biocatalysts holds promise for applications in chemical and biochemical synthesis.
    Article · Jul 2016 · Nature Chemistry
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    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Supplementary
    Full-text Dataset · Jan 2016
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: An ability to control the assembly of peptide nanotubes (PNTs) would provide biomaterials for applications in nanotechnology and synthetic biology. Recently, we presented a modular design for PNTs using α-helical barrels with tunable internal cavities as building blocks. These first-generation designs thicken beyond single PNTs. Herein we describe strategies for controlling this lateral association, and also for the longitudinal assembly. We show that PNT thickening is pH sensitive, and can be reversed under acidic conditions. Based on this, repulsive charge interactions are engineered into the building blocks leading to the assembly of single PNTs at neutral pH. The building blocks are modified further to produce covalently linked PNTs via native chemical ligation, rendering ca. 100 nm-long nanotubes. Finally, we show that small molecules can be sequestered within the interior lumens of single PNTs.
    Article · Dec 2015 · Angewandte Chemie International Edition
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    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Protein scientists are paving the way to a new phase in protein design and engineering. Approaches and methods are being developed that could allow the design of proteins beyond the confines of natural protein structures. This possibility of designing entirely new proteins opens new questions: What do we build? How do we build into protein-structure space where there are few, if any, natural structures to guide us? To what uses can the resulting proteins be put? And, what, if anything, does this pursuit tell us about how natural proteins fold, function and evolve? We describe the origins of this emerging area of fully de novo protein design, how it could be developed, where it might lead, and what challenges lie ahead. Copyright © 2015. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
    Full-text Article · Aug 2015 · Current Opinion in Structural Biology
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: An ability to design peptide-based nanotubes (PNTs) rationally with defined and mutable internal channels would advance understanding of peptide self-assembly, and present new biomaterials for nanotechnology and medicine. PNTs have been made from Fmoc dipeptides, cyclic peptides, and lock-washer helical bundles. Here we show that blunt-ended α-helical barrels-i.e., pre-assembled bundles of α-helices with central channels-can be used as building blocks for PNTs. This approach is general and systematic, and uses a set of de novo helical bundles as standards. One of these bundles, a hexameric α-helical barrel, assembles into highly ordered PNTs, for which we have determined a structure by combining cryo-transmission electron microscopy, X-ray fiber diffraction and model building. The structure reveals that the overall symmetry of the peptide module plays a critical role in ripening and ordering of the supramolecular assembly. PNTs based on pentameric, hexameric and heptameric α-helical barrels sequester hydrophobic dye within their lumens.
    Article · Jul 2015 · Journal of the American Chemical Society
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    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Trauma to the central and peripheral nervous systems often lead to serious morbidity. Current surgical methods for repairing or replacing such damage have limitations. Tissue engineering offers a potential alternative. Here we show that functionalized α-helical-peptide hydrogels can be used to induce attachment, migration, proliferation and differentiation of murine embryonic neural stem cells (NSCs). Specifically, compared with undecorated gels, those functionalized with Arg-Gly-Asp-Ser (RGDS) peptides increase the proliferative activity of NSCs; promote their directional migration; induce differentiation, with increased expression of microtubule-associated protein-2, and a low expression of glial fibrillary acidic protein; and lead to the formation of larger neurospheres. Electrophysiological measurements from NSCs grown in RGDS-decorated gels indicate developmental progress toward mature neuron-like behavior. Our data indicate that these functional peptide hydrogels may go some way toward overcoming the limitations of current approaches to nerve-tissue repair.
    Full-text Article · Apr 2015
  • Andrew R Thomson · Christopher W Wood · Antony J Burton · [...] · Derek N Woolfson
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The design of protein sequences that fold into prescribed de novo structures is challenging. General solutions to this problem require geometric descriptions of protein folds and methods to fit sequences to these. The α-helical coiled coils present a promising class of protein for this and offer considerable scope for exploring hitherto unseen structures. For α-helical barrels, which have more than four helices and accessible central channels, many of the possible structures remain unobserved. Here, we combine geometrical considerations, knowledge-based scoring, and atomistic modeling to facilitate the design of new channel-containing α-helical barrels. X-ray crystal structures of the resulting designs match predicted in silico models. Furthermore, the observed channels are chemically defined and have diameters related to oligomer state, which present routes to design protein function.
    Article · Oct 2014 · Science
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    Paul Bishop · Philip Rubin · Andrew R Thomson · [...] · Jeremy M Henley
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Ubiquitin C-terminal hydrolase L1 (UCH-L1) is a deubiquitinating enzyme that is highly expressed in neurons. A possible role for UCH-L1 in neurodegeneration has been highlighted because of its presence in Lewy bodies associated with Parkinson disease and neurofibrillary tangles observed in Alzheimer disease. UCH-L1 exists in two forms in neurons, a soluble cytoplasmic form (UCH-L1C) and a membrane-associated form (UCH-L1M). Alzheimer brains show reduced levels of soluble UCH-L1C correlating with the formation of UCH-L1-immunoreactive tau tangles, whereas UCH-L1M has been implicated in α-synuclein dysfunction. Given these reports of divergent roles, we investigated the properties of UCH-L1 membrane association. Surprisingly, our results indicate that UCH-L1 does not partition to the membrane in the cultured cell lines we tested. Furthermore, in primary cultured neurons, a proportion of UCH-L1M does partition to the membrane, but, contrary to a previous report, this does not require farnesylation. Deletion of the four C-terminal residues caused the loss of protein solubility, abrogation of substrate binding, increased cell death, and an abnormal intracellular distribution, consistent with protein dysfunction and aggregation. These data indicate that UCH-L1 is differently processed in neurons compared with clonal cell lines and that farnesylation does not account for the membrane association in neurons.
    Full-text Article · Oct 2014 · Journal of Biological Chemistry
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    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: α-Helical peptide hydrogels are decorated with a cell-binding peptide motif (RGDS), which is shown to promote adhesion, proliferation, and differentiation of PC12 cells. Gel structure and integrity are maintained after functionalization. This opens possibilities for the bottom-up design and engineering of complex functional scaffolds for 2D and 3D cell cultures.
    Full-text Article · Sep 2014 · Advanced Healthcare Materials
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    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Motivation: The ability to accurately model protein structures at the atomistic level underpins efforts to understand protein folding, to engineer natural proteins predictably and to design proteins de novo. Homology-based methods are well established and produce impressive results. However, these are limited to structures presented by and resolved for natural proteins. Addressing this problem more widely and deriving truly ab initio models requires mathematical descriptions for protein folds; the means to decorate these with natural, engineered or de novo sequences; and methods to score the resulting models. Results: We present CCBuilder, a web-based application that tackles the problem for a defined but large class of protein structure, the α-helical coiled coils. CCBuilder generates coiled-coil backbones, builds side chains onto these frameworks and provides a range of metrics to measure the quality of the models. Its straightforward graphical user interface provides broad functionality that allows users to build and assess models, in which helix geometry, coiled-coil architecture and topology and protein sequence can be varied rapidly. We demonstrate the utility of CCBuilder by assembling models for 653 coiled-coil structures from the PDB, which cover >96% of the known coiled-coil types, and by generating models for rarer and de novo coiled-coil structures. Availability and implementation: CCBuilder is freely available, without registration, at Contact: or
    Full-text Article · Jul 2014 · Bioinformatics
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    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Supporting Information
    Full-text Dataset · Mar 2014
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    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Nature presents various protein fibers that bridge the nanometer to micrometer regimes. These structures provide inspiration for the de novo design of biomimetic assemblies, both to address difficulties in studying and understanding natural systems, and to provide routes to new biomaterials with potential applications in nanotechnology and medicine. We have designed a self-assembling fiber system, the SAFs, in which two small α-helical peptides are programmed to form a dimeric coiled coil and assemble in a controlled manner. The resulting fibers are tens of nm wide and tens of μm long, and, therefore, comprise millions of peptides to give gigadalton supramolecular structures. Here, we describe the structure of the SAFs determined to approximately 8 Å resolution using cryotransmission electron microscopy. Individual micrographs show clear ultrastructure that allowed direct interpretation of the packing of individual α-helices within the fibers, and the construction of a 3D electron density map. Furthermore, a model was derived using the cryotransmission electron microscopy data and side chains taken from a 2.3 Å X-ray crystal structure of a peptide building block incapable of forming fibers. This was validated using single-particle analysis techniques, and was stable in prolonged molecular-dynamics simulation, confirming its structural viability. The level of self-assembly and self-organization in the SAFs is unprecedented for a designed peptide-based material, particularly for a system of considerably reduced complexity compared with natural proteins. This structural insight is a unique high-resolution description of how α-helical fibrils pack into larger protein fibers, and provides a basis for the design and engineering of future biomaterials.
    Full-text Article · Jul 2012 · Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Protein engineering, chemical biology, and synthetic biology would benefit from toolkits of peptide and protein components that could be exchanged reliably between systems while maintaining their structural and functional integrity. Ideally, such components should be highly defined and predictable in all respects of sequence, structure, stability, interactions, and function. To establish one such toolkit, here we present a basis set of de novo designed α-helical coiled-coil peptides that adopt defined and well-characterized parallel dimeric, trimeric, and tetrameric states. The designs are based on sequence-to-structure relationships both from the literature and analysis of a database of known coiled-coil X-ray crystal structures. These give foreground sequences to specify the targeted oligomer state. A key feature of the design process is that sequence positions outside of these sites are considered non-essential for structural specificity; as such, they are referred to as the background, are kept non-descript, and are available for mutation as required later. Synthetic peptides were characterized in solution by circular-dichroism spectroscopy and analytical ultracentrifugation, and their structures were determined by X-ray crystallography. Intriguingly, a hitherto widely used empirical rule-of-thumb for coiled-coil dimer specification does not hold in the designed system. However, the desired oligomeric state is achieved by database-informed redesign of that particular foreground and confirmed experimentally. We envisage that the basis set will be of use in directing and controlling protein assembly, with potential applications in chemical and synthetic biology. To help with such endeavors, we introduce Pcomp, an on-line registry of peptide components for protein-design and synthetic-biology applications.
    Article · Jun 2012 · ACS Synthetic Biology
  • Derek N Woolfson · Gail J Bartlett · Marc Bruning · Andrew R Thomson
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: α-Helical coiled coils are ubiquitous protein-protein-interaction domains. They share a relatively straightforward sequence repeat, which directs the folding and assembly of amphipathic α-helices. The helices can combine in a number of oligomerisation states and topologies to direct a wide variety of protein assemblies. Although in nature parallel dimers, trimers and tetramers dominate, the potential to form larger oligomers and more-complex assemblies has long been recognised. In particular, complexes above pentamer are interesting because they are barrel-like, having central channels or pores with well-defined dimensions and chemistry. Recent empirical and rational design experiments are beginning to chart this potential new territory in coiled-coil space, leading to intriguing new structures, and possibilities for functionalisation and applications.
    Article · Mar 2012 · Current Opinion in Structural Biology
  • Nathan R Zaccai · Bertie Chi · Andrew R Thomson · [...] · Derek N Woolfson
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The design of new proteins that expand the repertoire of natural protein structures represents a formidable challenge. Success in this area would increase understanding of protein structure and present new scaffolds that could be exploited in biotechnology and synthetic biology. Here we describe the design, characterization and X-ray crystal structure of a new coiled-coil protein. The de novo sequence forms a stand-alone, parallel, six-helix bundle with a channel running through it. Although lined exclusively by hydrophobic leucine and isoleucine side chains, the 6-Å channel is permeable to water. One layer of leucine residues within the channel is mutable, accepting polar aspartic acid and histidine side chains, which leads to subdivision and organization of solvent within the lumen. Moreover, these mutants can be combined to form a stable and unique (Asp-His)(3) heterohexamer. These new structures provide a basis for engineering de novo proteins with new functions.
    Article · Dec 2011 · Nature Chemical Biology
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    Nathan R. Zaccai · Bertie Chi · Andrew R. Thomson · [...] · Derek N. Woolfson
    Full-text Dataset · Sep 2011
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    Zahra N Mahmoud · Smita B Gunnoo · Andrew R Thomson · [...] · Derek N Woolfson
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The ability to modify peptide- and protein-based biomaterials selectively under mild conditions and in aqueous buffers is essential to the development of certain areas of bionanotechnology, tissue engineering and synthetic biology. Here we show that Self-Assembling peptide Fibers (SAFs) can incorporate multiple modified peptides non-covalently, stoichiometrically and without disrupting their structure or stability. The modified peptides contain groups suitable for post-assembly click reactions in water, namely azides and alkenes. Labeling of these groups is achieved using the orthogonal Cu(I)-catalyzed azide-alkyne and photoinitiated thiol-ene reactions, respectively. Functionalization is demonstrated through the conjugation of biotin followed by streptavidin-nanogold particles, or rhodamine, and visualized by electron and light microscopy, respectively. This has been shown for fibers harboring either or both of the modified peptides. Furthermore, the amounts of each modified peptide in the fibers can be varied with concomitant changes in decoration. This approach allows the design and assembly of fibers with multiple functional components, paving the way for the development of multi-component functionalized systems.
    Full-text Article · Feb 2011 · Biomaterials
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    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The rational design of peptides that fold to form discrete nanoscale objects, and/ or self-assemble into nanostructured materials is an exciting challenge. Such efforts test and extend our understanding of sequence-to-structure relationships in proteins, and potentially provide materials for applications in bionanotechnology. Over the past decade or so, rules for the folding and assembly of one particular protein-structure motif--the alpha-helical coiled coil have advanced sufficiently to allow the confident design of novel peptides that fold to prescribed structures. Coiled coils are based on interacting alpha-helices, and guide and cement many protein-protein interactions in nature. As such, they present excellent starting points for building complex objects and materials that span the nano-to-micron scales from the bottom up. Along with others, we have translated and extended our understanding of coiled-coil folding and assembly to develop novel peptide-based biomaterials. Herein, we outline briefly the rules for the folding and assembly of coiled-coil motifs, and describe how we have used them in de novo design of discrete nanoscale objects and soft synthetic biomaterials. Moreover, we describe how the approach can be extended to other small, independently folded protein motifs--such as zinc fingers and EF-hands--that could be incorporated into more complex, multi-component synthetic systems and new hybrid and responsive biomaterials.
    Full-text Article · Sep 2009 · Faraday Discussions
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    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: One possible route to develop new synthetic-biological systems is to assemble discrete nanoscale objects from programmed peptide-based building blocks. We describe an algorithm to design such blocks based on the coiled-coil protein-folding motif. The success of the algorithm is demonstrated by the production of six peptides that form three target parallel, blunted-ended heterodimers in preference to any of the other promiscuous pairings and alternate configurations, for example, homodimers, sticky-ended assemblies, and antiparallel arrangements. The peptides were linked to promote the assembly of larger, defined nanoscale rods, thus demonstrating that targeted peptide-peptide interactions can be specified in complex mixtures.
    Full-text Article · Jan 2009 · Journal of the American Chemical Society