Pursuing DNA catalysts for protein modification

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ConspectusCatalysis is a fundamental chemical concept, and many kinds of catalysts have considerable practical value. Developing entirely new catalysts is an exciting challenge. Rational design and screening have provided many new small-molecule catalysts, and directed evolution has been used to optimize or redefine the function of many protein enzymes. However, these approaches have inherent limitations that prompt the pursuit of different kinds of catalysts using other experimental methods.Nature evolved RNA enzymes, or ribozymes, for key catalytic roles that in modern biology are limited to phosphodiester cleavage/ligation and amide bond formation. Artificial DNA enzymes, or deoxyribozymes, have great promise for a broad range of catalytic activities. They can be identified from unbiased (random) sequence populations as long as the appropriate in vitro selection strategies can be implemented for their identification. Notably, in vitro selection is different in key conceptual and practical ways from rational design, screening, and directed evolution. This Account describes the development by in vitro selection of DNA catalysts for many different kinds of covalent modification reactions of peptide and protein substrates, inspired in part by our earlier work with DNA-catalyzed RNA ligation reactions.In one set of studies, we have sought DNA-catalyzed peptide backbone cleavage, with the long-term goal of artificial DNA-based proteases. We originally anticipated that amide hydrolysis should be readily achieved, but in vitro selection instead surprisingly led to deoxyribozymes for DNA phosphodiester hydrolysis; this was unexpected because uncatalyzed amide bond hydrolysis is 105-fold faster. After developing a suitable selection approach that actively avoids DNA hydrolysis, we were able to identify deoxyribozymes for hydrolysis of esters and aromatic amides (anilides). Aliphatic amide cleavage remains an ongoing focus, including via inclusion of chemically modified DNA nucleotides in the catalyst, which we have recently found to enable this cleavage reaction. In numerous other efforts, we have investigated DNA-catalyzed peptide side chain modification reactions. Key successes include nucleopeptide formation (attachment of oligonucleotides to peptide side chains) and phosphatase and kinase activities (removal and attachment of phosphoryl groups to side chains).Through all of these efforts, we have learned the importance of careful selection design, including the frequent need to develop specific "capture" reactions that enable the selection process to provide only those DNA sequences that have the desired catalytic functions. We have established strategies for identifying deoxyribozymes that accept discrete peptide and protein substrates, and we have obtained data to inform the key choice of random region length at the outset of selection experiments. Finally, we have demonstrated the viability of modular deoxyribozymes that include a small-molecule-binding aptamer domain, although the value of such modularity is found to be minimal, with implications for many selection endeavors.Advances such as those summarized in this Account reveal that DNA has considerable catalytic abilities for biochemically relevant reactions, specifically including covalent protein modifications. Moreover, DNA has substantially different, and in many ways better, characteristics than do small molecules or proteins for a catalyst that is obtained "from scratch" without demanding any existing information on catalyst structure or mechanism. Therefore, prospects are very strong for continued development and eventual practical applications of deoxyribozymes for peptide and protein modification.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1369-1379
Number of pages11
JournalAccounts of chemical research
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 19 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)


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