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Edit Mesterhazy

New peptidic Cu(I) chelators as potential candidates for the treatment of Wilson’s disease

Published on 12 December 2018
Thesis presented December 12, 2018

The essential micronutrient copper participates in several biological processes, like respiration, iron homeostasis, antioxidant defense or pigment formation. However, excess of copper can promote ROS formation and thus induce oxidative damages. Therefore, intracellular copper concentration is under strict control. Menkes and Wilson’s diseases are genetic disorders causing impairment in copper homeostasis leading to copper deficiency or overload, respectively. Wilson’s disease is treated by chelation therapy, but the presently used drugs have several adverse side effects. 
The aim of my Ph.D. work consisted of the design of three groups of cysteine containing peptides and the characterization of their Cu(I) complexes to determine whether they are appropriate candidates for the treatment of Wilson’s disease. 
The peptides were designed following three different approaches. In a first strategy, we attempted to take advantage of the outstanding selectivity and sensitivity of the bacterial copper efflux regulator protein CueR by studying oligopeptides based on the metal binding motif of CueR involving two cysteine residues. Second, three-cysteine containing linear and cyclic peptides were designed with the aim of merging the better internalization of peptides by hepatocytes and the high Cu(I) affinity of tripods previously studied in the Delangle’s lab. Finally, the advantages of a highly preorganized peptide structure were exploited in a short, rigid tetrapeptide where two cysteines were linked by a turn motif (CDPPC). For comparative purposes studies were also performed with another, less rigid tetrapeptide ligand containing the PG unit as a turn inducing motif. 
The three CueR model peptides resemble the ability of the protein to exclusively accommodate one metal ion under ligand excess conditions. This, combined with the large affinity and high selectivity vs. Zn(II), are the features that are advantageous in the view of the development of new Cu(I) chelators. 
The three-cysteine-containing peptides proved to be too flexible to control the speciation and hereby leading to the formation of several species. On the other hand, they are well adapted for an efficient trithiolate coordination of the thiophilic cation Hg(II). Structural differences in the three-cysteine containing peptides have minor effect on the affinity of the ligands towards Cu(I) and Hg(II) ions. The striking difference in the behavior of the peptides towards the two soft metal ions demonstrate that the use of Hg(II) as a probe for Cu(I) coordination with sulfur-rich peptides or proteins in physiological conditions may not always be fully appropriate. 
Preorganization of the peptide structure is a key element in the control of Cu(I) complex speciation and in the affinity of the ligands for Cu(I). CdPPC forms a single Cu4P3 cluster with high stability and displays large selectivity for Cu(I) with respect to the ubiquitous Zn(II). In contrast, The CPGC-Cu(I) system is characterized by a more complicated complex formation. It is worth to note, that the simple CdPPC peptide is able to mimic the Cu(I)-thiolate cluster formation that are typical in proteins like Ctr1 or Cox17. CDPPC is an interesting simple peptide candidate to be targeted to the liver cells for the localized treatment of Cu overload in Wilson’s disease.

Copper, Peptide, Chelation, Cysteine, Wilson’s disease

On-line thesis.