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Molecular Lysine Tweezers Counteract Aberrant Protein Aggregation.


Molecular tweezers (MTs) are supramolecular host molecules equipped with two aromatic pincers linked together by a spacer (Gakh, 2018). They are endowed with fascinating properties originating from their ability to hold guests between their aromatic pincers (Chen and Whitlock, 1978; Zimmerman, 1991; Harmata, 2004). MTs are finding an increasing number of medicinal applications, e.g., as bis-intercalators for DNA such as the anticancer drug Ditercalinium (Gao et al., 1991), drug activity reverters such as the bisglycoluril tweezers Calabadion 1 (Ma et al., 2012) as well as radioimmuno detectors such as Venus flytrap clusters (Paxton et al., 1991). We recently embarked on a program to create water-soluble tweezers which selectively bind the side chains of lysine and arginine inside their cavity. This unique recognition mode is enabled by a torus-shaped, polycyclic framework, which is equipped with two hydrophilic phosphate groups. Cationic amino acid residues are bound by the synergistic effect of disperse, hydrophobic, and electrostatic interactions in a kinetically fast reversible process. Interactions of the same kind play a key role in numerous protein-protein interactions, as well as in pathologic protein aggregation. Therefore, these particular MTs show a high potential to disrupt such events, and indeed inhibit misfolding and self-assembly of amyloidogenic polypeptides without toxic side effects. The mini-review provides insight into the unique binding mode of MTs both toward peptides and aggregating proteins. It presents the synthesis of the lead compound CLR01 and its control, CLR03. Different biophysical experiments are explained which elucidate and help to better understand their mechanism of action. Specifically, we show how toxic aggregates of oligomeric and fibrillar protein species are dissolved and redirected to form amorphous, benign assemblies. Importantly, these new chemical tools are shown to be essentially non-toxic in vivo. Due to their reversible moderately tight binding, these agents are not protein-, but rather process-specific, which suggests a broad range of applications in protein misfolding events. Thus, MTs are highly promising candidates for disease-modifying therapy in early stages of neurodegenerative diseases. This is an outstanding example in the evolution of supramolecular concepts toward biological application.

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