The energetic determinants that drive specific protein−protein interactions are not entirely understood. We describe simultaneous in vivo selection of specific and stable interactions using homologous peptides which compete with protein libraries for an interaction with a target molecule. Library members binding to their target, and promoting cell growth, must outcompete competitor interactions with the target (i.e., competition) and evade binding to the competitors (i.e., negative design). We term this a competitive and negative design initiative (CANDI). We combined CANDI with a protein-fragment complementation assay (PCA) and observed major specificity improvements, by driving selection of winning library members that bind their target with maximum efficacy, ensuring that otherwise energetically accessible alternatives are inaccessible. CANDI−PCA has been used with libraries targeted at coiled coil regions of oncogenic AP-1 components cJun and cFos. We demonstrate that comparable hydrophobic and electrostatic contributions in desired species are compromised in nondesired species when CANDI is executed, demonstrating that both core and electrostatic residues are required to direct specific interactions. Major energetic differences (≥5.6 kcal/mol) are observed between desired and nondesired interaction stabilities for a CANDI−PCA derived peptide relative to a conventional PCA derived helix, with significantly more stability (3.2 kcal/mol) than the wild-type cJun−cFos complex. As a negative control, a library lacking a residue repertoire able to generate a specific and stable helix was tested. Negative protein design has broad implications in generating specific and therapeutically relevant peptide-based drugs, proteins able to act with minimal cross-talk to homologues or analogues, and in nanobiotechnological design.
Mason, J. M., Müller, K. M., & Arndt, K. M. (2007). Positive aspects of negative design: Simultaneous selection of specificity and interaction stability. Biochemistry, 46(16), 4804-4814. https://doi.org/10.1021/bi602506p