Author(s): Wu Z, Li X, de Leeuw E, Ericksen B, Lu W
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Abstract Mammalian alpha-defensins, expressed primarily in leukocytes and epithelia, kill a broad range of microbes, constituting one of the first lines of innate immune defense against infection. Nine amino acid residues, including six cysteines, one glycine, and a pair of oppositely charged residues Arg/Glu, are conserved in the otherwise diverse sequences of all known mammalian alpha-defensins. Structural analysis indicates that the two charged residues form a salt bridge, likely stabilizing a protruding loop in the molecule. To investigate the structural and functional roles of the conserved Arg5-Glu13 salt bridge in alpha-defensins, we chemically prepared human neutrophil alpha-defensin 2 (HNP2) and five HNP2 analogs, R5E/E13R, E13Q, E13R, R5T/E13Y, and R14A. In contrast to HNP2 and R14A-HNP2, none of the four salt bridge analogs was capable of folding into a native conformation in the context of isolated defensin domains. However, when covalently attached to the 45-residue pro-HNP2 propeptide, the salt bridge analogs of HNP2 in their pro-forms all folded productively, suggesting that the Arg5-Glu13 salt bridge is not required for correct pro-alpha-defensin folding. When assayed against both Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus, the six alpha-defensins showed bactericidal activity that correlated with the number of net positive charges carried by individual molecules in the panel, irrespective of whether or not the Arg5-Glu13 salt bridge was decimated, suggesting that Arg5 and Glu13 are not functionally conserved. Proteolytic resistance analysis with human neutrophil elastase, one major protease contained in azurophils with HNPs, revealed that destabilization of the salt bridge dramatically accelerated defensin degradation by the enzyme. Thus, we propose that the Arg5-Glu13 salt bridge found in most mammalian alpha-defensins is conserved for defensin in vivo stability.
This article was published in J Biol Chem
and referenced in Journal of Computer Science & Systems Biology