Alpha(1)-antitrypsin, a protein belonging to the serine protease inhibitor (serpin) superfamily, is characterized by the ability to undergo dramatic conformational changes leading to inactive polymers. Serpin polymerization, which causes a range of diseases such as emphysema, thrombosis and dementia, occurs through a process in which the reactive center loop residues of one serpin molecule insert into the A beta-sheet of another. PoPMuSiC, a program that uses database-derived mean force potentials to predict changes in folding free energy resulting from single-site mutations, was used to modulate rationally the polymerization propensity of alpha(1)-antitrypsin. This was accomplished by generating mutants with a stabilized active form and destabilized polymerized form, or the converse. Of these mutants, five were expressed and characterized experimentally. In agreement with the predictions, three of them, K331F, K331I and K331V, were shown to stabilize the active form and decrease the polymerization rate, and one of them, S330R, to destabilize the active form and to increase polymerization. Only one mutant (K331T) did not display the expected behavior. Thus, strikingly, the adjacent positions 330 and 331, which are located at the beginning of the beta-strand next to the additionally inserted beta-strand in the polymerized form, have opposite effects on the conformational change. These residues therefore appear to play a key role in inducing or preventing such conformational change.
Copyright 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd.